The classroom is a microcosm of the world

John Edwards

Editor’s introduction

everything we make must be a catalyst to stimulate the individual to play the roles through which his identity will be enriched… form makes itself, and that is less of a question of intervention than of listening well to what a person and a thing want to be.’1

The author has recently completed an exhaustive study of the classroom environment, talking to teachers and observing within a range of existing primary schools in the north of England. Here he explains the research process, describing in some detail how a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods have informed his thinking about design. He emphasizes that despite the wish to provide new school buildings wherever possible, by far the majority of primary education throughout the UK will continue to take place in adapted existing accommodation. Understanding the activities of the users within a range of representative classroom environments illustrates the need for an imaginative approach to instigate new ICT learning strategies, a recognition of special educational needs and an understanding of the notion of active learning, an essential principle enshrined in enlightened curriculum strategies which have developed over the past forty years.

In this chapter, the issues which affect an efficient classroom will be explained. Typical classroom layouts from the past will be illustrated by way of previous research; the principles of the educational curriculum in Key Stage 2 classrooms will be presented and, finally, Edward’s key research findings from observation in classrooms and discussion with educationalists over a two-year period will be presented. This research clearly recognizes that the activities the classroom needs to support are critical and should largely dictate the form. The chapter is a useful briefing tool for architects embarking on the design of new or refurbished classrooms who are interested in gaining a deeper insight into the education which takes place there.

His studies represent a significant contribution to our understanding of how children, staff and other members of the education community relate to their existing physical settings. In its incorporation of a broad range of research techniques and educational data, Edwards has worked towards an integration of both architectural and educational concerns, to provide a bridge between the two disciplines by asking teachers to explain the various aspects of classroom design which are important to them. In search of a common language his work sets out to translate the misunderstandings, which often occur when architects try to talk about education and when educationalists try to discuss architecture and space.

Introduction

Children’s experiences of school are framed by time as well as space. Most of a child’s life in a primary school is spent in the classroom; there might only be two breaks from study during the day, once in the morning and once for lunch, with children essentially confined within a single room from 9 am to 3.15 pm for the majority of the day. There is a range of research from the past twenty years by educationalists which describes the ways in which time is spent within the primary school classroom. For example, Life in Classrooms is a closely observed and engaging account of the complexities of classroom life:

‘Aside from sleeping, and perhaps playing, there is no other activity which occupies as much of a child’s time as that involved in attending school. Apart from the bedroom where he has his eyes closed (most of the time) there is no single enclosure in which he spends a longer time than when he does in the classroom’[1]

With great periods of time spent there, the range and breadth of curriculum and pastoral activity which this single space must support is daunting. The classroom becomes a container of the child’s life expectancies and ideally it should represent a sort of microcosm of the world. However, within the framework of existing research, there is very little which deals with architectural issues relating to actual space and its physical disposition. Previous research which has been undertaken limits itself to the environment on offer and those aspects which are controllable by teachers themselves, such as the organization of furniture and the grouping of children. The actual architecture of the classroom is usually deemed to be beyond the scope of classroom teachers and not particularly relevant to the ongoing education debate.3

Designing any classroom is about understanding the activities which take place there, and the way

in which the class lessons are structured to facilitate teaching and learning in line with the demands of the National Curriculum. Different aspects of organization are discussed here to provide an overview of how current practice has developed, whilst, in turn, revealing the relationships between classroom organization and teaching, which are framed by space and time. Finally, some key research findings will be summarized as a series of design process recommendations.4 The chapter is presented in six sections: forms of classroom organization; the use of the classroom environment and resources; child – centred learning – developments over the past 30 years; a survey of classrooms in use; the UK National Curriculum; and key research findings.