Open plan classrooms – Yay or nay?

If you’re a long term reader of Spice And Petal, you will know that I am a university student studying Primary Education. One of my passions is looking at learning spaces and what works best for different students. 

In recent years there has been a wave to transform the ‘old style’ of classroom into new, innovative open plan classrooms. For many schools this has meant knocking down large walls, expanding teaching space, new facilities, going back to ‘basics’ and millions of dollars in building costs.

But is it worth it? 

I’ve had the privilege to teach in both schools that do have open plan classrooms and those that don’t. I know what I prefer, but for now, we’ll look at what works for Students. 

There are enormous positives to open plan classrooms. Form easier team teaching, ample space, new facilities to innovating students imagination and thinking. We can’t deny that these are lovely and refreshing, especially looking at the state of some of our school classrooms before.

But is all this change coming at a cost?

Research by The Conversation would say so. Statistically, children are suffering. Research shows that 50%-70% of students are annoyed by noise. When surveyed, children said they struggled to concentrate with noise from other classrooms. And this isn’t classes that are not controlled properly. Children make noise, especially when doing group work, (which is one of the big draw cards of open plan classrooms!) In another study, children speech perception dropped from 80% to 25% when in an open plan classroom. And we haven’t even considered the students who are introverted or easily distracted! 

And it’s not just Students who are suffering! Teachers who were surveyed reported a higher level of distraction, and an increased strain on their voice as they competed with the noise from other classes. Long term, this strain on teaches voice can cause irreversible damage to their vocal cords. 

So where do we go from here? 

Well, not everything about open plan classrooms are bad. But, it is obvious that students struggle to cope with the noise from other classes. If open plan classrooms are going to work, they will need to be purpose built to flexible learning spaces. Areas where students can sit in silence are essential. And we need to do more research into the impact of these spaces on students with special needs, hearing impairments and ADD/ADHD. 

I’m interested to hear what you think about learning spaces. Leave a comment below or send me an email at spiceandpetal@gmail.com 

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