Sunday, February 16, 2014

Room Re-Decorated

If you read my blog at all, this much you know: I've been expanding to more and more student ownership of learning.

I provide pages my American Lit students need to read, but they get choices within those pages. My students get ownership in how they show me growth in their learning instead of straight tests and quizzes--though that's always an option should they choose it. I provide them choice in their note-taking. We use Kelly Gallagher's list of Things Good Readers Do and practice them for a bit, but in their actual annotations, they get choice.

But there is just one pedagogical phenomenon that has taken up my mind since my experience with Kit Hard and Brad Wilson at the NovaNow Conference I attended last Saturday. One place where my students have NEVER had choice is in the physical arrangement of their classroom. I've always made that decision for them--until last Monday.

I took a page out of Kit and Brad's book by stacking all of the furniture in the center of the room.


Then, I offered these instructions:
  • Knowing how we operate in this classroom, I'm going to give you five and a half minutes to redesign the space for your needs and wants. Oh--and you have to do this silently. (The silently part was purely for a communication experiment.)
In those five and a half minutes, I learned a lot about my students--and myself.
  • The students crave different perspective. They immediately started creating height for their seating by stacking tables and chairs and by sitting on the counters and floors.
  • I still have reliance on my front board and projector. Some of my students' tall structures blocked the way of the front board and I found that it bothered me. There is still a teacher "stage" no matter how much I try to get rid of it.
  • The students provided space in front for that teacher stage. The thing I don't know is--why? Do they know that I need it? Do they crave it? Did they only do it because I was showing a redesign video clip to go with it so the projector in front was already on and in use? 
  • I learned that I care very much about the safety of my students and my own criticism. When the students started building up, I got scared. I had safety concerns AND perception concerns. Allowing for more student choice is weird enough. Allowing double stacked tables could make me an alien.
  • The students wanted more floor space. By about minute four, the students were looking for places to start putting the tables. They stacked them up. This created much more floor space in order to put backs against the walls or maybe even lie down on a stomach and type up a blog post. 
  • I learned that I liked the extra space, too. No more bumping into backs of students. There is a lot more space to walk and roam and access other parts of the room. It's not so hard to get to our books, to the computers, to other areas anymore. 
So, how did we decide? I took a picture of each hour's re-design and posted them to Edmodo. All they had to do to vote was hit reply. And you know how many did? NONE. What does that mean? Was it a big middle finger to my crazy idea that they could have say in how the classroom was designed? Was it just a busy night? Did they forget because there weren't any points attached to it? Or--do they just not care how the room is designed? Or am I over-thinking the meaning?

Regardless, no votes on the following designs:

Fascinating isn't it? But you know what having no votes allowed me? A teacher hand in the mix. It allowed me to take the positives of my students' design and add my own securities (and insecurities) into it.

So, we got rid of five tables. There is now more open space. Students can be with big groups of 15 or small groups of three or off on their own. Students can sit on the counter or the floor for change in perspective. I still have access to my screen and projector (for now). And, overall, when the students came into newly designed room, they liked the changes.

I like what we've done with the place.