I have a boring classroom. There! I said it! I don’t have fancy things on the walls or living room furniture or a teepee for kids to read in. I have desks and chairs. I justify it because I don’t want kids to be distracted. Kids and teachers have information flying at them all the time from all directions. Why should it fly at us from the walls of the classroom, too? But, during our Learning Spaces Exploration, I realized our classroom isn’t conveying the message I want for my students or myself. So it’s time to make some changes for everyone. I need to go from regular teacher to hacker-teacher (Edutopia, 2019) in order to break our classroom down and think about how each piece contributes to the whole.
What is our current classroom saying about the learning that happens there?
The groups of desks in our room currently show collaboration and student interaction. This is a great message to my kids. This aspect will stay the same to ensure my students are effective communicators.
However, there are some not-so-great messages coming across from our layout. Our back room is closed-off from the classroom. Not only is it used for small group work, but it’s where kids go when they’re not making such good choices and need to cool down. If, as an adult, someone sent me to a “back room” I would feel isolated and punished. This is not the message I’m trying to send when I send kids back there. Another area of our classroom I’m not proud of is the front lesson area. I teach mini-lessons here. They’re quick, but intense, as they carry a ton of information and require a lot of focus from the kids. But the area they sit in is small and squished, especially as they get bigger throughout the year. They sit in rows facing the me most of the time. This is good for when they’re receiving direct instruction from me. But they also need to collaborate by turning and talking in quick spurts. They’re learning so much here, they should at least be comfortable and be able to collaborate easily. If I give kids the option not to come to the front, they don’t. No wonder they hate it! It’s tiny and uncomfortable and they’re sitting in rows like they’re back in a weird kindergarten. They don’t learn as much as I expect them to from the mini lesson. These are just some of the physical aspects of the many changes I anticipate happening in our classroom this year to better the learning here.
What kind of culture do we want for teaching and learning?
Emotionally, I want students to feel known, supported, and loved in our classroom. Academically, I want them to feel empowered, motivated, and in charge of their learning. Socially, I want the kids to feel connected to each other and have good relationships. If kids know each other and their teachers well, they’re less likely to fall through the cracks (Education Week, 2013). All these areas should compliment each other in our classroom environment. The physical layout of my classroom needs to reflect that.
How Can I Change our Classroom to Reflect Teaching and Student Learning?
The first thing I’m planning on changing is the back room. From Education Week I was inspired to rename it the Think Tank (2013). I think this will encourage students to use it as a reflective area instead of an isolated area. This way, when they get in there for a small group the environment makes them want to put their most powerful and motivated thinking hats on. Also, if they need to cool off or talk to me individually about their day is going or if something is bothering them, they can use this space to reflect and/or discuss their thoughts with me. This helps the space not feel like a punishment, but an empowerment.
I also want to add a fab vocab wall. This is something my students have struggled with in the past. In order to have an effect on the learning goals in our classroom, I’d like it to be a focus of the physical classroom as well.
Another specific modification I want to add to our room is to include student work as an option for reading material. This gives kids a sense of purpose in their work and motivates them to write pieces their peers want to read (Scholastic, 2013).
I would like to post the expectations of the room more clearly. I’ve always posted the social contract we make together and this works well. I will continue to discuss what the students expect out of the room and hold each other accountable for those specific things. But I would also like to have bigger ideas for simply being a good person around the classroom.
21st century learner
I want innovative thinking to be a focus in our classroom of future leaders. Before, in the industrial age of schooling, teachers had the knowledge and students lined up to receive it. Hence the layout of rows and direct instruction from the front of the room. Now, everyone has information (Ignite (Macdonald), 2011).
The job of the teacher is to support and facilitate the learning and materials. Therefore, I want our classroom to that. I don’t want the board to be considered the front of the room. I want it to be difficult for someone to come in and identify the “front” of the room or even find the teacher quickly. I want there to be a meeting space, and for students to have a zone where they keep their things and to think of as a home base. However, I would like to make use of all parts of our rooms for learning (Piner-Olivet Union School District, 2015).This allows the classroom the be flexible to the use of the learners in it which I think would give gives a positive attitude taking charge of their education.
One last idea from this exploration that I will incorporate this year in our classroom is the idea of student teachers. Sometimes I get overwhelmed and complain to myself about how I wish there were twenty of me in the classroom. I’ve realized that there can be. Kids master things in different ways in different amounts of time. They have such unique skills and approaches. Another struggle I tend to have as a teacher is addressing things in ways familiar to kids. Who is a master at this? A kid! If they’ve mastered something, who better to assist a peer who is struggling? I want to elect student teachers for many different topics in the room, from math content to tech programs, to apps to organizing book bins. Everyone can be an expert, or teacher, with something.
I can’t wait to get a fresh perspective – on the look and the learning!
References District, P. U. (2015, October 22). Reimagining Learning Spaces: Admin Perspectives. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lu6daJ3e7fY&index=10&list=PLvzOwE5lWqhQ8D0m_371INljdki3RcVRb Edutopia. Remake Your Class (Trailer). (2013, March 14). Retrieved from https://youtu.be/jXjEcnaYAmc Ignite. (2011, May 08). Space to Learn by Bobbi Macdonald. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqSkuIkwQ98&list=PLvzOwE5lWqhQ8D0m_371INljdki3RcVRb&index=9 ISD, E. (2014, January 29). Flexible Learning Environments. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_x4OLsfReQ&list=PLvzOwE5lWqhQ8D0m_371INljdki3RcVRb&index=2 Scholastic. (2013, September 23). How to Organize Your Classroom, from Instructor Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdmI4K5wJu4&list=PLvzOwE5lWqhQ8D0m_371INljdki3RcVRb&index=4 TesolClass. (2013, November 03). Classroom Seating Arrangements. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5kOh1VYCsRs&list=PLvzOwE5lWqhQ8D0m_371INljdki3RcVRb&index=6 Week, E. (2013, January 09). Building a Positive School Climate - Quality Counts 2013: Code of Conduct. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNs6aFIpoTY&list=PLvzOwE5lWqhQ8D0m_371INljdki3RcVRb&index=3