Posts Tagged ‘studio classroom’

A sense of place

September 3rd, 2012 No comments


So much of learning is still oriented to the classroom. We spend much of our time in Room 7 wrapped in its walls and routines. Textbooks dominate the courses I’m less familiar with. The juxtaposition of a wall map, National Geographic, and laptop represents geography in my classroom. As I type this, I reflect that their aught to be a window to the side because I do make geography real with walks in the neighboring parks and nature areas. There is justice in the window’s exclusion though. A trip to the park or natural history museum is rare. The picture represents the tools at hand. I thought about discarding the traditional wall map. There are three in the room: world, nation, province. They take up space that could be used for student contributions, or simply left unadorned to lessen the visual distraction. Interactive maps on the computer, with their many layers, contribute so much to learning. Yet over the past few years my students return to these three maps constantly. They seem to like the ready reference. Place names are popular spelling challenge words for example. For that and other purposes, the maps are placed too high for my fourth graders. Fortunately they like to climb on furniture. I think in a classroom increasingly dominated by personal and shared devices, it is important to still give our physical spaces some focus and order.

An array of unnetworked learners.

February 6th, 2012 1 comment


My class shifted into an array for assessment today. Each student tried to ignore the incidental distractions of the room and find the resources within their own memory to answer questions about arrays, related facts, and measuring time. My exit poll indicates we have not mastered all of this yet. To use our preferred edubabble, intervention is going to be required and that means some serious differentiation of learning. Time to fragment.

Easy to tap that out on my tablet, harder to arrange in room 7. I have to decide which indicators are critical and which should be left for another time. I don’t believe everything must be mastered before we move on. That must be a legacy of dealing with bloated curriculum and the supposition that age equates to readiness or development. I also have to decide on the reliability of question design. The way a question is framed may not get at what these kids know.  It is frustrating; the experiences of learning never quite match the experience of testing. I suppose that is why so many classrooms are locked in an array of desks designed to isolate learners. It makes sense to teach to the test.

Before heading off for P.E. one boy asked if we could move the desks back into our rectangle. He is not a strong independent learner. He is easily distracted but learns best through peer support. Others might settle into these rows for isolated work. I honestly don’t think it is a good fit for most. It looks like a school classroom. It doesn’t look much like the rest of the world these young people will learn in. The array suites our traditional notions of preparation for assessment. It fails to nurture cooperation and collaboration; social modes I think are far more critical at the moment. By lunch we will be back to normal here in Room 7.

Reconfiguring learning

November 3rd, 2011 No comments


My students have a common math assessment this afternon. Since it is lan idividual enterprise I shifted the desks into rows. The resulting configuration consumed all of the floor space. My three standing tables are pushed into corners. About seven of my twenty three students said they preferred it that way. Two girls, independent, well organized learners, were overjoyed to see the arrangement. “I like the personal space,” one explained quietly. I’m sitting here observing as my intern administers the test. Three boys just grabbed a few of the voting booths I keep in the room. They wanted to make study carols. For this sort of intense personal focus that was a good idea. The room is too small to dispurse the group. Even in rows, it is hard to be alone one meter away from another person.

It won’t stay this way. After thirty years it cannot stay this way. I want a different work flow for learning.  I created a short SlideShare to illustrate what the classroom generally looks like. Learning is eclectic and the isolation or grouping is both intentional and more democratically established. There are important times to exert teacher authority and bring everyone together or into groups. Otherwise I believe cooperation on personal learning and collaboration toward a common goal should be left to the discretion of students.

I’m not troubled by the large number of students in my room who prefer the rows. They like the space around them as a default. They will cooperate frequently but only at their comfort level. People enter their space or they knock on some other student’s door. The tape is on the floor. The default in my room is groups of four. I do it that way to remind them and remind myself that learning is connected and we can all be both mentors and learners in the room. 

A troubling (and familiar) perspective

August 23rd, 2011 3 comments

My classroom before students arrive.

 Like most teachers I have been preparing for opening day here in Moose Jaw. I’m not sure when I began to prepare for the new year. Teachers in Saskatchewan have been bargaining for a new contract over the last year. We negotiate compensation which essentially means salary. Somehow the discourse of this discussion assumes the vocabulary of wages. Student contact days and hours are deemed relevant. Teacher’s time away from school are referred to as holidays. The distinction between being a wage earner and a salaried professional blur in the minds of both teachers and their employers. I get privately and sometimes publically upset. I often have a hard time deciding when I am working and when I am not. Throughout my life I find myself slipping into activities related to planning or professional development. I am sure this is the common experience.

