If you had come into my year 5 classroom last term, for the most part you would have seen clusters of desks usually arranged in groups of four or six. So for my class of 26 that meant six different desk clusters, a couple at the front, a couple near the middle and two at the back of the room. Each student was assigned a desk and although every few weeks they moved, for the time they sat there, that desk belonged to them and so was filled with their ‘stuff’. At the back of my room are the bi-fold doors that lead into @pruthomas’s class and pretty much her room was a mirror image of mine.
If you were to come into our classrooms next week, for the start of term two, what you will find now is very different. You see we have done away with the notion of ‘owned desks’ of having ‘stuff” in an assigned space and a desk that is ‘mine’. So why have we done this and how will it work in practice?
Well, last term I attended a thought provoking day with Steve Collis, when I blogged about it before I mentioned how each of the sessions took place in different learning spaces, which challenged and engaged us as participants in this day. Among other things he talked about, was how space and technology can mediate relationships between people. This thought resonated with me and after discussing my session with the wonderful @pruthomas she mentioned that she too had been thinking about our classrooms as ‘spaces’. She was particularly taken with a virtual staffroom podcast with Melinda Alford, called ‘Design is everything’. In which Melinda and Chris discuss the idea of a classroom space being a homely space, a space where all student feel comfortable. I also had a great Twitter discussion with several helpful New Zealand teachers who are already putting this idea into practice in their classrooms and that helped to persuade me of the merits in making this change.
So our new classroom layout contains a variety of learning spaces, groups of desks have been clustered in different areas. Some desks have been left as single workstations, others have been randomly pushed together in twos or threes. All the students ‘stuff’ has been relocated to their lockers and the edge of the classroom. Some bean bags and cushions have now found a home in one corner and a large space has been left in the centre of each room. Our intention is that the students will enter in the morning and prepare for the first lessons by finding the approriate tools and books. They will then need to make a consious effort to decide where to sit. To assist them in this we have made the following signs.
- Quiet please, genius at work
- Group work station
- Thinking space
- Quiet please, I need to think today
- Feel free to join us
- Do not disturb we are concentrating
- I need help today
How will this help our students learn? We hope that by giving them choices about where and how to best they can learn each day. Together with encouraging them to talk, think and reflect on the choices they made, that they will rise to the challenge of self-regulating their learning. Will this work without a few problems? I doubt it. Will this work for all of them, straight away? Probably not. Will some students just not get it and hide away doing nothing? I expect so. Yet I am excited about this change and can’t wait to join year 5 on their learning journey again next term.
Oh and if you have any spare beanbags or cushions please send them my way, I have the perfect space for them!