Friday, May 25, 2012

We Have a Negative Space Problem

In terms of social media, I spend the most amount of time on Twitter and the least amount of time on Facebook. On some level, it's the culture of each "place." Plus is great, but I haven't found a way to "fit in" yet -- despite having an account and posting from day one. Meanwhile, Facebook is the place where I meet folks from high school.

However, it's more than that. It's the concept of space. Twitter is simple and it looks simple. Watch the user interface and there's enough negative space to breathe. Google Plus has more to offer than Facebook and does so with more negative space and easier navigation.

It has me thinking of school. When I walk the halls, there's too much negative space. When I visit classrooms, there isn't enough negative space. Physically, there isn't any sense of balance. Students move from edgy overload to edgy boredom without a sense of flow.

When I think of instruction, it's crammed with positive space. No reflection. No wandering. No negative space between the subjects and the concepts. Again, it misses the sense of balance. For all the talk of "instructional design," schools are often missing one of the core fundamentals of design. We need negative space.

I'm not sure what it would look like, but I want schools to rethink the concept of negative space. I want to recover the paradoxically complex simplicity and solitude of negative space.


  1. I think you lost me gonig from visual design to teaching. Those are two very different careers and I really don't see any connection.

  2. In teacher training, my professors showed us model classrooms. You could tell learning was taking place from the word walls, the anchor charts, and the student work. Student work even hung from clotheslines close to the ceiling. I remember thinking, "What about the ADHD student who is highly prone to distraction? What about other students who need more of a sense of calm.

    Classrooms should have word walls, posters, anchor charts, and visible student work. But we need not bombard kids with everything all the time. We can be strategic, posting new words and asking students to log the old words in a personal dictionary before taking them down. Students can choose one or two pieces of work to be framed or displayed. Only the anchor charts to which we continually refer need to be displayed. Others can be stored electronically.

    I agree. Let's try and make more negative space in the classroom and less negative space in the hallway.

  3. LOL.. I just read the first "anonymous" comment, and I wonder if that person has little aptitude for metaphor, because it's clear what you're presenting is just that... a metaphor. Giving students room to process and debrief the experiences they have with content and context are extremely important and I argue that they're even more important in a world of connection through technology. What I wonder about is who is defining what are the best practices in getting students to reflect and process experience meaningfully? What are the exercises we can give students so that they can get better at processing what they've experienced so they have a better and more personal connection to what they've learned.

  4. I love the analogy to negative space. I think it has some connection to Google's concept of "20% time" as well--give employees (or in this case students) 20% of their time to use however they like, and the other 80% becomes far more productive than the original 100% was.

    It works for teaching as well. We do not give teachers enough negative space for the same kinds of reflection, processing, collaboration, and connection.

  5. nice idea.. thanks for posting.

  6. My students respond well to something that I call "Mingle Breaks". Between lessons, activities or after a transistion, students are given 5 minutes to just mingle. The time can be spent roaming the room, getting jobs done (weekely posted jobs in the classroom), personal errands (bathroom break) or individual tasks of importance. Ring a bell to signal back to seats and we move into the next event of the day refreshed. They love it!
    Another interesting way to get students noticing relevant stuff in their environment is to construct a weekly interactive wall or space. It can be in the room or out in the hallways/sidewalks near class. Display something of interest or current event for students to which students respond. Example: take something from any social media trend and invite them to do a "wall chat" with post-its, photos, poems, comments, ideas, etc. One week I choose the topic...the next, a student volunteers or is selected to come up with a topic for the interactive space. Name the spot. We called ours the "Team Board" since our class uses the team idea throughout the year. More on that later...something I've designed over the years and worth my time to write about it in my upcoming book. Now, go mingle for a while.

  7. Great post. In this same realm of negative space, would love to read your thoughts extended to our utilization of digital class spaces and their connections to our classroom walls and hallways.

  8. Great analogy, John.

    Here is what "negative space" will look like for us in the 2012 school year.

    In my district, we realized that we needed to take a wholistic approach in order to provide students and teachers room to explore. It doesn't make sense to as for 20% in each 40 minute period; who is doing anything meaningful in 8 minute chunks? Instead, we built the negative space into each day. Our advisory block is an opportunity for students to figure out what works for them, to wrestle with concepts in their own way, and to engage their classmates an teachers in a less structured way.

    Are you doing anything similar to what I shared in the link? I would love to bounce ideas back and forth with you.

  9. Thank You for give me such a great information..!


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