Learning Spaces as Student-Centric, Personal Narratives

One of the common teacher rituals when beginning the school year is the set up of the classrooms.  Teachers, driven by best intentions, set up their classrooms in ways they believe will promote learning.  But, inadvertently, the message given to students is that this is my (the teacher’s) classroom not yours.  The classroom becomes the teacher’s narrative, not the students’ individual narratives.  Even when the teacher puts up student samples, it is often the teacher who selects the samples and the spaces where the samples are displayed.

In Learning Spaces (School?) as Narrative Architecture, I discuss the importance of creating learning spaces where learners can develop and share their own unique voices, develop their own personal narratives of learning.

One of the tenets of Narrative Architecture is meaning making is not exclusively in the morphological properties of space themselves, nor in the cultural processes of its formation and interpretation, but in the dynamic network of spatial, social, intellectual and professional practices that embody and produce different kinds of social knowledge. (http://sitemaker.umich.edu/spsarra/book__architecture_and_narrative_)

The essential question becomes, How can the educator create the learning spaces to elicit the positive power of narrative architecture? This would be a space where learners feel as though they can tell their stories as the producers of their own learning.

Learners working in collaborative learning spaces will interpret and form the learning space to have personal, and ultimately collective, meaning. They do so in all learning spaces.  Does the learning space create stories of boredom . . .  fear . .  . isolation?  Or does it create stories of engaged and passionate learning experiences?  Because I fully believe that since time spent in any learning space becomes a narrative architecture for the learners, educators should approach that space with intention, knowing that learners will draw from and create meaning in and about that space.

Henry Jenkins used the concept of Narrative Architecture in his ideas regarding interactive gaming. “The game space becomes a memory palace whose contents must be deciphered as the player tries to reconstruct the plot and in the case of emergent narratives, game spaces are designed to be rich with narrative potential, enabling the story-constructing activity of players.” This statement can be translated to – have meaning for learning spaces: “The learning space becomes a memory palace whose contents must be deciphered as the learner tries to reconstruct what he or she is attempting to learn. Learning spaces should be designed to be rich with narrative potential, enabling the story-constructing and sense-making activity of learners.”

The how-to of creating this Narrative Architecture becomes having the educators and learners co-create this space together – all being equal participants in the process.  The space then becomes part of the learning process – increasing the opportunity and potential for deep and indelible understanding of the learning process and content.

Related Resources

  • In Beginning the School Year: It’s About Connections Not Content, I discuss Roomination when I began the school year teaching 6th graders by just piling the furniture and wall decorations in the middle of the room.  In small groups, students developed blueprints for the classroom.  Teams presented their designs to the rest of the class and their favorite design was voted upon.  Students arranged the room according to the winning design.


  • 4 Lessons The Classroom Can Learn From The Design Studio: Perhaps the lexicon of education is broken. While the traditional construct of “classroom” may limit how we interact within our spaces, the labels of “teachers” and “students” (not to mention the conflation of authentic learning) may paralyze our progress as well. What would happen if classrooms operated more like studios?
  • School Without Walls Fosters A Free-Wheeling Theory Of Learning  When planning the school, Bosch reached out to both teachers and students. “From the children we learned that there were different types of design that didn’t appeal to them,” she says. To wit: Because they work primarily on laptops not blackboards, they like seating arrangements that let them steal a peek at each other’s screens. “We therefore created special furniture that gave them more flexible ways of working side by side and together with their laptops,” Bosch says, “For example: spread out on rugspots, sitting side by side on a sitting island or in the organic conversation furniture.”
  • What if eighth-graders reinvented the classroom? The students researched what their peers wanted in terms of school furniture, sketched out their ideas, created 3D computer models and physical mock-ups, and learned about appropriate materials and manufacturing techniques. Their prototypes then were made public at ICFF.

Note: At 4 minutes she discusses how they asked the high school kids to design their cafeteria.