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An open classroom is a student-centered classroom design format popular in the United States in the 1970s. In its most extreme form, entire schools were built without walls, which made teaching loud and disruptive in worst case scenarios - for most schools this has not been as big a concern as proper ventilation and maintenance. The idea of the open classroom was that a large group of students of varying skill levels would be in a single, large classroom with several teachers overseeing them. It is ultimately derived from the one-room schoolhouse, but sometimes expanded to include more than two hundred students in a single multi-age and multi-grade classroom.
Students and teachers typically spend the first weeks of the year learning how to work effectively in this space. After they have learned how to minimize disruption to their fellow students, the real work of the school year begins. Rather than having one teacher lecture to the entire group at once, students are typically divided into different groups for each subject according to their skill level for that subject. The students then work in these small groups to achieve their assigned goal, often in a cooperative system. Teachers serve as both facilitators and instructors.
Students grouped into a large open classroom often span several grades in a normal classroom system. However, since open classrooms emphasize instruction according to actual skill level in reading and mathematics, this is not a problem. They move through the material at their own pace.
Certain education professionals, including Professor Gerald Unks at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, strongly support this system particularly with young children.
Classrooms that are physically open are increasingly rare, as many schools that were built "without walls" have long since put up permanent partitions of varying heights. However, in many places, the open philosophy as an instructional technique continues to thrive under other names. In schools where open education was not a top-down initiative, but a bottom-up phenomenon, they met with success. Piedmont Open/IB Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina, for example, was started as one of the original two magnet middle schools in Charlotte in the 1970s. While the other magnet (a "traditional" school) has closed, Piedmont is still functioning as a modified open school thirty years later, all the time housed in a traditional physical plant.
Open schools that last must keep an informed parent and student body and especially a committed faculty. If one places a traditional teacher into an open environment without special training, success is elusive. The lack of structure, physical (walls) or pedagogical (choice), can readily be blamed. Conversely, a committed open teacher with a supportive administration can create an ideologically open classroom in any school setting.
The open-space school concept was introduced into the United States in the 1970s as an experimental elementary school architecture where the physical walls separating classrooms were removed to promote movement across class areas by teachers. However, in practice this is not typical since teachers tend to prefer teaching in a traditional manner as if the walls were still present. Further, modern open-space schools tend to use modular furniture to separate class rooms in a manner similar to "Cubicle farms" used in many corporate environment.
Other benefits of open space schools included easily reconfigurable class room space, reduced school construction, reduced maintenance, and reduced school heating costs due to the open space architecture.
Open-space schools continue to be a very controversial idea for the obvious reason that a lack of architectural walls increases the noise and distraction making the teaching environment non-conducive to learning. It is generally accepted that this negative aspect disproportionately hurts students who have difficulty focusing because of ADHD or other attentional challenges.[How to reference and link to summary or text] However, some studies have shown that the open-space school model has a tendency to increase curiosity and creativity of other children.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
Klein found in a 1975 study that third graders with low levels of anxiety were more creative in open schools than in traditional school. Children with high levels of anxiety shows no differences between open-space and traditional school models. Students in open-spaced schools scored higher on preference for novelty and change (Elias & Elias, 1976).
- Pick et al., "Development of Spatial Cognition", Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, ISBN 0-89859-543-6, copyright 1985, page 99)
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