Does the typical school setting still make sense? That is: classrooms separated by corridors and students sitting in rows of desks. Is it possible to design new solutions in line with the actual knowledge on school methods and tools for effective learning? What does innovative educational research suggest, regarding the learning environment, where students should become responsible citizens of tomorrow’s society?
The book “From the classroom to the learning environment” tries to answer these questions. The publication is edited by Indire President, Giovanni Biondi; the Director of the Indire technology area, Samuele Borri and the Indire Head technologist, Leonardo Tosi.
Thanks to the contribution of the Institute’ s researchers, who have been delving into this study sector for many years, the book documents best practices in Italy and abroad, examples of school environments which took up the challenge set by current times and suggested effective solutions. In a renewed national framework, open to develop new schools, a new way of designing the learning environment is proposed by bringing together those who design the environment and those who experience it.
The debate on the characteristics of school environments is not an exclusive matter for architects and technicians but a common ground for different professionalisms addressing the needs of the school world and society, in a continuous dialogue on the themes of innovation and school community’s needs.
Luigi Berlinguer, former Minister of Education and keen observer of the innovation processes, highlights in the preface of the book the central themes of school buildings. “If the investment for a school building gives back for only 30% of its economic potential, because it can’t host all the daily school activities, its potential is not fully exploited. At present, building schools for only lecture-based activities is a partial and wrong investment”.
The national guidelines, for the school curriculum of primary and secondary education, emphasises the need for a student-centred learning environment: “The social aspect of learning is crucial. There are many forms of interaction and collaboration which can be introduced (mutual learning, cooperative learning, peer learning) in same-age classes and by creating multi-age work groups”.
Therefore, the aim is to create a type of school able to welcome and promote the methodological and organisational innovation which many headmasters, schools and teachers are carrying out on the territory, independently or as a network of schools. How can the traditional school environment be transformed in a multifunctional structure for teachers and students, where the learning environment is organised according to the specific contents and tools of the activities?
Pioneering headmasters and forward-looking local administrations try to transform and adapt already existing buildings in alternative spaces to the lecture classroom, recovering unused spaces, such as corridors and classrooms used only temporarily during the school day. Different didactic spaces are created and endowed with ateliers, group spaces, exploration areas, meeting-places. These are all integrated and complementary environments, where groups of young people can complete their projects, solve problems, discuss solution hypothesis, catch up on a subject by pair work with a stronger student.
In these environments, the mutual influence of cultural fields is one of the main themes, as the pedagogue Loris Malaguzzi highlighted in his time. It is no coincidence that the premise of the book is edited by Tullio Zini, the architect who gave a spatial interpretation to Malaguzzi’s “Reggio Children Approach”, which put children at the centre of a multi-modal atelier environment. Tullio Zini underlines the inadequacy of actual school buildings, which are not suitable for the innovative stimuli and challenges of the society and the new generation. “[…] School is a living organism that over time becomes richer and changes following the pulsation of life and its transformations, while the existing school building heritage is made up of a large number of anonymous or ugly buildings that are not well cared for, in many respects “no places” that cannot involve emotionally or motivate a student”.
A school that looks towards the future needs to be well aware of its past and tradition, so that it can be reinterpreted to meet new challenges, in an innovative and appropriate way. The book aims to explore the origins of school spaces in Italy, in order to offer new ideas for an integrated learning environment, in which discipline and exasperated control are replaced by participation and empowerment.
“On one hand, we had mass schooling, which fulfilled its objective in an important phase of our history”, as Giovanni Biondi emphasises in the introduction: “Great educational systems were designed as “companies” with the gigantic goal of spreading literacy through an entire nation. In this context, the lecture-based lesson and the study of the course book were the most economic and functional solutions to achieve the goal, considering the large number of people involved.” On the other hand, Biondi continues: “The first cracks in the system were perceived, already in the twenties, at elementary school, where disciplinary fragmentation was less emphasised. Teaching methods were questioned, but also the learning environments and school furniture. What was questioned was the rigidity of the system that required the students to adapt to an unnatural physical space and timeframe. Freinet, Montessori, Lombardo Radice and all the “Active school movement” pointed out, as early as the twentieth century, that the centrality of the textbook, the lecture-based lesson and the learning environment were in contrast with children’s needs. What was then highlighted was the fact that young students were forced to immobility and concentration by confining them to desks, benches, chairs and furniture, constricting them to unnatural behaviour for their age”.
In this framework, the book traces the characteristics and functions of the school buildings and their furniture, from the Italian Unification to the present days, characterised by a strong impetus for innovation, but at the same time by the presence of buildings and a bureaucratic heritage that slow down initiatives for change. From buildings designed to control students, we arrive to contemporary schools, where personalisation becomes fundamental. From the furniture designed to force the pupil to discipline and immobility, we reach the modern concept of design and the idea of ergonomic and functional furniture.
The book “From the Classroom to the Learning Environment” also contains a broad reference to the Third Millennium Educational Space Manifesto: the Indire’s proposal to overcome the old learning environment, made of classrooms and corridors, and bring together a project team or a school community, to reflect on different solutions that can offer school environments in line with a different way of experiencing school and didactic methods.
Finally, the volume presents a rich repertoire of contemporary images and photographs of contemporary school environments, functional to the needs of a modern and active didactic, and to the idea of a school environment which welcomes everyone in the different aspects and moments of social life.
“From the classroom to the learning environment”
Edited by Giovanni Biondi, Samuele Borri, Leonardo Tosi
Info & Buying
[Photo by Lorenzo Calistri]