Alternative Classrooms

“वैकल्पिक कक्षा (अल्टरनेटिव क्लासरूम)” – इस ब्लॉग को हिंदी में पढ़ने के लिए यहाँ क्लिक करें

“पर्यायी वर्गखोल्या” – हा ब्लॉग मराठी मध्ये वाचण्यासाठी, येथे क्लिक करा

We facilitate Social Emotional Learning (SEL) sessions with students, their teachers and caregivers in government and NGO-based schools in Mumbai. Due to space and classroom-related limitations, very often, we conduct our sessions on stairs, corridors, passages and school gardens.

At the beginning of our fellowship, we used to feel that why should we take our class on stairs or in corridors or any other space other than the classroom? Sometimes, we used to feel so frustrated, irritated, disturbed and sad because of the space we were in. We used to think that students don’t have enough space in the classroom due to which they needed to come out. And the blame game just went on. We used to blame ourselves for not doing enough for our sessions and students. We blamed the infrastructure of the school and we blamed why there are so many caregivers visiting the school during schooling hours. We kept shifting our blame on school students and visitors to our schools. These feelings were very routine for us. This was neither helping us nor our students.

Allow us to ask this: When we think about learning, what kind of environment comes to our mind first? Classrooms? Chair and tables? Walls and windows? 

Well, this is an ideal class for a teacher/facilitator to teach and get their objective achieved. Having four walls, good tables and chairs with multiple windows And we were operating from this fixed mindset predominantly. Carol Dweck in her words called this kind of mindset a fixed mindset where you are stuck with an idea and think that it is the only idea.

In our classroom, sometimes we have more than 60 students. Classrooms don’t have enough space for our students to sit at a desk so they sit on a mat or the floor. And because of this, we need to conduct our sessions outside the classrooms.  We wonder what will become possible for our students to have an equitable space for them to learn? What if they have a space where they can sit comfortably? What if our students can hear what the teacher or facilitator is saying?

People always respond.

While we may not be able to address the structural challenges that students going to low-resourced school experience, we asked ourselves what are other ways to respond to this. What if we could have stairs, passages, corridors and gardens available in schools as sites for learning?

Now, we conduct our sessions outside the classrooms. We divide our class into two groups; each group has less than 25 students. In the beginning, some students would complain.“bhaiya, this place is dirty.” “Bhaiya, there is so much noise.” “Bhaiya, why everyone is walking between our sessions.” and so on. All we used to say is if we don’t have space, we need to make this space as our session space. So we started doing our sessions outside the classroom. But it didn’t stop there. There were other obstacles which were waiting for us when we began facilitating our sessions on the stairs, passages, corridors and gardens.

We started working on providing an enriched environment for our students whether in the class or outside of it, so they can explore and learn the best way they can. We started using all the space available to us in school. Whenever needed, we sought permission from the school so that students could walk around during a session. With the exception of going outside of the school, we now use the larger school premises as spaces of learning. Students explore the whole school. We started building activities where they can walk around in pairs and groups without disturbing other classrooms. 

While this idea of doing a session on these alternative spaces sounds cool, it came with its own challenges which made us think a lot. Some of the Challenges we faced in space like these:

  • It is very difficult to bring back students’ attention to one place.
  • There is no support for walls or blackboards available to write something or stick chart papers on the walls.
  • Students can run anywhere in the corridor. 
  • School visitors walk in the middle of the sessions. 
  • Individual activities become difficult to conduct.
  • Dirty floor and floating raining water 
  • Students’ clothes and the comfort of sitting on the floor.
  • Completing the sessions on time or not being able to finish all the activities planned.      

We look at this scenario as an opportunity with multiple possibilities and an alternative to the classroom. And this is what Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset.

The opportunities/ possibilities we brought in spaces like these.

And this is where differentiating instructions come in. How we do our sessions and how we make learning possible for our students and for us as facilitators. 

“While differentiating instructions we learn that the emotional, social and physical systems of the mind are greedy for attention and will not allow the cognitive and reflective systems to function at optimal efficiency if their needs are not met.” (Greg & Kuz, 2004)

Here are some ways we responded to the new emerging challenges: 

  • We began to seek support from other facilitators and teachers.
  • We modify activities in a way where there are multiple choices for students to do activities such as they have these options whether they can sit and think and respond, they can write or they can draw and an open space where they can come to us and let us know their preferences for working.
  • We began to give more importance to the process rather than the objective and were okay with the thought that we can do this much only for now.
  • We as facilitators need to break the ice and show the students that we are comfortable sitting down with them on the floor.
  • Making sure that most of the activities which are planned, they are planned in group work. 
  • And still, we are working on how to make use of these spaces and bring the same joy of learning in the session. 

Our ways of facilitating sessions have changed. The use of space gave us more opportunities to use multiple activities which were based on group or individual. We began our session with meditation but also found the most comfortable space where the students feel. Now, we may not get a proper circle to sit in, but we know how to take turns while sharing. We look out of the windows to see what’s happening there and discuss it in our groups. We walk into different classes and teachers for an interview. These spaces made a huge difference in our students’ participation. 

We are still on our journey of exploring and learning about our students, in the spaces we are working with our students. We would like to leave all of us with these questions to reflect upon. 

What is one recent mindset shift experience you had? Have you ever learned or taught outside the physical classrooms? Yes, yes how was your experience of exploring learning outside the classrooms (Gardens, passages, ground, community etc)? Let us know your thoughts, reflections and ideas!


Shahbaan Shah is a Research and Development Associate at Apni Shala Foundation. In his role, he facilitates social-emotional learning for children, educators, and parents in a variety of settings and works in Research & Development initiatives. He holds a Bachelor’s in Sociology and is an alumnus of the Apni Shala Fellowship.

Siddharth Gupta is a fellow at Apni Shala joined in June 2022. He is facilitating SEL sessions in 4 schools with around  350 students weekly once in one school. He was a part of a youth project at Apni Shala. He is very active & dedicated towards his work in SEL. He completed his Bachelor of Commerce from M.D College Parel.

Translation Support: Iteshree Date, Priyanka Kale and Siddharth Gupta.

Reference: Gayle H. Gregory. Lin Kuzmich, in ‘Data Driven Differentiation in the Standard Based Classroom’, Corwin Press (2004).

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