Open classrooms and open schools are active learning environments where children are encouraged to make age-appropriate decisions about their own learning. Usually children are grouped with others of various ages (or grades). This is often termed 'multi-age' or 'family' grouping. Nongraded education goes hand in hand with this kind of grouping. In multi-age, nongraded classrooms, children are able to learn free from competition with each other. Learning becomes more of a personal endeavour, and children become free to learn from each other.
The teaching style in an open classroom is very flexible to individual needs. Usually, the room is arranged in an open structure without individual desks. Children are free to learn at many different learning centres about the room for much of the day. In an open classroom the room is carefully laid out to promote child centred learning. The teacher's role is one of a facilitator. He/she knows every child, their likes and dislikes, their interests and their strengths. Using this information, the teacher gently encourages individuals to reach their potential and to expand their experience.
Experiential learning is key in an open classroom. Both the teacher's and the children's creativity drive the construction of new knowledge and understanding upon the child's growing understanding of the world. New experiences allow children to build upon what they already know or believe to be true. In this way children come to truly understand their world.
Although the curriculum objectives may be predetermined by an outside jurisdiction, how the information and skills are to be presented and learned is often up to the school. In an open classroom, the teacher maintains the responsibility for this outside curriculum but is able to pass on some of the choice and responsibility to the children. An emergent curriculum evolves out of the interests and ideas of the children. In a stimulating, active learning environment, children's natural learning instincts are encouraged. An example of natural learning is a child learning to speak. Although this is one of the most difficult learning tasks a child must take on, children learn to communicate by trying things out and receiving feedback from others. When children are encouraged to learn in this natural manner and make choices about how to learn, they retain their creativity and spunk.
Children are encouraged to make age-appropriate decisions in an open classroom. They are empowered to make choices about how they will learn and come to understand their own unique learning styles. When children learn to make informed, considered choices, they are self- confident individuals. When they make choices about how they learn best and what their interests are, they come to be life-long learners.
In summary, an open classroom/school is one where:
"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart." Helen Keller
"Education is not the filling of the pail, but the lighting of the fire." WB Yeats
Information on open schools from North Carolina.
An Open Structured Classroom program in California.