Debbie Moncrieff, Kotaro Nariai and Gregor Sutherland
The point has been made in previous chapters that context matters. We respond to the environment in which we find ourselves in very different ways, but never neutrally. What makes a classroom a place for learning is never a simple matter, as seen in the length to which some teachers will go to make it a more congenial place to be, a comfortable and enjoyable place in which to learn and a stimulating place. Classrooms may be seen as 'behaviour settings', and even when they are empty of people they send quite clear messages about how people will behave when they enter. Children will go straight to desks and only the cheekiest or uninformed will presume to occupy the largest chair at the front of the room. While there is a predictable similarity of classroom space from country to country, the Learning School students also documented differences in classroom layout and furniture, raising questions about why such differences exist and what underlying pedagogy they assume. These are some examples.
Figure 9.1 shows what one classroom looks like in the Swedish school. The layout signals choice. You can choose where to sit, or possibly even lie, round a table, face to face with friends, in a relaxed posture on a sofa, or at a more conventional desk. How does this seem to affect what students do and how they learn? Based on an observation of one 45-minute class on a Friday we noted the following.
The class began ten minutes late. As the students came in they were very sociable to each other and looked as though they were enjoying being together in the classroom. The layout of the room is such that with the free seating the students can decide as they enter the room how well they want to work. It seemed to us that those who were feeling sociable went and sat on the sofa, while those who wanted to work sat at a desk.
When class began, the students settled down and everyone listened; some taking notes and others not. Several students were making productive comments to the teacher. As the lesson continued many students began to become less interested in the lesson and more interested in socialising with those nearby. Interaction between the teacher and the students occurred quite frequently but