I am currently teaching in an open plan learning environment.
This space was formerly 3 classrooms with a shared central space and a staff library room.
I have always had an interest in the workings of open plan, I had some experience of it when teaching year 7 and came into this space a year ago with many questions.

Ownership of Space

Where do I belong?
Open plan learning spaces have the potential to disown teachers.
We do not have a desk, we do not have a wall-mounted whiteboard each, and sometimes parents do a few laps of the space before they can locate us. We are nomads.
To tackle this, we have a teacher table where we meet and work outside classroom hours, some bookshelves for storage, and we have a portable whiteboard each.
We have experimented with having all 5 classes in a central area, as this is something that was suggested to us to develop our practice.
After vigorous trailing 5 classes of roughly 27 students each, aged 6-8 was a little too ambitious (at least for term one).

Can I put up my own displays?
In an open plan learning space, it’s not ‘your classroom’ or ‘our room’.
We have named the spaces after local places so they remain neutral.
I am reluctant to create displays, as I don’t want to mark a particular space as “my classroom” and make students from other home groups feel as if they may not be welcome to use the space.

What about cleaning?
In addition to general mess, as in every work place there are “dumping grounds”, a place where things seem to accumulate.
As we don’t have designated spaces, I at first found this a particular issue.
To battle this, some responsibility from the children was required.
We now have tidy teams for each area in our space, and the children on these teams have worked hard for the privilege of being on a tidy team.

The Students

What about the ones who get distracted, lost or can’t concentrate?
This was my main concern going into open plan, I was unsure how students with no self-direction managed in this environment.
This turned out to be my biggest misconception about open plan learning.
A great deal of our teaching is directly related back to independent learning skills, such as how to be organised, stay on task and work with others.
Students who began with little resilience or ability to self-direct are actually thriving on explicit instruction about how to be a good learner, and opportunities to apply their new skills.
In a traditional classroom setting, these students would not have the same opportunities and may not be able to develop these skills as they have done.

The Teachers

How does the mix work?
In a traditional classroom teachers plan together, but for the most part they are on their own.
In an open plan learning area, I continually learn from my colleagues, enjoy their company and feel supported as we have each other on hand at any time.
Most importantly, we are fortunate in that we respect each other and believe in our team.
If the mix of personalities did not work, if one or more members of the team did not share our goals and understand the direction we want to go, I would imagine the function of the space and our teaching practice would not work in the best way it possibly could.

Can you be “contemporary” on your own, in a singular room with a singular class?
Yes. Unequivocally, yes.
Current pedagogical research does not prescribe open plan as the only way to teach in a contemporary way.
From personal experience the majority of what I do every day works just as well in a traditional classroom, if not better as some would argue, as teachers would only need to build relationships and manage students in their class, rather than collective classes.
None of us were trained in open plan classrooms, none of us came into the profession expecting to work in one, I know teachers in traditional classrooms share the same understandings, goals and practices that contemporary learning promotes.
The biggest difference for me as an educator is the access I’ve had to PD in the area of contemporary learning, with this and collegial support, my learning experience has been enhanced beyond my expectations.
I would challenge any educator to spend a year teaching in an open plan learning space without rapidly developing their flexibility, understanding of curriculum, knowledge of pedagogical research and communication skills.

Keep in mind this is my experience, there are many different ways to adapt open plan learning and I certainly have not experienced them all.

If you have any questions about how this works or would like to know more feel free to contact me.

