Belonging in the primary classroom


As part of the terms inquiry provocation my co teacher and I spent last Monday recess rearranging our classroom. We turned a few desks over, removed some altogether and hid many of the chairs. Pencil cases ended up on the floor and belongings were scattered.
The classroom was a disaster zone. Prior to this we had all students remove their books etc from under their desks and to store them in their lockers. Being asked to do this caused much questioning and wonderings amongst the students but even so, the sight of the messed up classroom caused so many varied and interesting reactions, that it has set me thinking about their needs as learners. Needs which are on the whole met in the primary school.

Individual responses ranged from shock and horror to hilarity. We were watching closely as they entered the classrooms, recording these responses. Despite their having emptied their own desks of personal belonging many of them rushed to where they had been sitting, calling out such things as ‘thank goodness my desk is okay’ some came in and seeing their previous desk remained, sat immediately down at it, as if to somehow claim it as their own. Others immediately started to clear up, lifting and rearranging desks into a semblance of order. It appeared to me as of they actually needed to create order in their section of the classroom. One student was in tears by this point, worried that her pencil case. which she had inadvertently left under a desk had been thrown away.

After a while we asked them all to sit down, many ended up on the floor as many desks were still hidden and we had a robust discussion about their fears and feelings. Although there were a few students who felt that the whole exercise was nothing more than a big laugh Overwhelmingly many of them voiced that

  • They want and need their own desk
  • They need the classroom to feel ordered
  • They need some of the classroom space to belong to them

And all this, in a space where students regularly choose to sit on the floor or on beanbags to work! Our discussion moved onto considering how they learn best and how the classroom can support them in meeting their individual learning needs. We devised some of our key inquiry questions for this term including ‘How can we be sure that our classroom space meets the needs of every learner?’

Their responses have though left us feeling that we must delve further into the concept of ownership over their school space. We wonder, is this need particular to this cohort of students? Will a student who is about to transition to the senior school, where they will move from class to class, be impacted by this in year seven? Is the transition from primary to secondary hard for many students because they have no sense of desk or table ownership?

So next week we are continuing to explore these feelings. On Monday they will sit in alphabetical order. On Tuesday according to height and so on. We will continue to revisit their questions and explore their needs. Perhaps as we do this we will be doing our bit to assist them in this important transition.

Do your students find desk ownership important? I had never before considered this so deeply. My students are not the only ones left wondering.

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  1. My name is Danya Croft and I am a student at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. I am majoring in Biology Education for secondary learners. I am currently taking EDM 310 which is a microcomputing systems class that involves getting to know how to incorporate technology in the classroom. I have never before thought to wonder about a student’s personal space in the classroom. That will have me pondering for a while. I hope to become a secondary teacher in a couple of years so this will be something that I can’t wait to read about later. It makes me wonder if having a sense of ownership and pride in the area that they claim as theirs will have an effect on what they accomplish in the classroom. We don’t realize just how much of an impact our surroundings can have on our mood and ability to perform. In my own house, I feel as if I can think much more clearly when it is organized and clean. If it gets messy and unorganized, I feel like I can’t keep my mind on my work because I have so much to distract me. I can only imagine that it would be the same thing in the classroom. It might be a telling experiment to try to put half of the classroom in disarray while leaving the other half in perfect order. You would be able to see quickly if there is a correlation between the two. I can’t wait to see what other things you learn with these experiments.

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