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Form Follows Function at School and at Home
Scott McDougall, Academic Coach


"Form follows function" is a phrase attributed to American architect Louis Sullivan, a famous designer of skyscrapers and mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright. Mr. Sullivan's architectural tenet applies to campus-wide conversations related to the recently published ISACS Accreditation Report and students' school and home learning environments.
One of the accreditation report recommendations is to "develop a plan for creating purposeful learning spaces, as well as gathering/community spaces, that are developmentally appropriate per division." Considerable work addressing this recommendation is underway or completed. For example, the Upper School classroom renovations, informed by the work of Bob Dillon, an expert in the application of Mind, Brain, and Education and classroom design principles that enhance student engagement and memory encoding, are a notable effort that impacts all Upper School students. This purposeful reconfiguration and design of space exemplify Mr. Sullivan's perspective about the relationship between form and function.
One of the several ISACS report commendations is that the school creates a "'home away from home' environment for students." As such, pausing, reflecting, and conversing with your student about the congruence between the home and school learning environments is a sound strategy to start the school year on the right foot. For example, does the child's room or place of study and learning reflect the considerations incorporated in his or her classrooms?
A brief checklist of the home environment can aid a child's efficiency, attention, and leverage Mind, Brain, and Education best-practices. Wall Street Journal article link.
  • Executive-functioning skills like time and materials management, attention, and task initiation are facilitated by decluttering a workspace. “Reducing visual noise is essential in a time when students are overwhelmed by the noise of life” (Hare and Dillon, 2016). Partner with your child, if needed, to maintain a consistently organized and user-friendly space for academic work.
  • Research shows that multitasking does not equate to greater efficiency and productivity. “The brain cannot multitask- instead it rapidly switches from meeting the demands of one task to meeting the demands of another” Neuroteach, pg 122. Assess what distractors, technological or otherwise, are in the room that could cause multitasking problems and interfere with focused and sustained attention. Motivation and task initiation are positively impacted by removing potential distractors that lead to multitasking. Consider reimagining the space to mitigate these potential issues.
  • If students spend most of their time studying and working in their bedrooms, lead discussion about the concerns of studying while lying in bed. Problems often arise when students study in a prone position on a surface usually dedicated to sleeping. Reserve the bed for sleeping and establish a table or desk area for studying. Blurring the boundary of sleep and study locations disrupts regular sleep cycles and impacts the brain's ability to consolidate memories.
  • Set boundaries concerning digital device use before bedtime. Research suggests that use of devices close to bedtime has an impact on regular sleep outcomes. (NCBI Link
Mindful discussions about the configuration and maintenance of a student's home learning space can benefit their executive-functioning skill development and ensure that research validated best-practices are occurring at home and school. "Form follows function" is a simple tenet to follow when addressing the four bullet points above.