Open Plan Classrooms
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18 thoughts on “Open Plan Classrooms

  • June 5, 2013 at 11:27 am
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    Hi there,

    I have recently found out I will be working in an open plan school for my first year as a qualified Primary teacher and I am not going to lie, I was initially disappointed as I have been working towards my own classroom for 4 years (especially as a drama and music cross-curricular fanatic = loud) but then the terror sunk in that I have no idea what to expect or what is expected of me! This is the first positive article I have found on the matter and has helped me find my inner positivity to embrace this as a challenge and I know it will help me grow as a teacher. However if you have any top tips on where to start/ what to expect I would love to hear from you! Thank you

    Reply
    • June 5, 2013 at 12:07 pm
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      Hi Charlotte,
      Congratulations on finishing your qualification!
      I can sympathise with you, (I has similar feelings initially) but I’m very excited for you.
      The first things I wish I had known were:
      1) Watch my volume. I found that my children were quite loud because I was projecting my voice. They will generally mirror your volume.
      2) Set up something together to define your space and class. I have found it is important for the children have a strong sense of connectedness to me and their homeroom group. This is also important for the children when there is a note they need to give you, when something is going on at home, or when there is an issue with another child. This year I have made a token that indicates our space, such as a chart or piece of collective artwork. We bring this with us when we move, so they can identify where they should be and so no one feels lost or disowned.
      3) Enjoy what you do! If you were in your own classroom you would not get to share experiences and learn with your colleagues in the moment. You would also miss out on getting to know the other children, which is important if you might have those children in the following year.
      Good luck for your first year and please don’t hesitate to ask me anything!
      Michelle.

      Reply
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  • February 20, 2014 at 8:23 pm
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    Hi,

    Thanks so much for your great article. I am currently working in a open plan classroom for Prep students. We have 60 prep students with 3 teachers. We are the first year to actually do this. Was just wondering what school you are working at or what schools you know of that are using the open plan classroom as we would love to track and view how others are doing it. Please email me on the above email if possible.

    Reply
    • February 23, 2014 at 8:23 pm
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      Hi Kirsten,

      I’ve sent you an email, if you have not already received it!

      Michelle.

      Reply
  • April 18, 2014 at 7:36 pm
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    Hi There,

    I am currently trying to find some academic research on open plan learning environments. I was wondering if you had any insights into the theory behind and practical teaching strategies that exist for teaching in these environments?

    I have a group assignment due and we are concentrating on teacher self-efficacy in open plan learning environments.

    My group and I are concerned that we are including the wrong search terms. We are searching “Open plan classrooms” and “Child centred approach”. I am studying psychology so am not in the education field. We were wondering if there were other key terms to describe this learning environment?

    Kind regards,

    Megan

    Reply
    • April 18, 2014 at 9:52 pm
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      Hi Megan,

      Thanks for your comment. I can understand the terms can be a tad confusing and I have to admit I’m not the best with those!

      My first experience of this was through an approach called Contemporary Learning, which I wrote about here, it could be a term for you to search for. The difficulty with this approach is that pedagogy is responsive to the current needs and interests of the students, which demands that teachers be constantly gathering, interpreting and reflecting on the teaching and learning that happens in their space. This means the practical approaches to this are pretty much limitless and they also depend on the style, which I wrote a little about here.

      As for the practical advice I can give, I wrote about what it was like when first teaching in open plan classrooms here, (the part about the students should help you out). I also had entries about noise/behaviour management, literacy teaching approaches and I love Words Their Way as a spelling program.

      There is some academic research about Contemporary Learning. One of the schools I taught at had been teaching this way for almost a decade and I was personally involved with the Contemporary Learning Project for 4 years, which involved the research and evaluation of teaching and learning with this approach. It is through the Catholic Education Office of Melbourne, you can read more about it here.

      I hope this has helped answer your questions, you’ll have to forgive me I’m a little jet-lagged!
      Please let me know if there is anything else I can do to help,
      Michelle.

      Reply
  • April 22, 2014 at 6:43 pm
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    Thanks so much! We have finally developed a measure that we hope will measure teacher efficacy in open plan environments…I was wondering if you would be able to complete it for us? Please send me an email if you’re interested to megan8@facebook.com and I will forward through our survey…

    I look forward to hearing from you!