I spent time in July and August outlining grade four curriculum outcomes and exploring the resources available. I would pop in from time to time for material that had not been digitized. These last days I have been at the school dealing with the physical layout and that is largely what prompted me to post, although curriculum planning is implicated in my concerns. I lost my tables over the summer and gained desks. I am worried about what else I have lost over the summer.

In fairness, the desks have some advantages over the six large round tables I worked with last year. I’m committed to differentiation so flexibility is desirable. Desks can be reconfigured wonderfully. My tables could not. Students who need space have a hard time achieving a sense of privacy in a small room with limited choice. Just as I have had young people who need to network constantly to learn, I have also had young people who need their own office. There are advantages to desks.

There is the other side. Just as I knew I would, I lined the desks in cautious rows facing the Promethean Board. The desks are paired to save space and allow collaboration. That is problematic because I might not pair students appropriately. I had four students at each table – easier to reduce social stress I think. Last year we shifted freely from table to table during learning. Groups formed and reformed to learn. Now I am back to students sitting in someone else’s seat; perhaps getting into someone else’s things. The connected learning will be hampered. I will have to work hard against the inertia. I look at the room now and I see I have lost my effectiveness in this environment. I could always find a place at the table. I was a participant in their learning. I could draw other students into problem solving. The tables created teams. With desks, I am back to looming over my students or crouching down beside them. I feel like a visitor, not a partner. All this seems very unsatisfactory to me.

Tables represented my commitment to collaborative, inquiry-based learning within a studio designed classroom. I plan to continue that journey around the new (and oh so familiar) landscape of my classroom.

A Quick Reminder from Philly « Cooperative Catalyst

June 28th, 2011 No comments

I step outside the ed tech echo chamber and wander around Philadelphia with Javi the Hippie.  We stop at random locations, breathing in the art, letting it cleanse us from the buzzing white noise of a techno-conference.  Some cities keep their art in air-conditioned cages.  Philly explodes with murals, transforming the very structure that separates us into a shared artistic experience.

Want to reform schools?  Take a lesson from Philadelphia.  Release the art from the cages. Allow creativity to redefine our spaces.

“Ed tech echo chamber,” is a familiar phrase from John Spencer but there is an aptness to it. There is a difference between gathering for professional development and professional validation. I think both activities have value. We need to grow and change, we need to believe this growth and change is positive. I need to know others share my beliefs.

This has not been as smooth a year as I hoped. “I have an interest in integrating technology into the learning environment to support collaborative and differentiated learning within a flexible classroom design.” This is my Twitter profile statement. It packs many expectations into twenty-two words. I felt more successful last year. This year I felt aspects of integrating technology worked better but generally I failed to move social networking for learning forward. I Skyped considerably less and none of the on-line collaborative projects I attempted worked. There are other reasons.

My twenty-four students collaborated about as well as the previous year’s group. I focussed on collaborative work flow routines and I think I made progress there. I did not make nearly enough progress differentiating learning. I perceive it this way because I believe differentiation will only be viable if teachers actually shift a share of the responsibility for learning design onto their students. I find I cannot anticipate twenty-four people’s differentiation needs. I need them to problem solve and offer directions for their own learning. Some people will never be able to do that and I will have to micro-manage them. I struggled with that familiar micro-management because it often deafened me to the voices of those young people ready to assume control of their own learning.

Some colleagues praised my efforts to create a flexible studio design in my classroom. I am not sure administration shared their confidence. I’m ending the year without my tables and in the fall I’ll be confronted by rows of desks. That feels like a huge step back simply because it creates the impression that teacher-centred, solitary learning is the default setting in my classroom. The tables proclaimed the reverse.

I had troubles this year and ending it with a conference of like minded educators might have been just what I needed. But I sympathise with John Spencer’s remark because conventions have mostly become redundant to my learning and growth. The discourse should move me out of my comfortable paradigm, not simply reverberate with accepted beliefs. I want my own learning to be transformative.

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Flexible Learning Space « Cooperative Catalyst

October 2nd, 2010 No comments
We recently articulated our school’s learning principles. The new learning spaces should support these beliefs admirably:

Everyone has the potential to learn.

