Science, medicine, industry, and technology are continually evolving. Breakthroughs in these fields readily shake up the way things are done from first principles. Education, meanwhile, is often practised squarely in line with tradition. Some modern school classrooms, save more contemporary school desks, are not too dissimilar from their Victorian forebears in the style and mode of teaching.
One fact, however, remains largely unchanged in the classroom: where students practice writing. Writing is almost always done in the workbook. More interactive lesson scenarios can and do invite pupils to share their thoughts on the likes of a digital smart board, where these are available. Yet some educationalists, such as David Gibbons, currently an English teacher at Eton, think that contemporary classroom designs are doing little to stimulate true creativity. He proposes a change in the architecture of the classroom itself.
“I am writing this article on a wall. The wall is in a classroom I designed. Every wall in my classroom is covered with towering multicoloured glassboards – gold ones, terracotta, cerulean, blood-red, beige, lime and black.” — he writes in Tes in 2019
Although adjustments are frequently made to the content of the courses — probability theories and problem solving became a much more integral part of the new maths A-Level, run currently by four different exam boards — such stark changes to the way school classrooms are designed seem to be rare.
The idea behind the ‘writeable’ classroom is quite revolutionary. Traditional teaching calculus asserts that concentration comes from reducing distractions in the classroom: the 360-degree board setup paradoxically encourages distraction. Logically, as a student’s gaze is drawn to the colourful boards around them, they find themselves looking on a plethora of quotes and passages, haikus, authors’ names, themes and previous classes’ discussions, storyboards, and illustrations — which throw them very much back into the academic world. In a maths classroom; equations, geometry, calculator shortcuts and mazes drawn up by fellow students. Students can be invited up from their desks during lessons to share their ideas around the classroom, or work on a problem in small breakout groups — and then rotate around the displays of boards to share in the discoveries of the adjacent cluster.
It’s a novel idea, and certainly, one that deserves some recognition as a potential learning aid as classroom setups reshuffle after Coronavirus. Perhaps we, like the proposal’s students, should look to the classroom walls themselves for some inspiration.