3 Ways to Include Students in Your Classroom Redesign
June and July have flown by and we have swiftly found ourselves in August. This time might bring up a range of emotions, but today, we’re going to focus on the positive ones. The end of summer means the beginning of school and we are enthusiastic, determined, and ready to gear up for a successful year.
Whether you are a teacher, architect, or a learning design enthusiast, your mind is likely swimming with new ideas for the year — everything from pedagogy to new education products. Today, we are going to focus on one simple concept: students and our spaces.
At the heart of every school design decision is the student. You can have the fanciest, most cutting-edge furniture, a highly-advanced makerspace studio, or the newest brand of whiteboards, but if your students do not engage or respond positively to their environment, the design is moot.
So, how do we ensure that our spaces will effectively engage our students? One answer is simple: ask them what they want. And listen.
Today, we’ll explore three ways you can include students in your classroom redesign process.
Ah, the town hall — a symbol of the democratic process in its most local form. This strategy doubles as a lesson in civic education. It is a great, public way to engage your students in the classroom design process. Here are a few helpful tips for setting up your town hall:
Announce that you will be holding a town hall on classroom space and share topics you will be covering — pain points, classroom design dreams, concerns, etc. This step allows your students to think thoughtfully about space before the meeting.
Set Norms. We can’t stress this step enough. The benefit of the town hall is it gives all students a chance to speak up. Norms set the foundation for a respectful conversation. Depending on the age of your students, you could actually create these norms together. Ask your students, what makes for a respectful exchange of ideas? Here are a few norms that have worked for us:
- One conversation at a time — avoid interruptions or talking over people, even if is is a positive or agreement statement.
- Speak from “I” statements, not “we” statements.
- All thoughts and opinions are valued and there are no wrong or right answers.
Stay on Track. When setting up the town hall space, stick to the questions that you already shared with your students. It’s possible that the conversation may veer elsewhere. Try to bring it back on track, unless, of course, the new tangent is full of new, fruitful ideas about your space!
Take Notes! Appoint a fellow teacher, student, or colleague to capture all the great ideas shared during your town hall. You can even record the conversation to come back to it later.
Co-design a Survey
While townhalls are a great way to hear from your students and have them practice public speaking, some students may not want to share their opinions out loud. Surveys are a great way to capture honest opinions about your space, especially if you allow the answers to be anonymous. One way to make your surveys even more powerful is to write your survey with your students. Ask your students to submit questions they would want to answer or source a “committee” of students to help you write your questions. This also ensures that the survey is written in an age-appropriate manner.
Host a Design Competition
Hosting a competition is arguably the most fun and imaginative way to learn about how your students think about space. Here, the opportunities are endless! You can challenge students to bake up dream spaces or redesign the classroom with certain guidelines. Remember, creativity thrives on constraints! Plus, then you actually implement the contest winner’s idea. Here are a few potential competition prompts:
- If time, space, and money were not an issue, what would your dream classroom look like? This question is a great way to tap into your student’s imagination and understand what their learning values are.
- You have $50 for materials — how would get the biggest bang out of your buck to upgrade the classroom? Get creative with textures and colors, and think about what would improve the classroom experience. This is a great way to get your students to problem-solve! You could change up the materials based on what you have available.
- Without adding anything or taking anything away from the classroom, what is one thing you would change about our classroom? Obviously, this is the best contest to hold if you there is not much budget for redesigning your space!
The most important part of including your students in your design process is simply reminding them that they have a voice. As they see their voices create positive change in their immediate environment, they are able to build stronger feelings of agency and investment in the classroom. They become active participants, rather than passive receivers of their environment — architects, rather than consumers of their world.