Designing Authentic Learning Environments and Spaces

On Monday 14 November 2016, our academic staff embraced an exciting day of Professional Development at Magic Years International School. In true inquiry style, we began with a question, and not just any question, but one of the most crucial questions that educators need to ask themselves in order to ensure that they are providing their learners with access to the most appropriate real-life, day-to-day learning experiences.

“What is the Magic Years criteria for designing and creating learning environments and spaces?”

This authentic and professionally-driven reflective question, shared by many academic staff members throughout the first term of this academic year, was embraced by the school’s Pedagogical Leadership Team and therefore drove the focus of this Professional Development day.

Educational Provocation
“We value space because of its power to organize, promote pleasant relationships among young people of different ages, create a handsome environment, provide changes, promote choices and activity, and its potential for sparking all kinds of social, affective, and cognitive learning.

All of this contributes to a sense of well being and security in children. We also think that the space has to be a sort of aquarium that mirrors the ideas, values, attitudes and cultures of the people who come to live within it.”
Malaguzzi – “The Hundred Languages of Children” (p.177)

Collaborative learning is pivotal in our growth as an IB PYP school, and therefore, our inquiry across the day was designed to provide opportunities for each educator to connect with the big question posed.

Designing Learning Sp-aces

Designing Learning Sp-aces


Research was conducted in different sessions throughout the day as follows:

Session 1


  • How is this learning space making learning visible?
  • Pairs consisting of a Head Teacher and Co-Teacher were formed as “learners constructing meaning”
  • These pairs took a tour of the learning environments and spaces established around the school
  • Each pair was required to take a photograph of their favourite space
  • Each pair analyzed why this appealed to them using the following protocol:
  • Describe (Description of the Learning Space)
  • Why (What makes you say that?)
  • Connection (How does this reflect the 5 Essential Elements?)
A whole staff silent “Gallery Walk” was carried out in order to reflect on a range of colleagues’ perspectives and to view how our thinking was made visible


Session 2


  • How is this Learning Space making Learning Visible?
  • What can you add/change/rearrange to demonstrate Transdisciplinary Learning?
  • In pairs, teachers revisited homerooms and located a space that worked well with learners.
  • The space was analyzed through the following Thinking Routine:
  • Connect (What connections do you make with this learning space?)
  • Extend (How is this learning space reflecting the 5 Essential Elements – Your current Unit of Inquiry?)
  • Challenge (How are you able to further enrich the Learning Space for the learners in your class community?)
Connect Extend Challenge

Connect Extend Challenge

If you had your eyes closed and you were read a colleague’s description of a Learning Space, would you be able to picture it in your mind? What makes you say that?

Learning Space

Learning Space

Session 3:

In pairs, teachers created a “Learning Story” (following certain criteria) that reflects and documented professional growth during the day.

Teachers engaged in collegial constructive feedback sharing their own work and viewing the work of others
A question was posed: Where do you go next?

What did I understand about Learning Stories before?

Some thought that they were:

  • A picture with a quote
  • A photograph with a description of what was happening at that time
  • Only written by Educators
  • Very, very time consuming
  • That they can only be created in one way

What do I now understand about Learning Stories?

  • Learning Journal
  • Learning Journal
  • Learning Journal
  • Learning Journal


MYIS Collaborative Floor poem to celebrate a shift in our Thinking!

Making our Learning journey visible to ourselves and others
I used to think Learning Stories were a description of a moment in the classroom, BUT now I think Learning Stories are an opportunity to document learning, reflection and next steps.

I used to think Learning Stories were only an objective description of the learning that took place, BUT now I think Learning Stories are a way to contain the Educator’s reflection, questions and include Parent’s reflections as well.

I used to think Learning Stories were snapshots of a moment, BUT now I think Learning Stories are a step in the learning process.

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