In order to teach the conditional verb tense and the use of vivid imagery, I often ask my ELL students to design and redesign spaces. Okay, to be honest, the conditional verb tense is more of an excuse than a driving force. I want to see how my students think.
A few students have thought about ways to turn phone booths into relaxation centers or podcasting booths. Students have imagined the ultimate treehouses, complete with ziplines, climbing walls (a bit redundant when one can climb a tree) and water balloon launchers. A few have even taken hours at home to sketch out their designs.
I recently asked my class to redesign the classroom space. While a few of their ideas were unrealistic (two story classrooms with a balcony between the room and "half-room" or fresh food snacking centers) many of their ideas were practical. They wanted skylights and windows. Some even suggested windows that opened. They wanted walls that weren't off-white. They wanted lamps that would provide lighting from the side.
Some of them wrote about tables where they could stand instead of sit alongside couches and bean bag chairs so that they could sit in something that wasn't made from moulded plastic. Students wrote about art work framed on the wall instead of chart paper with material they already had in their binders. They wanted half walls creating quiet spaces. They wanted mini-studios for video and audio recording. They wanted a back door to open to an outdoor garden area where they could work on projects using their "outside voice."
I realize that it might feel shallow to focus on the physical space. I mean, learning can happen anywhere. But if that's true, then why do we prefer to meet at Starbucks or a pub when we want some informal, unpaid planning time? Why do we decorate our homes? Why does even the most agnostic skeptic feel at least vaguely spiritual when the light streams through the stained glass windows?
I drove home with their design ideas swirling in my mind. As I drove past an old factory building in downtown Glendale, I thought about that space. I imagined it as an artists' loft with a coffee shop, museum, living space and garden. I pictured it as a creative community inviting an element we often miss in suburbia.
I thought again about the obsolete factory model in place in my school and wondered if we could redesign this space, not just with a more authentic curriculum, but physically and spatially as well. Why can't we redesign it to be an inviting space for a creative community? Why can't we turn this factory model into an artists' loft?