Learning to Sit in Rows?

As cultural preparation for the workplace has changed through the years, and as our understandings of the relationship between child psychology and learning methods have deepened, education has also traveled through different design phases. Today, many types of learning are recognized and accounted for, but the stereotype of school as a place for lecture-based indoctrination persists. Our age-old search for an optimized state for individual and communal learning needs that will engage students, educators, and parents alike may not end with a single solution. But our hopes and dreams for our families and society continue.

Throughout the 20th century, a pedagogical shift toward progressive education embraced experiential learning and critical thinking. Both became hallmarks of American public education curricula including arts and physical education programs. Our ability to test educational theories also grew tremendously in contemporary times with technology, the ability to easily share knowledge, and the proliferation of charter schools.YET, we are obsessed with data collection and standardized test-taking that makes education seem rigid. Even with several centuries of thought and discussion, the value proposition of lecture versus hands-on learning is still debated.

Recently, KQEDs MindShift asked the following question, If aliens landed on our planet and walked into our schools, what would they think the school is meant for? and came up with these responses:

Learning to sit in rows?”

“Learning to get up and move en masse at the sound of a bell?”

“Learning to stay in place for 40-minute increments?

They ultimately concluded that, Its hard not to realize that a school, upon pure observation, looks like a training ground for behavioral management.

Now there are many great counter examples of participatory learning that are becoming more and more part of the educational fabric, including adaptive learning technologies and student-designed assignments. From a design point of view, my favorite participatory techniques include using school architecture for learning opportunities including topics weve looked at before on this blog like teaching students how to be designers for their own playgrounds, and integrating farm space to teach science, ecology, and cooking.

Still, questions abound regarding methods and points of view.

  • Should school feel like fun or like work?
  • If its too much fun and not enough work, does that impede learning about concentration and focused problem solving?
  • If students are encouraged to learn at their own pace, can they also be pushed to excel?
  • How can students be trained for the real world without stifling their notions of what a better real world could be?
  • How can physical classroom space be designed to address diverse methodologies through time?

How would you like to design the school day of the future?

What do your own kids experience/want to experience in a changing teaching landscape?

Image credits: dok1, opensourceway, frankjuarez

Daniela Morell

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2 Responses

  1. Marge Pacer says:

    Have you ever thought of publishing some of these wonderfully thoughtful essays in little brochures or booklets or in newsprint form to hand out to schools or as a form of advertising for Neenan? I read every one and they are influencing how I think. Thanks for continuing to make these lovely essays available through my email.

  2. daniela says:

    I think advertising really doesn’t belong in schools, but mentorship and inspiration certain does! Hopefully students are getting better knowledge of design through being in good spaces with thoughtful curricula. Besides which, these days don’t you think the kids are more likely to read a blog than a hand out? :)

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