The future of the classroom is… contested, to say the least.
“Schools as we know them are obsolete. They aren’t broken. They are outdated.” - Sugata Mitra
The push to dismantle classrooms has been a common theme amongst innovators in education for a surprisingly long time.
"Classrooms are out, no more classrooms, don’t build them!" - Schank, 1999
And while we have seen the success of classroomless schools across the world like Sugata Mitra’s School in the Cloud or the Vittra schools in Sweden, these arguments don’t seem to hold much weight in our very structured education system.
The real question becomes, how can we bring the merit of deconstructing classrooms to our established, functioning school system? Well, we can start by pinpointing the criticisms of the classroom and then look at three key ways to practically address them without dismantling the entire school system.
What’s wrong with the traditional classroom?
The classroom is a relic, left over from the Industrial Revolution, which required a large workforce with very basic skills.
It’s a powerful criticism and probably the most common one. Critics of the classroom tend to focus on the fact that it’s simply an outdated structure that can’t produce the skilled, deep learning that students now need.
Classrooms are finite, highly structured and have every connotation of children sitting at desks, listening to a teacher at a whiteboard. Basically, it’s led to the idea that learning is finite, structured and inflexible as well. It assumes that all students have the same, straightforward learning needs. Not only is this seriously incorrect and means we’re missing valuable learning opportunities, it’s also setting students up to fail when they leave the structured school environment and have to develop independently in a dynamic world to succeed in any way, in any shape in life.
Innovators no longer speak of classrooms” - Fogarty and Pete
How can we revitalise classrooms?
Despite the concerns, it’s unsurprising that educators can be pretty resistant to the idea of completely doing away with classrooms.
On one level, we can see the value of initiatives like Mitra’s School in the Cloud but it just doesn’t seem to translate into our reality where we have an established education system and government-mandated standards. Not to mention, a lot of our society is structured around the way we educate students even as fundamentally as children being supervised at school during a parent’s working hours.
So the question becomes, how can we reconcile this reality with the idealised deconstruction of the classroom?
Well, we take the primary benefits of classroomless education and make achievable, valuable changes right now. It’s all about removing the limitations and restrictions of the traditional classroom:
1. The time
Effective learning just can’t be compartmentalised into 50 minute blocks, 6 times a day, 5 days a week.
Although face-to-face time with a teacher is absolutely crucial for students, they need to be equipped to learn 24/7 so they can lock in understanding, pursue topics that really interested them and go back over complex ideas and content at a time that best suits them.
It’s a matter of giving students access to resources and support that they can access anytime and embracing a degree of flexibility when it comes to timetabling. Melbourne Grammar has introduced a blended learning pedagogy that gives students more control over their timetable and their learning now works for their lives and preferences, not the other way around.
“Time is everything in a school.” -
Chris McNamara, Deputy Principal of Melbourne Grammar
2. The location
While schools reminds us of learning, learning shouldn’t remind us of school. It really is a lifelong skill that students need to hone in and out of school.
And so, by giving students the skills, passion and tools to learn in their own time means they are no longer restricted by the site of the classroom.
It might be a case of learning at home, beyond the school hours like Melbourne Grammar or even a Self-Directed Learning approach where students can learn and complete work outside of their classroom. Schools like Balranald Central School that support their students who take traineeships one day a week are also recognising that learning needs to occur ‘off-site’ of a school and excursions, placements and practical experience are invaluable in an education.
3. The style
The traditional classroom has usually been characterised by the lecture-style delivery of a lesson. And really, this lesson style is the epitome of outdated. The style of teaching and learning in schools needs to adapt to be as effective, dynamic and specific to the content as possible.
Inaburra School in South Sydney has done away with the traditional classroom for their year 5 and 6 students and instead introducing a learning environment where the whole group works in clusters in one large space according to their needs.
Other schools are integrating elements of Problem-Based Learning, Self-Directed Learning and Active Learning pedagogies into their teaching strategies in order to foster deep learning within the timetabled structure of most Australian schools.
Conversations about the future of classrooms (and whether they will exist at all) don’t need to be threatening or inaccessible to today’s schools. Criticisms of the traditional classroom don’t necessarily foretell the dismantling of our whole education system, it’s all about reimagining the classroom to be so much more than it’s traditional limitations. And as corny as it sounds, by breaking down these restrictions, we are beginning to experience the future classrooms, today.
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