Making Space: Designing Classrooms for Optimal Learning

Teachers at Corlears think of everything. Age level curricula is thoughtfully planned and resources are carefully selected for robust execution; topic relevant field trips are coordinated and guest speakers chosen. While these aspects of learning at Corlears may seem apparent, there is one essential part of classroom life that may often be overlooked - the classrooms themselves. Each room is is carefully designed, furnished and accessorized to make for an optimum learning space. Through the teachers’ hard work, each space allows subjects to come alive and for students to become active participants in their own learning process.

Students' names are displayed above their cubbies in the 3/4s room. 

Students' names are displayed above their cubbies in the 3/4s room. 

Each classroom not only reflects the work being done in each room, but of the children that inhabit the space. Students’ images, names and words can be seen on the walls and in a variety of forms. No two classrooms are the same, and that is a result of the unique curriculum and children in each room. Never static, the spaces constantly grow and change as the students do; reflecting their learning process and the scaffolding curriculum. As the year progresses, new work is displayed, pictures of trips and project work are added to the walls as children begin to literally see themselves within their space, giving them a sense of ownership over their learning experience, even at the youngest ages.

Materials and subject folders are readily available in this 8/9s room.

Materials and subject folders are readily available in this 8/9s room.

Age appropriateness and developmental needs are both important factors when designing a classroom. As the 8/9s team explains, these years are when students become their most autonomous, and the space in which they learn needs to reflect that. 8/9s teacher Kate explains that her space “allows students to access the materials they need,” giving them the opportunity to be actively engaged in the transitions and tasks that arise throughout the day. A prime example of this are the “kid bins” in both classrooms. Inside, students will find works in progress, books for independent reading and/or drawings they will work on throughout the year. In addition, the classroom also allows for children to learn in ways that work best for them. 8/9s Assistant Teacher Kelly says that throughout the year teachers will tell children “find a spot that is steady for you;” words that speak to just how personal learning truly is, and something which is reflected in the multitude of work spaces available to students. The variety spaces and surfaces not only give students a choice, but also the opportunity to get to know themselves as learners and advocate for themselves in voicing what works best for them to their teachers.

A day at Corlears has many components and the classroom must lend itself to the various tasks and transitions. Desk arrangements, quiet spaces and the classroom library are chosen and arranged to allow for traffic to flow smoothly and effectively during those transitional times. Even the furniture has a unique purpose at Corlears. Rather than traditional, individual desks, students sit at communal tables, allowing for children to be inspired by one another and work together as they explore new topics as a community. This also gives way for the deep social awareness that Corlears students develop during their time in school. Practice in negotiating space, use of materials along with their personal needs as well as the needs of others in their classroom gives them a sense of understanding of how to effectively work in a group. Kelly says the goal is in “creating an environment where kids can work together collaboratively, constructively and kindly.”

Each classroom is a manifestation of Corlears’ core values. In both their design and the work that happens within, the rooms give way for students to become compassionate community members, think critically about their topics and build the confidence to use their imagination and be creative in their learning. It is through the thoughtful design of each classroom space that students become empowered to take part in their own process and truly know themselves as learners and as leaders.