Brain-based methods to redesign classrooms

We are all familiar with the traditional classroom layout. The teacher stands at the front, with a black/whiteboard or screen behind, facing a row of desks and hard chairs in which the students sit; however, this layout harks back to the beginnings of formalised teaching and has hints of Victorian discipline and learning by rote.

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Many educators now feel this classroom look is not only outdated but also hinders learning and creativity. They say it is time for a change to a more relaxed, modern environment in which children make more decisions for themselves.

Brain-based methods

This way of thinking has been encapsulated by research carried out by education specialists and authors Karen D Olsen and Susan J Kovalik, whose Integrated Thematic Instruction model looks at areas of curriculum development.

Their work centres on 10 elements of learning based on how the brain works. These include reflective thinking, meaningful content, adequate time, collaboration, choices, immediate feedback, sensory experiences and, crucially, an enriched environment.

For them, the layout of a classroom is essential to facilitate the learning process and they believe that rows of chairs and desks are not the right way to go about this.

Redesigning the classroom

There are several ways a classroom can be redesigned to provide these brain-based improvements.

One of the most important is the use of space and the type of furniture provided. Making more floor space available helps pupils to move around, while creating comfortable seating options means children can choose where they learn.

The classroom of the future may look more like a coffee shop. There will be different options for seating, depending on what the pupil is doing and how they are feeling.

Many educators are already taking heed of these findings by designing bespoke education buildings, such as those available from http://www.educationspaces.co.uk/.

Other ways of creating a better learning space involve avoiding distractions. This could mean making the colour scheme more muted – no bright colours or patterns – and having less posters on the walls. Any information should be at the eye-level of pupils, not adults; additionally, the classroom should be organised, with no clutter.

Lighting also plays a part. Natural light is the best option; however, if this is not possible, lamps and incandescent lights are better than fluorescents. Nature, such as plants, will also offer a more soothing environment.

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