A Flexible Learning Space to Encourage Autonomy in Social Integration

19 Dec

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a Social Integration (SI) classroom in the Endeavour Program at Place Cartier, LBPSB. This dynamic class is led by Julian Verboomen (Teacher) and Erliza Magajes (Special Education Technician).

Erliza working with the adult learners in the collaborative area of the classroom, holding up a sign

These two educators work closely together to create a trusting and safe environment for their learners. Their classroom is a flexible learning space, with different areas designed for different activities.

The learners were also involved in the redesign of the classroom which features flexible seating. Flexible seating refers to a teaching approach where learners are allowed to choose where they want to sit in the classroom, rather than being assigned a fixed seat. 

At the front of the classroom, there is a semicircle of Adirondack chairs, where learners can comfortably engage in group discussions and activities with the teacher. A small kitchen table is available at the back of the room for group work. Along the windows, there are a row of chairs where learners can choose to do individual work in a more quiet area of the classroom. There is also a small exercise area (not pictured) with a stationary bike. 

A wide shot of the classroom

Towards the front of the classroom is a single wobble stool. A wobble stool can be used as a primary seating option or as an alternative to traditional chairs. When one learner was physically restless during my visit, Julian kindly suggested they sit on the wobble stool to help self-regulate.

A close up of a Wobble Stool

Juilan and Erliza also find ways to facilitate learning, rather than directing it. Along one wall is a row of iPads available to all the learners. This arrangement allows each learner to control their own learning and access digital resources whenever needed.

A row of iPads along a wall

Erliza also used her iPhone to help learners, whenever it was necessary. The Google Translate app helped with the comprehension of certain words that were spoken aloud by Julian during group activities.

A close up of assistive technology, the words "Lonely" are on the phone, translated into Chinese.

Julian and Erliza also work with their SI learners to help develop their autonomy. The learners have a job board posted at the front of the class to help them accomplish various daily tasks. This job board includes tasks around the centre, such as cleaning the classroom, the computer lab, and the cafeteria.

A close up of the tasks on the job board

At the start of each class, each learner chooses a task and Julian places a black-and-white photo of the learner next to the task on the job board. This black-and-white photo indicates that they are responsible for completing the task.

A far shot of the job board

The learners also collaborate and help each other. Learners who worked on a task the week before are paired up as “helpers” to assist and provide guidance to the learners taking on the new tasks. These “helpers” are indicated by colour photos on the job board. 

This system provides each learner with a sense of agency and they support one another as well. Everyone knows what they need to do!

In another activity, learners were asked to draw their emotions in a way that was meaningful to them, rather than trying to represent their emotions literally through facial expressions. The purpose of the activity was to help learners understand how their emotions might be interpreted by others, and how people may not always be able to read emotional cues from facial expressions. This was an important lesson for the learners, as it helped them become more aware of their own emotions and of those around them.

A student drawing emotions

The absolute best part of my visit? I loved how Julian and Erliza always treated their learners like adults. They didn’t talk down to them or treat them differently but rather engaged with them in a way that was authentic and respectful. They were kind and patient but also challenged them to think for themselves and to take ownership of their own learning.

Julian teaching the class, in front of the room

A huge thanks to Julian, Erliza, Matthew Kennedy, and Place Cartier’s Endeavour Program for setting up this amazing visit! If you’re an AGE teacher interested in setting up a flexible space or have something great to share about your classroom or centre, please reach out to the RECIT AGE team. We’d love to hear from you!

Teaching in SI and would like to network with other SI educators in Quebec Adult Education? Connect with our QCSI network at http://bit.ly/quebecsi