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, learning styles, preferences and interests.
  • Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.
  • Learning takes place when we make connections between previous and new understanding.
  • Learning for understanding occurs by acquiring skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transfer to other contexts.
  • Learning is active and social and best takes place through collaboration and interaction.
  • Learning takes place when we feel secure and valued and are able to take risks.
  • Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
  • Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, and requires learners to take ownership of their learning.
  • Learning is continuous, lifelong and ever-evolving.

The days of the teacher closing the door and doing her own thing are over. There is no door. I can’t wait to hear more about it. Watch this (flexible learning) space!

The phrase “flexible learning space” drew me directly to this because studio classrooms are my current project and passion. I tell the unwary, those who have not heard this, that my ideal classroom is an open library with conference room and science lab attached. That will never come to pass. School design remains locked in a tragic design. It is tragic because the implicit understanding is teachers need to contain their inattentive groups and focus them on the carefully crafted teacher-centered activities. So the walls go up. We leave the doors open much of the time these days. I think we do that because we acknowledge we need openness. Beyond the walls of my classroom are all the facility and resources my students need. I just ignore the walls these days and send them out When I can, I send them out of the school and around the world. I am not alone in my school, others are doing this too. It makes it much easier to send my students around the school and into others classrooms when they reciprocate. We can build an open learning culture in our school this way.

But the dream and desire for an open classroom remains because setting does matter. Just removing the rows of desks from my traditional room and replacing them with tables made a big difference. This made some students uncomfortable and two of the twenty-three young people were not able to make the transition. They need a defined sense of personal space so I reluctantly relinquished it to them. The rest have comfortable patterns of movement and favorite spots. I think that is a human response. They have embraced the idea that I am not essential to their learning and that the school facilities are theirs. Habit and tradition make me something of a gate keeper still. I’m not uncomfortable with that. There is an important shift in my room. I no longer direct them to learning spaces. They come to me to consult about learning spaces and increasingly, they move to where they need to be independently.

The space might shape learning but thankfully, learning can defy the space. I think the learning principles articulated above influence our use of existing space. They certainly have influenced me. I’ll still dream of my perfect classroom though. In my mind, the walls in my end of the school evaporate.

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YouTube – Bare Bones Fall 2010

August 22nd, 2010 No comments

Bare Bones Fall 2010

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I like to make a brief survey of the classroom when I ahve finished preparing it for the new year. So much still needs to be put into this room but it will be a collaboration with the students. It will change as the year progresses. Somehow our rooms always do.

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Blank Slate

August 3rd, 2010 No comments

After my long weekend I dropped into the school to see the state of my classroom. The custodial staff is finished and except for a long bookshelf for my students, a short bookshelf for the media centre and the new telephone system (a pair of youngsters were stringing lines in my direction), the bones of the classroom are in place after the maelstrom of annual cleaning. It will not take its proper form for another twenty-one days. I almost posted four pictures: one from each corner. I want to break free of an orientation toward the white boards this year. I have five orientations planned so far, six if you include the inner orientation, an unlimited number if you remember learning has no walls or ‘standard’ direction.

They are still doing rooms. The chief custodian popped his head in the door to remind me I had weeks to go before the kids came. He knows better, just teasing me. I was not the only teacher in the school. A colleague was down the hall transforming her new room into something resembling a kindergarten room. I stopped in to welcome her and she asked me how my last year had gone. I replied very well, gave proper credit to my crew and acknowledged my approach played some part. She asked me what I had done to make it successful and I froze.

I did have an answer and after a few moments I got it out. I suppose I have not worked out the response I will be comfortable with. I think I will try to repeat what I did last year (which is a refinement of what I was doing the two previous years). Saying so would not be sufficient. So much depends on the needs of this year’s group and the learning environment we can create together. I used to believe it had a good deal to do with the environment I created for them. Regardless of your educational philosophy, or management style, if you have taught for a number of years you know each new group is unique. There may be young people in my classroom who are not ready for autonomy. I have (finally) learned that this too is an element of differentiation. Those who can learn autonomously and are ready to help create their own authentic learning need to be freed from the tyranny of a classroom reduced to the lowest denominator. I won’t know how quickly I can move the class to a differentiated learning environment, integrating accessible technologies within a flexible studio design with no permanent boundaries. I do know the stages I will follow.

