D BLOCK: TAKING LEARNING TO THE STREET
By Peter Langford-Smith - Head of English
Earlier this year, the home of Year 8 and the offices of the Humanities and English staff has received a significant upgrade thanks to the collaborative efforts of a range of All Saints’ College community members.
Bringing together all the elements to make learning happen is complex; however, the detailed work of the architects along with with the Board, Administration, teaching staff, builders, contractors and College maintenance team has brought to fruition a space in whose ‘detail’ lives its philosophy of learning. The visible and flexible spaces allow for easy collaboration and independence. The design provides light, air, access, lines of sight and complete flexibility with how we use the space.
A highlight of the collaboration process was the chance to do a great deal of thinking and research about how best to use the old D Block structure and repurpose the spaces. Whilst the building itself was a basic parameter of our design thinking, there was much opportunity and freedom to consider how we could take advantage of the internal space to provide an environment that would allow us to put learning at the centre of our activities.
An early thought was how to better facilitate the movement of students to and from the more traditional classrooms. With the D Block housing five classrooms, up to 150 students at any one time were moving in and out of the building. Having only internal doors to the classrooms created a bottleneck. Moving our entry points to outside, together with the addition of an amazing northern balcony as part of this external entry, gave us an opportunity to extend the learning environment and greater flexibility, with the deck giving us another teaching and learning space.
How would the careful design of the classrooms and the internal open areas promote learning? With more efficient management of student movement and an opening up of our learning space beyond the walls of the old classrooms, we were able to rethink the once dull and utilitarian rooms and thoroughfare. Replacing the walls with glass changed the perception of classrooms from that of closed, contained environments to more open, flexible spaces or (as they are now known) the “glassrooms”. With the new light and flow, the corridor has become a long glass-walled break-out space called the “Learning Street”. Students are able to leave the classroom, but remain in sight of the class and stay connected to their teacher.
One former classroom was transformed into a breakout space to allow for a mix of activities, from autonomous student work to small discussion groups to a teacher-facilitated micro-lesson. It also allows students in the same year group an opportunity to work with students from outside their class, with collaboration based on shared interests rather than on friendship groups. This area is furnished with a set of mobile ottomans that can be configured to facilitate a whole-class discussion in the round or as individual pods for learning.
Decision-making about furniture was predicated on the need to provide flexibility for teachers and students. There are four different types of furniture design, a different one for each classroom, giving teachers the opportunity to try different configurations by moving from one room to another. The modern design of the desks maximises flexibility in arranging them, with a focus on student-centred interaction. Interestingly, some students find the different configurations of tables and ergo-dynamic core strengthening Hokki stools (wiggle chairs that absorb and encourage movement and good posture) to be too different from their previous chairs. It may take some time to adjust to a new environment.
Whilst all of our strategic goals are about ongoing school improvement, at the heart of the recent upgrade to these facilities are Goal 1 ‘Optimised Student Learning’ and Goal 5 ‘Prudent Stewardship’. The new design requires a paradigm shift in how we use the space in which we teach and learn. The refurbishment encourages teachers and students to consider the possibilities of learning beyond the traditional notion of a classroom, and to experiment with how we use space to create the best learning environment possible. These ideas and practices are flourishing. The community working together has created an environment that provides the very best conditions for learning and has grown our amenities.
"I really like the new breakout space and because it encourages students to spend more time outside, as it is a very nice structure that looks over the C Block Lawns. It is a very nice place to sit and have lunch, chat with your friends, learn, and just generally hang out in. Thank you very much!” Aleksander Narozny (Year 8)
“We have had a chance to experience the new D Block environment. Has its contemporary design affected our learning, and is it for the better? We say, definitely! Many changes have been made to these classrooms, such as the addition of the deck, walls of glass instead of brick, and an open classroom / collaboration area, the break-out space. Even the furniture has changed! Now this building is comfortable and modern, and supports students’ learning by providing multiple areas to work in.
“All of these advancements have created a learning space that is open and adaptable to class and student needs. The deck provides a quiet space for students to work in; a space where the class can work together freely; and a place where we can go crazy playing UNO in Tutor Group without disrupting the rest of our class. The glass walls enable students to work in the nooks in the hallway with the teacher still supervising them, and supports the whole building’s aim of taking students out of the classroom and into the areas they can work best. Another feature of D-Block is the breakout space. It serves as another classroom, and the comfy couches and accessible atmosphere encourage productivity without stress. Either side of the breakout space are ‘nooks’, areas embedded in the walls, where students can work away from the classroom. Finally, there are the new additions to our furniture, such as the wiggle chairs which help you keep focused if you like to fidget, and the variously shaped desks (petals, trapeziums).”
Holly Baker and Emilia Traverso (Year 8)