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:

  1. Does the learning space reflect what you say you value about learning?
  2. Is the space visually appealing? Does it invite learning?
  3. What kind of culture does the learning space suggest?
  4. What is the role of colour? Is there too much 'visual noice'?
  5. What role do the learners play in deciding how the space is organised?
  6. Has the purpose of everything you post on the walls been carefully considered?
  7. How is students' thinking made visible?
  8. 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!!)
  9. What clutter can you get rid of? (Now.)
  10. 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.

Tags: learning environment


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