What's on your toilet walls?
Monday 26 March 2018
Are your walls learning environments?
I had never really considered toilet walls as a learning environment until I was facilitating a workshop in a school recently. As I went to their staff toilet at lunchtime I was provided with the opportunity of being acquainted with their school mission statement and guiding principles - and they weren't just about to be visited by an accreditation team!
It got me thinking about how valuable walls are to our learning environment. I am not suggesting that we should all purposefully break the necessary concentration we all need when going to the toilet - although it didn't pass me by in my university years to learn that the religious reformer Martin Luther had many of his epiphanies sitting on a toilet to the extent that Stefan Rhein, director of the Luther Memorial Foundation, says "This is where the birth of the Reformation took place".
On a serious note it is worth considering how we can use our walls - including our toilet walls - to stimulate learning in a similar way in which students will post notes around their bedroom and house when trying to revise for an exam.
I have previously highly recommended the blog from What Ed Said. In a recent blog she posts ten questions teachers created when reflecting on how they create stimulating learning environments. They are:
- Does the learning space reflect what you say you value about learning?
- Is the space visually appealing? Does it invite learning?
- What kind of culture does the learning space suggest?
- What is the role of colour? Is there too much 'visual noice'?
- What role do the learners play in deciding how the space is organised?
- Has the purpose of everything you post on the walls been carefully considered?
- How is students' thinking made visible?
- How is natural light maximised? (I really did hear a story of a teacher who put up curtains so that children would not look outside and be distracted!!)
- What clutter can you get rid of? (Now.)
- MOST importantly: How is the space organised to foster things like: independence, collaboration, agency, creativity, movement and thinking?
Collaborative Walls & Tables
In the same school another aspect of walls impressed me. In the large classroom in which I was facilitating the workshop there was a whole blank wall that had been covered with a white paint on which we could all write. Away with old-fashioned flip charts and their paper sheets. These walls provided a great opportunity for teachers (and students) to get up off their seats, work in collaborative groups and create a wall visibly showing their thinking. The IB centre at The Hague has this same facility in their workshop rooms.
They also had round tables ideal for World Cafe activities - places where students (and teachers) could write on with the facility of washing down afterwards. A simple idea but so liberating for students to generate ideas on and to work together in a cooperative way. One school that uses this approach to develop collaborative learning is Kumpf Middle School students in Clark: “By showing their work on the tables, students can easily work in pairs to complete more challenging questions and assist one another. Having dry-erase tables allows Miss Chapman to quickly review each students’ work. In addition, using the tables helps keep all students engaged throughout the 80 minutes block time.”
I would have both the walls and tables in any training facility.