You will notice upon entering that you and Toto aren’t in Kansas anymore. No, a twister did not carry all the desks away; the teacher got rid of most of them himself. An elite group of students redesigned the room, creating spaces dedicated to the different kinds of tasks you need to master to have a productive experience.
The redesign of the room was conceived in response to important questions I have about the way school works:
- How can the physical layout of the classroom cultivate the expectation that students DO things in class?
- How can I design a classroom that allows students to choose the task they’re ready to do when they’re ready to do it, rather than asking each individual to adjust to whatever the teacher decided you’d be ready to do?
- How can I create a culture of participation for all students, regardless of how talkative or how reticent they might be?
- How can I manipulate the three variables I can control – course content, time and space – in a way that allows you to do challenging, personally meaningful work in a way that doesn’t stress you out?
You might be able to tell from the absence of jokes or smartass from those questions that I take them very seriously, that the concepts of personal agency, individual choice, equity and minimizing stress are critical to every decision I make as your teacher.
Here is a brief explanation of how the stations of the classroom can be used to make the environment work for you:
The Reading Corner – You will not always have time to do your homework, and history tells us that reading homework is usually the last to get done. If you have some personal or artistic or athletic circumstance that forces you to choose between stress, Sparknotes or sleep, choose sleep, knowing that you will be able to focus on reading in class after your battery has recharged. You’ll be expected to spend no more than half a class period reading, after which you will change location and mindset to process what you’ve read in Writing to Learn or Online Community. If you find yourself starting class in the Reading Corner on too frequent a basis, we’ll have a little conversation, because that means you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Writing to Learn – I will frequently assign written responses/notebook entries/call it what you want when the teacher asks you to write your thinking about what you’ve read.
Online Community – Class discussion – heck, even the concept of class participation – has always favored those readiest to talk (though not necessarily to think before they speak) and disadvantaged the thinker and the introvert. The online learning community is designed to create equity in participation; to allow you to ask your own question when you’re ready to ask it; to make an observation about the reading without the frustration of being sixth in the line of raised hands after the teacher has asked the initial question; to respond to classmates you wouldn’t ordinarily talk to, and to use what they say to deepen your own understanding.
The beauty of the online conversation is that it doesn’t disappear into the ether once the bell ends the period; you can access it any time you think some classmates’ (or your own) nugget of wisdom can unlock some problem for you.
Discussion Table – Many students benefit from hearing other perspectives, or just having the chance to process their own observations about text by speaking them. To reserve the discussion table, you will have to have a discussion agenda – participation is a matter of what you want to talk about, not whom you want to talk to. Small group discussions will be limited to no more than 20 minutes; after that, you’re off to Writing to Learn to complete the assignment you were discussing, or to one of the other stations to move forward in the assigned tasks.
Enrichment/Instruction – One of the objectives behind the class redesign was to make more enrichment materials available to students; another was to make students more responsible for applying instruction to your work.
Could you accomplish the tasks I’ve outlined at these five locations without ever leaving your seat? Of course. But research and experience tell me a few things. One, it’s boring as heck to spend period after period sitting for forty+ minutes and listening to some older person tell you stuff; B, movement is good, and will allow those of you who have a hard time sitting still to move freely without ever worrying about getting scolded; and third, your choice to sit in an area designated to a specific task should help you focus more purposefully on what you are supposed to achieve by doing that task.