Classrooms at Lydgate
You are very welcome to have a look around our school. You may be surprised by our classrooms, which have homely elements like sofas, rugs and shared dining tables.
We find that pupils communicate differently in different physical surroundings. When children get down and work on a rug, the interaction is quite different from the interaction you get when they sit at a table: it's more intimate, relaxed, unconscious, and teachers are often surprised by the quality of the spontaneous communication between pupils. When they sit on sofas facing each other and talk, this has a different quality again: more conscious, more socially aware, but still comfortable and comforting. You also have to remember that many of our pupils are actually functioning at the early toddler stage even if they are in a bigger body. Would you put an 18 month old behind a desk all day?
We also use shared dining-tables. Here the interaction becomes more ritualistic and formal, but still inclusive, comfortable, domestic, giving teachers opportunity to establish social rules and customs, manners and an understanding of social appropriateness. Teachers will often change the tablecloth to indicate when the table moves from being a social table (e.g. at snack time) to a work table, and a large, shared work table will facilitate inclusive learning where pupils will involve others who they may unconsciously exclude from a shared desk or small table. This allows vital learning together to happen. Then a desk conveys another message: a focus on academic work, or work with a partner, sitting up at a plain, uncomplicated workspace. A workstation is an extension of this: I face the wall, in a booth, which reduces distractions, to concentrate, alone with my work. Finally, a child may still find the complexity of a shared learning space with the eddying currents of social interaction and learning activities all around, too much, and after the initial input may need to begin to learn to work with just one (or maybe two) other pupils in a small break-out room. Some pupils are only ready to work on their own at first in these spaces, and other pupils will be introduced into their world bit by bit.
We have to flex all these tools of learning. We use our physical environment to enable us to do this.