By outfitting common areas with inviting furnishings, schools are finding more chances for students to immerse themselves in learning. Common areas can occur in rooms such as media centers and food courts, and also be created to make use of spaces such as hallways, entryways and other open expanses. These comfortable gathering spots provide opportunities for groups to meet or for individuals to study in a more relaxed atmosphere than they might experience in their usual learning spaces. Providing these spaces facilitates learning throughout the day in a number of ways.
Continuing discussions after class
Informal gathering places can allow classroom discussions and debates to spill into after-class conversations. Research suggests that students are likely to start these informal talks in comfortable areas located close to the classroom. Educators can plan for these post-lesson talks by designing shared areas in multiple locations that are near classrooms and other active learning spaces. Furniture should be inviting, with soft seating arranged so students can immediately bring conversations into the gathering spaces after they exit their classes. The space also needs to be equipped with outlets and USB ports to charge devices. Comfortable furniture with handy features creates the conditions for students to reinforce their learning through relaxed discourse.
Scheduling collaborative work outside of class
Projects started during the learning period often require collaboration outside of the allotted session time. Shared spaces provide familiar venues where students can plan time to continue their work and form new perspectives that might be gained when considering ideas outside of class. Feeling relaxed in a comfortable common space can also free students to think more creatively and speak more readily than they might in a more formal learning setting. Including writing surfaces in group areas allows participants to capture their ideas during these out-of-class sessions.
Sometimes, the best ideas happen through "happy accidents." Chance meetings with teachers or between peers can turn into richer discussions when opportune places are available for them to sit and hear each other's thoughts. When schools furnish entryways, hallways and other highly-trafficked areas with appealing seating options, they set the stage for these incidental conversations to take place.
Shared spaces can also provide individual nooks where students can read and study on their own in relaxed settings. For many, these less formal learning spaces allow people to get away from social distractions so they can better focus on their material. Different students might adopt different postures to help them concentrate. Many like to recline in a sofa or large chair while reading. Others might like to sit in a chair while they spread papers and devices on tabletops to search for insights among their materials. Common areas can optimize individual work when seating allows students to take a variety of postures.
When schools invest in attractive furnishings for their entryways, hallways and dedicated learning areas, they communicate trust in their students' ability to collaborate and study independently. These areas also set the expectation that learning should happen in all places within the school. Deliberately-designed common areas can spark students' feelings of collegiality, putting them at the center of their learning experiences.
Parsons, Caroline. (2016). "Space and Consequences": The Influence of the Roundtable Classroom Design on Student Dialogue.