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MEP learning pack

Masters in Educational Practice: Literacy

4

Literacy and learning spaces

4.3

The physical learning space

In the most effective literacy classrooms, the ways in which the learner engages with the learning environment are both interactive and inextricably linked. As the decision maker, you can decide how this interaction can take place and how to create a physical learning space which seeks to support the development of oracy, reading and writing.

In this topic, you will consider the physical learning space in relation to the:

Learning theories and the physical space

In the previous subtopic, some thought was given to the way in which the theories of learning impact on the learning and teaching of literacy. This concept can be broadened by thinking about the ways in which the physical space creates the:

  • behaviourist classroom
  • constructivist classroom
  • social constructivist classroom.

In one sense, these environments are not limited by the physical attributes of the classroom but are more concerned with the opportunities you create in your literacy teaching.

Activity 4.7: Learning theories and the physical space

Look at the attached PowerPoint and consider how the physical space relates to the ways in which literacy learning and teaching takes place. In particular consider how the opportunities for oracy might be created.

Linked here is a PowerPoint for learning theories and the physical space.

What does the primary literate learning environment look like?

As the teacher, the first question to consider is:

‘How will a visitor to my classroom know that I value oracy, reading and writing?’

To help you assess and audit your literate learning environment, you may like to begin by looking at the following resources:

Interactive design tool

It can be very time consuming to physically re-order the classroom and much is dependent on the constraints of the room itself. Yet, it is useful to think about alternative arrangements which maximise the opportunities for developing the literate learning environment. In order to this, you may like to use the classroom design tool.

Activity 4.8

This tool allows you to create a virtual classroom which should be based on your own learning and teaching space. The tool will allow you to:

  • check the sight lines for teachers, learners and support staff
  • check to see if every learner is visible
  • review your opportunities for group work and collaborative learning
  • look at accessibility to print rich materials including technology
  • check if all learners can see displays which are designed to support learning, for example, word banks
  • organise a space where reading materials can be stored in an appealing and inviting way.

It also allows you to consider the more practical aspect of the environment.

  • Is there congestion in high traffic areas?
  • Are resources properly stored?
  • Is there a system for storing personal belongings?
Start
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Working walls, teaching resource and displays

After experimenting with the ways in which the layout of the environment might be more effective, you may like to consider the wall and display space. Most commonly there are three ways in which the wall space is used in the primary classroom:

  • display of finished work
  • learning and teaching resource
  • working wall.
Display of finished work
Display of finished work
Teaching resource
Teaching resource
Working wall
Working wall

Some thoughts on working walls

There is one viewpoint that considers the classroom as the garage of learning and teaching while the corridors and public areas are the showcases for display.

This approach means that the classroom display areas are mainly used for teaching resources and working walls which explore the process of learning. The public display areas show the finished and polished product of that learning. This may include celebrations of best work or concluding displays of topics. For example, using the pictures above the displays would be situated as follows:

  • The giving tree – corridor or public space.
  • The punctuation pyramid – classroom long-term display.
  • The working wall – classroom short-term display (only for the duration of that piece of writing).

In the classroom, the literacy working walls are often used to show the process of writing and the different language features of text types. They also model how the editing and drafting stages are an integral part of producing a finished piece of work.

Activity 4.9

Look at the PowerPoint on literacy working walls.

Consider the following points.

  • How do the walls show a process rather than a product?
  • How is the wall interactive?
  • Who owns the wall and the represented learning and teaching?
  • How can the wall be used to reflect collaborative learning?

These are the typical ways in which literacy is taught through the display environment in many primary school classrooms. However, there is a viewpoint which suggests a different approach to creating the literate learning environment.

An alternative view to the literate learning environment

Communication Friendly Spaces™ provides an alternative viewpoint from the vibrant, busy and colourful classrooms that are typically created in primary schools.

A video clip explaining the ideas behind the Communication Friendly Spaces™ approach (external link) can be found on the Elizabeth Jarman website.

The literate learning space in a secondary environment

While the focus in this subtopic so far has been the primary space, there is a need to think about how a literate learning space can be developed in the secondary school. Some of the aspects are generic, for example, the application of the learning theories and the need to provide opportunities for collaborative work.

Additionally, there needs to be a focus on how the development of literacy skills can be supported in the environments of different subject areas.

This free extract from the Literacy Guide for Secondary Schools, 2012–2013 (external link) is a useful resource for further reading.

There is also useful guidance in the document A strategy and guidance for inspecting literacy for pupils aged 3 to 18 years (Estyn).

Summary

In this sub-topic you have considered the primary physical learning space with regard to literacy. A focus has been placed on using the space in relation to the learning theories and organising the physical space to support the development of literacy skills.

In conclusion, the most important aspect of the literate learning space is to provide opportunities for high-quality classroom talk and to secure this argument further you may like to revisit Professor Neil Mercer's work.

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