Saturday, October 4, 2014

Beyond Innovative Spaces: Thinking Purposefully About Learning Spaces

There's a lot of talk about innovative learning spaces.  I'll be the first to agree that there are many innovative ways to use space in our learning environments.  We are fortunate to teach in a time where much thinking goes into spaces and new types of furniture are being created to increase the usefulness of spaces.  However, to repeat the words our principal so often uses, furniture isn't really what makes a space innovative.  I think she's right.

The talk of innovative learning spaces does push our thinking about innovative learning.  Perhaps, however, it is time to move our conversation beyond innovation and refocus the discussion on being purposeful.  This year I have moved to a reading intervention position.  Though most often I go into classrooms to support readers, I do meet with some students in the reading room.  I just moved into this intervention room at the beginning of this year.  When you are in a new space, you have to continually think about what works and what does not.  You have to continually rethink the way you need to use space.

For the first six weeks of school, I have found myself continually reworking this space to make it purposeful.  The space needs to allow us to work in different ways.  Our lessons are short so I have to be able to work efficiently in this space.  Additionally, because we are working to make quick gains, I need to be able to provide alternate learning opportunities to students to help them to progress.

This week I made some big changes, and I'm loving them!  I'm still discovering ways to make our space work for us.  I'm sure there are more to come, but I wanted to share these with you.

Here is what the space looked like at the beginning of the year:

Phase 2:  I switched the U shaped table for a rectangular table.  This freed up a lot of space for readers to move around our tiny room.  Additionally, students can look at each other as we discuss books.  I can also shift our seating, including my own space, to more effectively work with readers.  

New Changes
Phase 3:  Here are some of the ways I've shifted the space so we can use it more effectively:
Creating Spaces:  I placed two old bookshelves back to back to create a space for students to leave the group to get a quieter work space or do independent work.  The shelves create a partition-like look that sets spaces apart.  The bookshelf contains tools we use most often and sits near our table so we can easily access these tools.  The back of the shelf contains the assessment kits I need to monitor student progress.  I need them in a place where I can grab them quickly, but I don't want them taking visual space in our room.  

Space for Small Group Work with Computer Accessibility:  I had the desk removed to free up space for learners.  (Honestly, I just stack things on desks anyway.)  I was able to place the computer at the end of the table so I can make websites, student work, and other media visible to students.  If we are working with iPads, student work can be displayed on the screen using AirServer.  (Thanks, Tech Department, for the quick installation.)  If we're discussing a book, student response can be sent to the computer using Flick to quickly share thinking.  The chair pockets allow students to store book totes as we work and keep table space clear for learning.  We can easily read and discuss books together here.  

Spaces for Magnetic Work:  Getting rid of the desk allowed me to open up space near the file cabinet to use for word work.  Being able to stand and work with words will be perfect for students who enjoy movement as they learn.  It also provides another space for repeated practice.  

Book and Material Solutions:  I've added containers and turned the books facing out.  This not only gave me more space, but it also makes it easier to find books.  Of course, the students notice covers as they come in as well.  I now use the top of this shelf to store containers of class materials.  Each group has a container with their familiar book bags, new books for lessons, writing journals, and other items I might need as I travel from room to room.  It's a grab and go area!  
Multiple Use Storage:  I grabbed this unused piece of furniture because of its storage potential. The back stores items I need, but don't use every day.  On the sides, I have dry erase boards, magnetic squares (stove covers) for letter/word work, dry erase boards and other tools we might need as we work together.  This stand is right beside our interactive writing area so students can easily get tools needed.  The front will soon contain baskets of books.  I still have some finishing work to do.  
Spaces for Small Group Writing:  I cleared the space around this dry erase board so we could all sit together for interactive writing.  The tools we need, shown above, are close by for extra practice.
Tactile Opportunities:  I removed a chart from this book holder to discover a chalk surface perfect for adding a little texture to word work.
Making spaces purposeful should be the center of our innovative learning discussions.  I'm sure there will continued adjustments in the weeks to come, but the room is starting to feel a little more like home.


  1. I love hearing all your reasoning as you explore the purposes for your own space, for your students. I rarely have students in my office, but do have a table in case a group should meet there. Mostly I work in others' classrooms. I have re-organized my books this year (finally) for easier access for me, & to share with teachers. Thanks for the time you took with this post, Cathy.

  2. I love the pictures! My room is evolving, as well. I truly miss that "classroom" feeling! Most of my time is spent in pull out, so different groups are in and out. It is starting to feel like home. Your posts are like mentor texts of thinking for me. As I have said, in my district, reading intervention has been pull out phonics programs or computer based fluency practice. That doesn't work for me, and I don't believe that is the way to grow reading. I relish hearing about your experiences!