A core part of the educational experience, it is crucial that students develop skills such as communication, collaboration and emotional intelligence to equip them for further education and the workplace. As all teachers know, groupwork is vital to the development of these competences.
In the workplace, productivity has been directly linked to environmental design, with improvements in comfort and access to suitable spaces having a direct impact on employee performance and satisfaction. Why should the classroom be any different?
There may be anxiety in the current climate around group activities, so how can teachers optimise the space they have to still access the benefits of groupwork? Here are some novel ways of rethinking the modern learning environment — even in small spaces — which savvy teachers can implement with minimal fuss, resource or disruption.
1. Create a flexible classroom
While collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking are integral to modern learning, fostering these skills is almost impossible with inert pupils in static rows of desks all day.
Flexible, rounded classrooms, on the other hand, provide students with a variety of learning spaces: rather than sitting at a desk, pupils could be standing up, kneeling at low tables, or even lying on the floor. Students are asked to articulate why they have chosen a particular learning space, and why it works for them.
Movement helps pupils to refocus, and increases their ability to pay attention.
Even just allowing students to change seats while learning helps their brains to function more efficiently. Spaces can be created that foster group activity, such as the use of round tables, floor areas with pillows, and couches instead of desks. Consider configuring a rounded classroom space for a truly interactive, dynamic environment to fuel collaboration and engagement.
In the flexible classroom, teachers can teach from anywhere, with no front or back of the classroom
2. Maximise all available school space
Libraries, meeting rooms and corridors can all be used as spaces for learning. Indeed, while teaching in corridors sounds like a nightmare for most teachers, offices across the UK strategically place sofas in corridors, used as breakout areas when meeting rooms are oversubscribed or a more relaxed environment is suitable to the group task at hand.
One primary school in Denmark even used its stairs as space for the whole school to gather and learn together!
Likewise, learning doesn’t always have to take place inside educational buildings, especially as the confines of the classroom don’t work for every student. Playgrounds and outside safe spaces can be used to foster creativity, while helping groups of pupils to put their learning into context.
3. Make the most of technology
Educational technology is a teacher’s best friend when it comes to tackling group work in small spaces. Even equipment which is traditionally seen as a front-of-class tool can be used in more creative ways to make the most of your space.
Interactive Whiteboards, for example, can be used by small groups to work around, while the rest of the class works on other activities. Individual pupils can even take turns running these sessions, and groups can present to the rest of the class, helping to foster leadership skills and boost confidence.
Laptops, tablets and other mobile devices can also be used to support the flexible classroom model, with small groups working together to complete projects. Find out how to best integrate technology into the classroom to aid learning and assessment.
4. Think beyond the classroom
This generation of pupils is extremely socially-inclined, with students constantly sharing information via smartphones and social media. Capitalising on this spirit of collaboration, teachers can use modern technology to enhance group work outside of the classroom.
For example, hosted online, ActivInspire delivers content that students can access anytime, anywhere, lending itself to flipped learning methods. With pupils able to complete group projects and collaborate together at home as well as in the classroom, space is no longer an issue.
In an ideal world, schools would have the budget to create engaging and inviting classrooms for all. In reality, even where the budget does exist, making physical improvements takes time.
However, by making some small changes to the way classrooms are run, teachers won’t only maximise the space available to them, but also achieve increased collaboration and deeper student engagement as a result.
Want to make a smart choice right now to increase student engagement in your classroom? Request a free ActivPanel demo to see how the very latest front-of-class displays can transform your teaching.