Transforming the Physical Space

Rather than being victimized by our program structures, we should be creating new types of learning environments for a new time and for various types of teaching and learning. Not to do so is a declaration not to learn.

Heidi Hayes Jacobs (2010). Essential Education for a Changing World, p. 79

Features of the Physical Learning Commons to Develop:

  • Flexibility (furniture and schedule)
  • Wireless access
  • Networking places and spaces
  • Productivity spaces and tools
  • Comfortable and stimulating atmosphere
  • Open and flexible - books and computers don't get in the way
  • Supports for professional development
  • Equitable access
  • Attention to differentiation
  • Celebration of learning
  • Exemplary learning experiences - relevant and real world
  • Accommodates individuals, small groups and large groups
  • A cultural centre for the school
  • Centre for professional learning teams
  • Fostering creativity and experimentation

Ideas for Transforming the Physical Space
Ideas   Examples & Resources
  • If we aren't using it, do we need it? Take stock of all the physical items in the library and seminar rooms and workrooms. Itemize all the furnishings and equipment that are broken or no longer used. Offer any items that may still be useful to other classrooms. Investigate your district policy on how to dispose of or recycle the remaining items.
  • Be rigorous about weeding. This is an ongoing daily process, however it may be time for a more focused culling of the library collection. Every district has their own guidelines and policies for collection development and weeding. Study these district support materials and develop a plan for your big weed! It is a big job and always easier with some support, e.g., district central support, experienced classroom teachers, another teacher-librarian.
  • Explore virtual reference. Assess how much of your print reference section is still relevant and useful. Be rigorous about weeding. Think about the 24/7 access you can provide to learners by investing in excellent databases and interactive reference resources and the space this will free up in your facility for other functions.
  • Get creative with space! Develop a production centre for creating and publishing projects such as videos, models, and displays. Plan spaces for innovative active learning through drama, experimentation and play.
  • Plan to celebrate. Create lots of display areas for book promotion and celebrations of student work. Invite students and other library volunteers to help keep these displays fresh and interesting.
  • Does the library look like a storage space or a multifunctional learning space? Don't let books and computers get in the way of active learning opportunities. Because the Learning Commons facility will be used for many functions the space needs to be as flexible as possible. The smaller the library the more flexibility you will need. Use your new-found space for flexible multipurpose teaching and working areas for both staff and students.
  • Create flexibility. If at all possible relocate shelving so that it is on the walls. Put everything you can on rollers and keep furnishings lightweight so they can be moved into many different configurations.
  • If it doesn't move, does it belong? Consider replacing rigid banks of desktop computers with laptops or other mobile devices. Go wireless and investigate the benefits of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) for students and teachers.
  • Work with staff. Research best learning environments for teaching and learning today and have discussions with staff about ways to transform the library space into a Learning Commons.
  The Third Teacher: 79 Ways You Can Use Design to Transform Teaching & Learning
  • Work with students. Invite students to help you redesign the physical space. Collaborate with a teacher to develop an authentic problem-based learning experience where students make scale drawings of the space, investigate collaborative learning spaces and furnishings, design a plan for their dream Learning Commons, do a cost analysis for renovations and present their findings to the school community.

  Use the Leading Learning standard, Designing Learning Environments to Support Participatory Learning to plan strategically for the transformation to a learning commons approach.

More Resources:

The Third Teacher (2010). Book and Website

The Learning Commons Book Trio. OLA Store
Loertscher, Koechin & Zwaan. The New Learning Commons: Where Learners Win (Hi Willow, 2008)
Koechlin, Rosenfeld & Loertscher. Building a Learning Commons: A Guide for Administrators and Learning Leadership Teams (Hi Willow, 2010)
Loertscher & Marcoux. Learning Commons Treasury (Teacher Librarian Press, 2010)