In The Differentiated Classroom (1999), Tomlinson suggests introducing Differentiation in my classroom in three steps. I begin by teaching all the students to do a meaningful anchor activity. This is an individual activity that will become part of the year’s routine. It is also a silent activity. I progress to asking some students to do an alternative activity silently and individually. Tomlinson says this creates an atmosphere of individual focus. I move on to short blocks of differentiated tasks involving pairs, then small groups. I’ll have students with experience both from my own classroom and other rooms. They will come into my room expecting to be able to resume the learning styles they had last year. I need to be ready for that. Tomlinson emphasizes the importance of being a metacognitive teacher: unpacking your thinking transparently. They need to know where I want us to go. I need to describe differentiation to them, describe how we are going to use the room and school, and ask them to help build it in our room. When you talk with your students, not at them, you very nearly always have to share power.

Right now I have the bones in place. I need to be ready for my young partners who will flesh it out with me.

Interactive Whiteboard Insights: The Reasons Why Interactive Whiteboards Are Being Attacked

June 13th, 2010 No comments
(Click the image for a larger view.)

I am a teacher. I have great respect for my colleagues around the world and for the profession itself. I chose to share this comic because it is an obvious exaggeration and in no way should be taken literally. It sheds light in a comical way on the ridiculous notion that IWBs in and of themselves are “bad” technology. Technology is just a tool. Hardware and software do not help our students learn in the absence of a teacher. It is completely up to the teacher whether or not an IWB is used effectively in the classroom.
Let me be clear, I don’t believe IWBs are appropriate for every classroom, but I do believe that interactive technologies in some form are.

I appreciate the time Emily Starr took to compile these arguments in favor of interactive white boards in our classrooms. My own use is evolving (as everything should) from strictly teacher-centered application to student-teacher shared space. My elementary students have shown an affinity to manipulating the board. As the year approaches its end, I have enjoyed stepping back and watching them use it for simple presentations. They move to the board to work out fractions or geometric shapes independently.

They use the classroom ActivBoard to share things they have published on third party applications most of the time. I need to introduce the ActivInspire software to them so they create their own flip charts. Time is against me so I guess that is a project for next fall. I know in the studio classroom I am planning to introduce, the ActivInspire will not take center stage. It will be a critical tool in my student’s learning.

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What to Look for in a Classroom

June 1st, 2010 No comments

What to Look for in a Classroom

By Alfie Kohn

FURNITURE: Chairs around tables to facilitate interaction; Comfortable areas for learning, including multiple “activity centers”; Open space for gathering.

ON THE WALLS: Covered with students’ projects; Evidence of student collaboration; Signs, exhibits, or lists obviously created by students rather than by the teacher; Information about, and personal mementos of, the people who spend time together in this classroom.

STUDENTS’ FACES: Eager, engaged.

SOUNDS: Frequent hum of activity and ideas being exchanged.

LOCATION OF TEACHER: Typically working with students so it takes a few seconds to find her.

TEACHER’S VOICE: Respectful, genuine, warm.

STUDENTS’ REACTION TO VISITOR: Welcoming; eager to explain or demonstrate what they’re doing or to use visitor as a resource.

CLASS DISCUSSION: Students often address one another directly; Emphasis on thoughtful exploration of complicated issues; Students ask questions at least as often as the teacher does.

STUFF: Room overflowing with good books, art supplies, animals and plants, science apparatus; “sense of purposeful clutter”.

TASKS: Different activities often take place simultaneously; Activities frequently completed by pairs or groups of students.

AROUND THE SCHOOL: Appealing atmosphere: a place where people would want to spend time; Students’ projects fill the hallways; Library well-stocked and comfortable; Bathrooms in good condition; Faculty lounge warm and inviting; Office staff welcoming toward visitors and students; Students helping in lunchroom, library, and with other school functions.

An earlier version of this chart was published in the September 1996 issue of Educational Leadership, and reprinted as the title essay in the anthology What to Look for in a Classroom…And Other Essays.

I blanched a bit when I read Kohn’s suggestion that purposeful clutter was a good sign. Perhaps, but I will whisper that I like an orderly environment. I think it is the Prussian in me. Clutter happens for periods in my room. We try to end the day with everything in order. I’ve seen classrooms with clutter. It is simply not my way.

I’m going to take Kohn’s list to heart and measure the health of my classroom against this list. I think my room and practice passes, but I certainly don’t earn an outstanding. As I work to increase differentiation in learning and gain authenticity I think the classroom will begin to physically reflect the student’s learning better. I feel so much energy and it is June! As a last act I switched up some tables from the hallway to the classroom in anticipation of August learning centers.

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