Friday, July 13, 2012

"It's a year later, and I'm wondering where you are now with this?"

I was going to post something else, then I noticed that one of my (5) readers left me a comment(!) that provoked me into some reflection.  I thought I'd use it as the basis of a new post.

Andrea asked (in the post "So you want to get rid of your desks?")

"It's a year later, and I'm wondering where you are now with this?"

That's a great question, Andrea. I actually think you've gone further with this than I have, classroomwise this year.

I have this one day per week district job that has me going to other people's classrooms and checking out their innovations, so my inquiry work in my own classroom has taken a slight backseat. So in terms of advancement, I haven't made much, but in terms of reinforcement, lots. I've had dozens of visitors come by my classroom who have watched how the environment plays a major role in the students' learning. Their comments are always interesting, and I get some provoking questions and feedback.

Andrea also wrote:
"After reflecting on your post, I created zones in my classroom last year for different types of activities, and also surveyed children about how they preferred to work and tried to meet their needs."
Like you, Andrea, we are constantly tinkering with our classroom, and it changes as it needs to be changed. We set up a store for a while so the risers became shop stalls. When we were working through some class issues, we had this big, one level circle to maximize that community connection. When we were doing lots of projects and art, the risers, floor and easels became big work and display spaces. So I guess I am still trying to create a flexible space that meets the demands of what we are doing at the time.  Most of the time, our classroom is set up with the 3 zones (campfire, watering hole, and cave) to accommodate different kinds of day to day learning. 
Andrea also wrote:
"(I teach middle school). We made some changes that increased engagement, so this was time well spent!"
Part of my district job was to help people implement changes in their classrooms, and the one area I spent a lot of time on was classroom design.  I was in many classrooms, and I can honestly tell you, (though you already know this) that classroom design matters.  I've witnessed first hand that classroom design influences (for better and worse) several big and small factors:
  • visibility (and hearability?)
  • self regulation and stimulation level
  • classroom community
  • traffic flow
  • comfort
  • engagement
  • connection of teachers with students
  • temperature, light, and smell
  • ability to teach different subjects in a variety of methods
  • pride and ownership
  • safety
  • student interactions, etc.
I am really interested to see what you found out, Andrea, especially in your surveys.  Students sometimes have different priorities than teachers when it comes to classroom environments.  I worked with this one middle school teacher whose students were highly resistant to making changes to their classroom.  They were really wary of making their classroom into something too babyish.  It wasn't until she showed them some pictures of alternatives that they saw some positive possibilities and then the ideas really started to fly.  That teacher said it transformed her class into a community and transformed her teaching to be much more personal.

Andrea also wrote:
"Thanks for bringing up a topic that helped me improve the experience for my students."
Thank you for the comment that spurred me into writing this post!  And please send me pictures of the kinds of changes you made, if you can.