I think we can all agree that collaboration is a key 21st-century skill. We will leave the matter of defining collaboration and examining how do execute it for another blog but in this case let’s talk about setting the classroom up to make collaboration viable. The environment has to allow for collaboration and so we must consider furniture that can be rearranged without damaging the floor. (Yes! Break out the tennis balls!) If the student feel it necessary to change the layout of the classroom then the furniture should allow easy change around without too much effort.
When you do rearrange the classroom you still have to take the responsibility for maintaining a safe environment. I know this not a very trendy topic but we must consider that anytime we move our classroom furniture or important your furniture into the classroom. I think a safe and simple rule to have in your room is just to ensure that all exit paths are clear and free of cable, wires or any other clutter.
By far the most challenging of all three steps is for the teacher to look at the classroom as a work in progress. There may never be a perfect layout or configuration for collaboration however there must be the flexibility and understanding that we can try different things before we arrive at our final destination. The students should also feel stress-free as they try new configurations as well. Not all students will be able to accept the change on the fly so prepare students ahead of time either by a schedule or let them know 3 to 4 days in advance that you will be changing the layout of the classroom with their help.
Having said that, the true 21st-century classroom will of course allow for student input into the physical layout of the classroom. The layout is the first step of ownership over what the classroom looks like for your students. Give them as much input as they feel necessary for each and every configuration in the classroom. In this way they will take ownership over their area of learning and become more involved in their own learning.
Make note I have made no mention of the technology when it comes to the 21st-century classroom… Yet 😉