Teaching in an open learning space

A Superstudio is a group of linked teaching spaces which encourage students to move between activities: to work collaboratively and across disciplines.  They bring together traditional classrooms, small and larger seminar rooms and open learning space to create a vibrant and dynamic learning space which can accommodate a range of teacher and student-led activity at any one time.” UCL Academy website.

Teaching in a superstudio is advantageous to student learning but requires merticulous planning and effective choreography of the learning for the space to work effectively.  This blog will outline some of the ways that my own team choreograph the space to help improve student outcomes.  Solely ‘traditional’ teaching does not work well in large open spaces.  Imagine two classes, say a maths class being delivered explicit instruction on one side and a class doing a large collaborative activity in a History lesson on the other.  Inevitably, one class will be disrupted at some point in a learning session when these spaces are used for learning activities that could be done in any tradionally designed classroom.  This is not to say that traditional pedagogy such as explicit instruction should not be done.  Indeed, in my own faculty, we may have project or problem based approaches, but this does not mean that sometimes a teacher does not give a lecture or explain a challenging concept didactically.

Choreographing the open space effectively

The superstudio space is most effective when students from different classes are working on the same project or unit.  They are ideal for teacher and interdisciplinary collaboration.  A flexible timetable, although easier said than done, that allows disciplines to plan for cross-curricular collaboration is an ideal.  In the Humanities, we are able to plan creatively across Geography, History and RE because for the most part, Humanities lessons are timetabled at the same time for each year group. This is particularly effective in year 7 when double lessons of almost two hours long are timetabled twice per week for humanities.

To choreograph the learning requires leadership at all levels.  A team of teachers and teaching assistants need to work together closely to plan for and react to learning in a superstudio session.  A subject specialist is able to lead on explicit instruction through a masterclass.  This could be done to a group of 100 students in the forum or done on a carousel where students have a subject specific masterclass from a specialist on rotation.  The forum area can be used to launch a project or to start a lesson for example connecting the learning to the bigger picture or across disciplines.  It can be a space for large debates across several classes and topical discussions.  It can mean students have to develop their confidence in oracy for speaking to a large audience.  The forum can be used for presentations and celebrations of learning and large group critique.  It can be used to draw together the learning at the end of a learning session.

The open learning space also has medium and large learning spaces that students can break out into for project and class work.  We have done whole superstudio and ajoining classroom silent gallery critiques and in depth critiques on a classroom level in this entire space.  When students are completing activities and working on the same project/unit at the same time, the learning becomes more fluid and less disrupted across the superstudio.  The space has the flexibility to allow students to work collaboratively on large tables but also a more positive way to manage behaviour, for example students who need to work away from the group on an individual assignment can work in booths.  Teachers of varying experience are able to team teach and therefore learn from eachothers practice.  Teachers with a rich but varied wealth of knowledge can lead discussions e.g. from Historical and Geographical expertise and therefore modelling interdisciplinary learning.  Students are able to work at different paces and teachers and teaching assistants can be responsive to students needs.  For example, some students may need further explanation or support and can be delivered a separate masterclass or tutorial as other students work on an extended piece of work.

Teachers must lead, collaborate and have the chance to be creative about how the space can support interdisciplinary learning.  This blogpost gives some further suggestions on shaping space for learning.

An example lesson in the open space

This is a launch lesson planned as part of a wider cross humanities project called ‘Migration Stories’ where students are working towards writing a book of stories based on family members and others historical migrations.  It is planned for 90 or so year 7 students over a double session of 100 minutes.  It is predominantly lead by a geography teacher, who uses their expertise to lead discussions and to explain key discipline specific concepts on migration.

Firstly, all students start by completing a ‘do now’ activity in their own base learning spaces as a class.  They are ‘free writing’ about two images linked to migration on the Mediterranean.  All students move to the forum after 15 minutes to share their stories.  Students are encouraged to show strong oracy and to speak confidently to the group.  Then the launch of the project begins where they are shown a moving clip of migrants who have drowned crossing the Mediterranean.  The project is explained and emphasised to the group.  Students move back to learning spaces  to complete a knowledge harvest of what they already know about migration.  They then are explicitly taught key terms linked to migration e.g. refugee, asylum etc completing notes.  Students then move back to the forum for the second part of the session where they will learn about Syrian migration.  Using the website twobillionmiles.com, the students annotate a map and also vote on what they should do in each scenario.  Students then move back to their base spaces to complete a masterclass on push and pull factors and annotating a map of migraton routes out of Syria.  They then complete an exit ticket activity linking their learning to the big idea for the term.

Later in the unit their will be gallery critiques and in depth critiques of stories, debates about immigration and visiting speakers to the forum to share migration stories.

The aim of the lesson is to encourage synergy between all 90 students and the adults and to have a shared enthusiasm for the learning.  Accountability comes in the form of talking, sharing and presenting in front of a large group. The lesson has been thought through carefully about movement, timing and why we use the spaces for different activities.  There is huge potential to use these spaces effectively and to the benefit of the outcomes leading to deeper learning and excellent final products.


5 thoughts on “Teaching in an open learning space

    1. Not sure if there is a need for ITT and CPD to support if working with colleagues who can model this approach to pedagogy affectively. However, the challenge is adressing ingrained attitudes to teaching and learning. Effective practitioners can do all the modelling, but there needs to be an appetite for others to be able to lead on innovative pedagogical practices too, otherwise sustainable change can not be achieved 😦

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