Zones in the classroom

Recommendation 30
In a classroom: delimit spaces with cabinets and/or a folding screen to create a place for a pupil where sensory and social stimuli are reduced

Chapter (theme)
Architectural spaces (zoning)

Because of
Sensory sensitivity, Central coherence, regulation difficulties

In order to
prevent or reduce sensory and social over-stimulation and increase concentration.

Creating delimited places where one can find peace and tranquility and where sensory and social stimuli can be controlled in the classroom can be called a ‘time-out space‘. We primarily look upon these spaces as ‘sub-zones’ especially created to enhance concentration. This subject is treated rather extensively in ‘zoning’ and particularly in ‘zoning within one space’.

In order to effectively use such a space for doing schoolwork, so called ‘workstations’ are recommended; their definition appears to be critical. Magda Mostafa did observe exceptional outcomes when she compared a ‘control class’ with a large cushion in a corner of the room to one with a partitioned workstation; “In the control class, with the absence of a formal and partitioned escape space, similar effects were not observed. Those children who did need time-out used a cushion in the corner but were constantly either disturbed by their curious peers, or joined by them. Either way, both the individual child’s escape time, as well as the session, was disrupted.

Since a very similar recommendation by McAllister & Maguire can almost be considered ‘evidence based’, a full quote is also warranted:
“Workstations are individual desks dedicated to pupil working. To aid with concentration and to minimize distraction from elsewhere, they have side and back screens. To aid further in supporting pupil concentration, they tend to be positioned up against a blank wall or in a corner away from other activity. In comparison to other identifiable areas in the classroom, the workstation area was the one designated for visual calm and quiet. Pupils, when seated at their workstations, need direct and immediate access to open storage shelves where their work baskets will be positioned. Accordingly, low-level storage shelving will often act as a barrier between the workstations and the rest of the classroom.”

The same authors also propagate a quiet space with a different purpose:
“A quiet room in the classroom is essential. This is to allow a child time to ‘recharge their batteries’ if getting tired or alternatively calm down if distressed. It can also become an extension to the classroom – a small stage, storytelling or reading area if required, thereby adding to the flexibility of the classroom. Rather than include a sensory room, if adequate storage is provided, equipment to transform the quiet room into a temporary sensory room can be wheeled or carried to the quiet room. Further flexibility can be included by providing a sliding screen or door to the quiet room, allowing the quiet area to be opened up or closed off as desired.”

These authors don’t explicitly address the issue raised above, but we may assume these quiet spaces are sufficiently shielded to prevent the disadvantages Mostafa found in her experiment with the pillow in the corner of the room.

Finally it’s nice to relate the following success story from The Autism Toolbox which gives advise for dealing with autistic pupils in mainstream Scottish schools:
“A school with 2 pupils on the spectrum in a P5 class (age between 8 and 9, fs) developed the idea of an individualised work station by creating an “office” area within the class. This space was available to all pupils who recognised that they needed a quieter space in which to work. The office was deliberately designed to give the feeling of a “grown up” space using real life office equipment. Pupils were also given the option to wear headphones and listen to music if they wished. Very quickly this resource became a normal, accepted part of the classroom.”

* Mostafa

Mostafa, Magda, ‘An Architecture for Autism: Concepts of design intervention for the autistic user’, In: Archnet-IJAR, International Journal of Architectural Research 2(2008) 1 (March) 189-211.