From chalkboards to tablets, transistor radios to telepresence classrooms – the teaching and learning experience has radically evolved. While the technologies that support learning have developed considerably, it is only until recent years that the education industry has begun to reimagine how schools can create more inclusive learning environments.
Inclusive learning is the idea that schools should design an experience that caters to the needs of all students. This includes different learning styles, abilities and backgrounds. As educators, teachers and students discover the positive outcomes of inclusive education, approaches in teaching are becoming more flexible around the diverse needs of the classroom. However, as schools continue to embrace inclusive teaching strategies, they must also consider the critical impact classroom design has on promoting inclusivity.
A significant opportunity exists for schools to improve learning opportunities and foster inclusive experiences by rethinking the classroom design. The physical space of a classroom must complement any inclusive learning strategy by creating an environment that works for everyone.
Below are some of the most impactful design strategies a school can make to create an inclusive learning environment that enhances achievement for all:
While many of us will remember classrooms filled with desks bolted to the floor, the future classroom is a flexible one. Furniture, fittings, and equipment should be portable (including the teacher’s desk) so that they may be arranged to suit any learning scenario or style. Whether creating a central space for a whole class discussion, an intimate small group collaboration, or solitary critical thinking – furniture must be both portable and intuitive to interact with.
Equally as important as the physical space in creating an inclusive learning environment are good acoustics. Everyone has different sensitivities to sound and a well balanced aural environment can improve how students interpret teachers, prevents tuning out and makes teaching easier. Sudden loud noises such as school bells should be kept to a minimum and instead paired with visual signals. Limiting reverberation, having visually connected but quieter adjoining spaces, and seating children in proximity to the teacher according to their hearing abilities are just a few simple strategies that contribute to a more inclusive learning environment.
In the design of an inclusive learning space, careful consideration must be given to the natural ventilation and temperature plus the ability to control it. Students with allergies can be affected by poor air quality causing inattention, restlessness and absenteeism. The same is true for temperature, where students with sensitivities to fluctuations can become agitated and impatient, indirectly impacting achievement. Maintaining a stable temperature and quality of air enhances comfort for all and promotes an equal learning environment.
Colour is a key factor in influencing the mood of a classroom. To promote inclusion, the different needs of children must be taken into account when selecting the colour of the room and its objects. An overload of vibrant colours and complex patterns can easily distract or overstimulate some students that are hyper sensitive to environmental stimuli. Neutral or pastel colours that are more soothing should be favoured, while also balancing these tones with distinctly coloured objects to assist visually impaired students.
The lighting of a classroom can have a dramatic effect on learning. Therefore, the illumination of the space must be reviewed when designing for inclusivity. Natural lighting and the ability to control light levels are the two most important considerations. Controllability of lighting lets the teacher adjust levels to create a more calming or stimulating environment, depending on the activity and the needs of the students. When natural light is not possible, incandescent lighting with no flickering is preferred over fluorescent which can reduce focus and increase hyperactivity amongst certain students.
As school’s transition from traditional spaces to inclusive learning environments, there are a number of challenges including funding and the complexities of collaborating with multiple third party specialists such as architects, education professional and government. However, one thing for certain is that there is no one size fits all when it comes to the modern-day classroom. Carefully designing the environment strongly supports an inclusive learning space that enhances the achievement and overall feeling of belonging of students.
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Building adaptable learning environments that effectively serve the country, its growing population and the needs of students and teachers. Held in Melbourne on 22-23 May 2018.