Sunday, October 23, 2016

Campfires, Watering Holes and Caves… zones for learning

Campfires, Watering Holes and Caves… zones for learning.

There is an ever-increasing body of research which shows that the learning environment can have a positive effect on student achievement and wellbeing. The article “Does the Space Make a Difference?” states that the learning environment:

Significantly influence how technologies (both digital and physical) are used, and therefore, are perceived by students.
Increase the instance of active, collaborative, and multiplictious nature of student-centred learning
Affect a statistically significant enhancement of student engagement in their learning.
On average, different classroom layout explains 7 per cent of the variation in academic outcomes in
each study.
On average, when students transition from a conventional classroom to a NGLS, their academic achievement increases by 15 per cent. 
(Does the Space Make a Difference? 2016, Terry Byers Anglican Church Grammar School, Wes Imms The University of Melbourne)

The design of the new learning spaces at St Joseph’s has been influenced through such research as well as our own contemporary learning tours. Our spaces, or ‘learning studios’ as they will be known, will incorporate the elements of design which provide optimum benefits for learning.

Many of our teachers have already begun the transition from traditional to contemporary spaces. This varies from changes in furniture type, to furniture arrangement within the space as well as outdoors. This alone, does not improve learning outcomes as it is the way the spaces are used that enables flexibility and high engagement in learning. In our context, the digital environment is yet another layer on top of physical which accelerates learning.

Zones for learning is an environmental strategy which has been successfully adopted by a number of schools and which some of our teachers have employed recently. The concept enables learning to occur in a very deliberate and structured way in zones such as:

The Campfire: is a space where people gather to learn from an expert. In modern classrooms, the expert is not necessarily the teacher and may include a guest speaker (physical or digital) or even other students. This is the zone of the classroom where student gather to listen and have knowledge imparted. This is where explicit instructions are given.

The Watering Hole is an informal space where peers can share information and discoveries, acting as both learner and teacher simultaneously. This looks like groups of students gathered where students may come and go as needed.

The Cave is a private space where an individual can think, reflect, and transform learning from external knowledge to internal belief. This looks like individual students learning on their own in a quiet place. This can be achieved physically or through the use of headphones.

Students know what a ‘trusted learner’ looks like in each of these zones and is expected to make good decisions for theirs and others’ learning. Students who are not displaying ‘trusted learner’ behaviours lose their choice and are then confined to where the teacher positions them. As learners demonstrate greater self-responsibility, then greater agency is released to them.

This strategy, when utilised in conjunction with timely feedback about learning and clear and explicit learning intentions and success criteria can have a significant impact on student achievement and wellbeing.


Does the space make a difference? - Empirical retrospective of the impact of the physical learning environment on teaching and learning evaluated by the New Generation Learning Spaces Project. Terry Byers, Anglican Church Grammar School &Wes Imms, The University of Melbourne
Australia’s Campfires, Caves, and Watering Holes : Learning & Leading with Technology | June/July 2013 By Ann W. Davis and Kim Kappler-Hewitt