TMC6 Baker

The Benefits of a Participatory Learning Environment in the School Learning Commons 

by Patricia Baker

This paper documents the transformation journey of an elementary school library in Ottawa Catholic School Board. With a focus on developing participatory learning, library technician Patricia Baker plans and implements change to create collaborative physical environments as well as major changes to establish a more open commons where students and teachers could utilize facilities and resources as needed when they needed them. Baker also discusses how a flexible schedule and self-checkout helped free up time to pursue building participatory maker activities.

Read the paper

Patricia Baker is a consultant and library technician with the Ottawa Catholic School Board.  Her new book Creating a Learning Commons for the 21st Century with Design Thinking has been recently published.  Patricia works with other schools to help transform their space and make purposeful makerspaces to introduce design thinking and teamwork skills.


  1. Patricia, thank you for putting the vision of Together For Learning and beyond into practice through these transformations. Your documentation of the shift to a learning commons mindset is an important example for school library practitioners across Canada. I appreciate how clearly you indicate that flexibility in scheduling, staff mindset and the various learning opportunities available in the school library learning commons are the true keys to this transformation. It can be easy to those on the outside of our practice to think that the “stuff” is all it takes to transform a traditional school library into a modern hub of learning. But you have clearly conveyed the importance of intentional design and the power of student voice in all learning environments.

    Thank you again for sharing your incredible work,
    Jenn Brown

  2. Hi Patricia,
    Your use of photos and quotes gives your story visual and 'expert' impact. I think teacher librarians in 'older' facilities could build upon your experience to influence change in their own libraries.
    Too many administrators do not understand how and why libraries should reflect the philosophy of your learning commons. I will be sharing your story with some of my contacts in the Simcoe County DSB.

    Greg Harris

  3. Hi Patricia,

    Thanks for sharing your perspective and implementation of a School Library Learning Commons. As Greg said earlier, the photos and quotes make it personal and relevant.

    I'm wrestling a bit with the section about the bright and bold coloured walls. I know that I love bright colours (as my new "space green" car can attest) but due to a course I'm currently taking (one on Kindergarten), it's making me reconsider; there are several reasons they list why beige, though boring, may be the preferable way to go (some of the explanations include things like over-stimulation, a focus on the walls instead of the student work on the walls, physio-emotional reactions to extreme hues, etc.). I've been told that my school library space may get a renovation soon, so this gives me a lot of food for thought on seriously considering colour choice.

    Diana M

    1. Kindergarten classrooms are encouraged to use beige as it is not as overly stimulating. The shorter time spent in the learning commons (usually only 30 min per day) allows brighter colours to be used. For those who are unsure, I recommend a small pop of colour with an accent wall, trim colour or fun signage.

  4. Patricia,

    I really enjoyed reading your paper as I too have been working t redesign the library space over the past few years in order to seize the benefits of a participatory learning environment. I found myself making a note to evaluate our space for the following- ability to make spontaneous groupings, collaboration zones, and individual work areas. Based on what I am reading in your paper I think we have more work to do in these areas within our space.

    I loved, loved, loved when you wrote about how students are "responsible for their own book exchange and scheduling management, they become empowered, responsible and take ownership of their educational needs." I will definitely be sharing these words when I speak of how the free flow system has created a more meaningful relationship between the learners in our school community and the library space. Thank you.

  5. Hi Patricia
    Thanks for sharing your process of shifting your school from a library to a library learning commons. I have a couple of wonderings as I read your paper: Should learning look different between the class and LLC? What is the connection between the two? Is there any collaboration between the classroom teacher and the library staff? Has the makerspace in the library affected enthusiasm for print literacy? I like you have worked out with your colleagues that the library can be used at any time much like a public library. At what age do your students start signing out their own books. This is a great way to free the teacher up for teaching.

  6. Students are encouraged to take all learning especially collaboration skills into the classroom. I am continually collaborating with teachers to incorporate curriculum. My students start self checkout in Grade 1.

  7. I am always amazed with what primary students can do independently. May we all learn from them (and their teachers!) Dianne O

  8. What a beautiful transformation of your space that is responsive to the needs of your students! The amount of choice they have for exploration and inquiry is amazing and I also loved that you incorporated SORA as one of the possible choices. You were able to involve such young children to be active participants in their learning and to take responsibility for the design of their own projects. Sometimes I struggle with that with my high school students. I really enjoyed your paper and it has given me food for thought as I continue my journey as a teacher-librarian. Thank you!


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