​The problem:

Teachers are tasked with teaching a class. This class is comprised of students of different levels of understanding of the subject matter as well as a plethora of learning styles. Students who are advanced within the subject will quickly find themselves bored and understimulated upon early completion of their assigned tasks. Other students need more time and attention in order to understand the material.

Teachers are pressed to find a “sweet spot” for the class, often creating a lose/lose situation – advanced students still find themselves with downtime and other students struggle to keep up with the pace – creating frustration for each type of student.

The solution:

Updating the physical space can provide an opportunity to group students based on their understanding of the presented material can enable students to spend more time in their own “sweet spot”. How can we achieve this?

Using Vygotsky’s theory of the Zone Proximal Development (ZPD), we know that there are three stages of development – what I can do, what I can do with help, and what I can’t do. Ideally, we create spaces that separate those who fall into the “can do” zone from the students who require more help.

We must accommodate these groupings in a manner that will allow for acoustical and visual privacy while allowing the teacher to maintain control over the classroom. In lower grades, this can likely be accomplished by allowing multiple groupings of students throughout a single space –  think “centers”. For older students, the acoustical and visual distraction is more difficult to overcome. To combat this, multi-use spaces adjacent but separate from the classroom allow the teacher to transition the advanced students to self-guided learning while continuing to teach the material to a smaller, more focused group of students. Students can transition to the adjacent space at their own pace throughout the class period.

The result is that the students who require the most individual attention will be able to receive it in a quiet, focused environment. More advanced students can be given advanced assignments, work on homework, or work for other courses in which they may not be as advanced and need to dedicate more time. In this environment, the teacher teaches to each student’s needs rather than that of the entire class.

What does this look like in real life?

A widened corridor with seating to one side with a lounge-type setting outside of the classroom. This space is monitored via windows between the classroom and the corridor. It can be shared with other classrooms of varying subjects, allowing students to work together outside of the confines of their class. In this environment, it is best to provide a variety of open and more private spaces in order to allow individual students to choose the space that works best for them.

  • Shared space between classrooms can be organized similarly and provide more control and visual/acoustical privacy. This type of space also benefits students who do best taking tests in privacy.
  • In an existing built environment, we can convert an entire classroom into a collaborative space by adding windows into these spaces either across the hallway or between classrooms so that teachers can maintain visual control. In some opportunities, we can remove the entire wall of the new collaborative space– allowing for maximum flexibility.

By allowing teachers the physical flexibility to break the framework of the traditional classroom, they can reach students where they are and are more likely to keep them in their optimal Zone of Proximal Development, giving them the greatest possible opportunity to learn.

Want to know more about this subject? Reach out to Chad!


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