I recently had the honor of writing a guest blog with Microsoft titled, "Integrating technology in class for great results: 6 tips from an expert". I looked back on that post recently and wanted to go further with each tip in a series of blog posts. I'm going to dive into my second tip of, "Shift to a Student-Centered Environment" first. Based on the limitation of words I had to adhere to in the original post, I never went into the actual physical space as part of the environment. It is a good time to reflect on this at the start of the new school year when many teachers are focused on setting up their classroom environment. Before I expand on the tip further, here were my original thoughts:
Stand back and release control. There are a variety of student-centered pedagogies to explore such as inquiry, project and/or problem-based learning, design thinking, and culturally responsive teaching. The end goal is to give students ownership into their learning.
For instance, use creative discovery time when introducing a new tool. Instead of giving step-by-step instructions, let students discover and interact with one another. Imagine a class of students starting on Minecraft: Education Edition for the first time. Do you really need to be the expert, or can your students play that role?
The physical environment you set up for your students can lead to a deeper focus on student learning, collaboration, and communication. It was one area that my tip did not touch on, but can easily be tweaked by not only the teacher, but also the students. Most teachers getting ready for "Back to School Night" feel like the room has to be perfect, like the pictures you see on Pinterest. I wonder... could it be a blank slate ready for your students to help you design?
Dani Nyffeler, is a sixth grade teacher in our district that recently earned an endorsement in Instructional Technology Leadership. Part of that endorsement program really pushed Dani to look at not only her learning activities in class, but to look at the whole learning experience. She developed a strong interest in Project Based Learning (PBL), and I shared with her the book, "Hacking Project Based Learning" as a great book to provide a starting point. The book opened with the first chapter, "Develop a Space that Promotes Risk Taking". The authors outlined the following steps:
The learning space can include the physical: seating, lighting, decor, but also the way students use the space in different ways such as individual, collaborative, and/or creative learning. When looking for ideas, it is great to check out what other schools are doing to redesign their learning spaces. Here are some of my favorites:
1. Check out this one from Baltimore County Public Schools for all things focused on the learner:
The Learner Centered Environment
It is an ocean of resources, and a whole section is dedicated to "Classroom Arrangement". Below is one example of an interactive it displays on using your space for a variety of learning stations.
For even more examples from this district, they have a page dedicated to their Lighthouse Schools: Learner Centered Environments with photo galleries showing students interacting in their physical environment created for student learning.
2. As you embark on redesigning your classroom, view some of the tips from Edutopia: 8 Tips and Tricks to Redesign Your Classroom. One thing you will notice through the tips is how involved the students are in the process. This is the key!
Focus on more than the physical Space
Setting out to redesign your classroom may seem like a lot to take on. It is not something that may happen in a day or perhaps even a week, but like Dani it can be worked on over a year and tweaked for each group of students. The physical environment is not all that is involved in making a Student Centered Environment. It is just one step, but can be overlooked or held back on as a task that is too hard.
As our district sets off to open buildings this coming week to 52,000 students, I was out working with teachers on their first professional development days last week. I could see the look of worry in their eyes as their thoughts were more on setting up their classroom than the meeting they were sitting in. Some had the typical classroom to set up, which is an arduous task. However, one of the schools I walked into that was in the midst of construction honestly looked like a bomb had gone off in it. Construction was still in progress, wires hanging from the ceiling, boxes needing unpacked, and rooms still empty. No matter what, the students are coming and that building will be open and ready.
The physical space can be worked on as the days go by, but the one thing that needs to be forefront for all staff, no matter the worries in their mind, is number one on the list-- Build Relationships by making the students feel welcome and cared for. That is all that really matters to them.
Mother, wife, teacher, learner, information seeker, outdoor lover, & I guess now a novice blogger.