Close your eyes and imagine a classroom. What does it look like? What furniture is there? What colour are the walls? What does it smell like? How do you feel in this space? If you’re like me the image that comes to mind is of paper-lined bulletin boards, colourful borders, tables and desks neatly arranged, shelves full of books. I can practically smell the wax crayons.
This classroom in my mind is Pinterest-perfect. As a teacher, it’s kind of a nerdy heaven. Most teachers I know are experts at creating an inviting space. But I think this space, even with the addition of a computer or two is designed for a different kind of learning than is done in modern classrooms.
What if a classroom looked less like a classroom and more like an artist’s studio? Go ahead and close your eyes again… My image is that of a messy space full of artifacts and materials for making. It’s a space for something completely different, isn’t it?
This is what greets most teachers when we walk back into schools after summer. Clean (although usually we put a little elbow grease into getting it back to the bare bones). This year, this is the same place that greeted my grade 3s.
I was only mildly nervous over the first few days and only became really nervous the night before kids came back for the fall when I read one of those “Dear Teacher” posts on FB. You know the kind I’m talking about… “Dear Teacher, I see how hard you have worked putting your room together over the summer, the boards neatly papered, the shelves full of books, organized for reading…” and I panicked a little. “OMG, parents are going to think I just traipsed in this morning without any thought to my environment!” when the opposite was true.
I actually spent a lot of time over the summer reading The Third Teacher, talking with my PLN and thinking and sketching. On the days of prep, I also put a lot of elbow grease into this space. Even when it’s “empty” it takes a lot of work to get a classroom to a blank slate.
I had an idea of what I was going for and it took a lot of self restraint to keep myself from creating the corners and “zones” that I had created in the past. “But how will they know where to find a pencil? Where will their agendas go in the mornings? Colour-coded notebooks… where will I put them…??”
In the end, I went for as blank a slate as possible. I pushed everything out of the way. I welcomed students in to what looked like a familiar meeting place. The benches in front of the computer and we worked from there.
“Does this room look like it might be missing anything??” I asked. And students quickly rattled off a litany of things that they were missing in this space for learning.
We worked through a google presentation prepared by Shafali, a teacher at another school, who I connected with via my Assistant Principal @Shafinad. We created empathy for students. What kinds of things might we include in our space? What might we be able to accomplish in this space if it looked different than a traditional classroom? What do we want to create here?
Students began the ideation process by breaking into five groups and recording their ideas on sticky notes. This, I might add, is not always an easy task with second-language learners at the beginning of grade 3, but I refused to do the work for them. They invented spelling, they drew, they collaborated to communicate ideas, and in the end, I scribed a few ideas. Very few.
We put our ideas together and grouped all of the ideas into categories.
Then we broke the categories down by student group and decided who would represent which part in the maquette. They knew that we didn’t have a million dollars to make this space. We would have to be creative.
Then students brainstormed about how to represent and measured our classroom, which told me more than I expected about them as learners.
We are not done yet but are starting to get close. Looking forward to sharing our final product!