Physical Space + Thinking = Cultures of Learning

Creating Cultures of Thinking

At the STLinSTL summer institute hosted by MICDS, I attended a fascinating session by Ron Ritchhart, co-author of Making Thinking Visible.  Ritchhart’s recent book, Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools, provided many thinking routines to incorporate in teaching, but what impressed me most was a chapter on the physical environment of the classroom.  Ritchhart contends that the physical environment should reflect the type of learning that is occurring. The learning environment shifts from the model of teachers passing on knowledge to students to a collaborative model in which students and teachers both engage in an interactive exploration of learning. Here are a few highlights from Creating Cultures of Learning and suggestions of how libraries can adapt spaces to become conducive to creativity and collaborative learning.

Provide a Variety of Spaces as a Catalyst for Learning
Ritchhart cites David Thornburg’s book, From the Campfire to the Holodeck,
and identifies 3 types of spaces: caves (quiet areas for individual thought);
watering holes (spaces for discussions with peers); and campfires (large group
gatherings led by a “storyteller”).

For an assortment of ideas on creating a variety of learning spaces, see AISL wiki discussion board “Learning Commons.” 

Document Student Learning
Are students engaged in chart talks, concept mapping, poster presentations, model building, or Readers Theater presentations?  Consider displaying samples of work, photos of group interactions, as well as dialogue excerpts from student conversations so that the school community can view the process of thinking. Set aside a space for an interactive idea wall by using post-it notes or paint a wall with Idea Paint for use with dry erase markers.  See David Wee’s blog for photos of library spaces converted to active, collaborative learning.

Author Ritchhart further contends that educators need to “stop hiding learning and thinking by keeping it private” and that by making thinking visible, transparent, it can energize that school learning community across all grade levels.

Incorporate Surprise or Humor
An advantageous pairing of the latest Harry Potter publication with students’ summer reading inspired a whimsical display at my middle school library.  A Harry Potter-themed display and essay contest challenges students to put on their “sorting hats” and decide if a character from their summer reading would be a good fit for the Gryffindor or Slytherin House.

Gryffindor or Slytherin? Book Display and Contest

As students brainstorm character traits like friendship or rivalry, the interactive Visual Thesaurus is a handy tool for pondering how individual traits set characters in conflict or, sometimes, provide characters a moment of epiphany and empathy as they discover shared character traits.

Go on a Ghost Walk
A final suggestion from Ritchhart’s book is go on a “ghost walk.”  Schedule a time with fellow educators to step into their classrooms when rooms are not occupied and note the “spirit” based on physical space arrangement, display of student work, inspirational messages, etc.  How is this empty room energized by the type of learning that occurs in the space?  What ideas can you glean from other professionals in how they create cultures of learning?

As a new school year launches, I look forward to assessing how the library can provide an exciting environment for student learning and energize the school community of learners. Please share your ideas on how library environments can make thinking visible!

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One Response to Physical Space + Thinking = Cultures of Learning

  1. Christina says:

    Good ideas for the beginning of the school year. I second the recommendation for the book!

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