    Reply
  • September 18, 2014 at 2:37 pm
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    Hi, I have a child in year 1 (and another about to start kinder) in an open classroom, I really like the idea, but not knowing a lot about it apart from what the school shares, can you provide me with any articles, references, research I can read up on about the system, to expand my understanding? I have just googled your blog meanwhile so if they are already listed on it, please excuse my hasty questions!
    Having been bought up in the traditional system of classroom teaching, I can appreciate different learning spaces work for some not others, I am excited about open learning. I’d like info also on ideal ratios student to teacher in this system, is there any or is it again very specific to the space? Cheers Gabrielle

    Reply
  • November 18, 2014 at 2:10 pm
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    I was browsing over some recent work on open plan schools and came across this website. In response to Megan’s query about academic research on the subject, I thought I might mention my own work, which can be easily Googled using my name, Neil Gislason. This might serve as a gateway to Pamela Woolner’s recent research and some other material. I’d love to hear about teachers’ experiences in open plan classrooms.

    Regards, Neil

    Reply
  • December 4, 2014 at 3:21 pm
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    Hi there,
    I may be accepting a position at a school with open plan learning spaces for the students and I was wondering how they are generally set up? For example if you were teaching math would you start with a whole group focus on the topic you are teaching and then students are split into their ability levels for a group sessions with 1 of the 4 teachers in that open classroom?
    Also what should I expect in regards to the layout of the classroom itself? Is there any site that I can go to, look at pictures of open plan learning classrooms?

    Kind Regards
    Chantelle

    Reply
    • December 27, 2014 at 11:48 am
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      Hi Chantelle,

      Congratulations on being offered a position!

      Each school approaches teaching and learning differently, I know I have personally experienced different approaches during the course of a single term!
      Open plan teaching really depends on the individual school’s approach and the direction your colleagues are going in, it could very well be the way you described or it could even be an investigation (students choose their topic/activity) or play-based (discussion/group learning/multisensory) approach.
      Unfortunately I can’t answer that for you, but I’m sure the school who has offered you the position will be able to.

      Open-plan classrooms also differ greatly. I have taught in an open plan space that was segmented into class areas and one with five or more classes sharing the general space.
      I would research the particular school you are looking at, but here are some floor plans and information about a few open-plan schools in Victoria: http://www.education.vic.gov.au/Documents/school/principals/infrastructure/vsdstagesspac.pdf

      I hope this helps you out.

      Michelle

      Reply
  • December 19, 2016 at 10:32 am
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    Hi,
    To all of you who have given open plan a go… please share how you actually plan. I am about to go into this kind of teaching, we will have 4 teachers amongst 120 students.

    Reply
  • January 25, 2017 at 9:33 am
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    I have just finished my first year teaching in an open learning environment and it was fantastic! I learnt so much from my colleagues, I felt equal and the work load was very manageable working as a team. My school is so progressive and I am very lucky to be apart of it. The most important thing that I have learnt is also my volume and student independent learning skills.

    Reply
  • March 13, 2017 at 11:10 pm
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    Very informative post.

    Reply
  • May 21, 2017 at 9:13 pm
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    I am keeping an open mind to the new contemporary​, open plan class room approach to learning that so many schools are now converting too and I am finding the whole concept very interesting. I believe that there are many benefits to being able to learn in this environment. However I wondered for those of you who are teaching in these environments, prodominately within a highschool setting, or have knowledge in the research etc, What strattigies have to used to ensure that your students who have ADD/ADHD, ODD, Autism spectrum disorders or other learning difficulties such as expressive or receptive language delays and so on, are getting inclusive support to overcome issues with for eg attention, distraction, sensory and audio issues ect? Could this be an environment that a student with any of the above medical examples thrive in? Have you offered or implemented strattigies to meet the students individual needs, visual or sensory aids, changed classroom shape or layout or used calming technics that have been beneficial and had a positive impact? Or have you found that this style of learning environment in some instances, can be completely detrimental to a students learning due to the inability to control triggers from over stimulation of the senses due to noise, movement, light or ventilation? I would love to hear of your experiences, examples, thoughts/opinions and suggestions. Please, if you know of any benifical links/documents that could further my knowledge on the matter then that would be greatly appreciated.

    Reply

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