Poetry Slams It!

slam poetry

I have a confession. Even though I am an English teacher; I have struggled to teach and celebrate some poetic forms. (I will spare you my list of 1,000 exceptions which spring to mind as I am typing). I do; however, love teaching the DEVICES of the poet! We were very blessed recently to have access to the wonderful “Spoken Word Poet”, Kate Wilson (you can see her blog here: http://www.kwpoet.blogspot.com.au/).

Kate’s quiet demeanor coupled with her passionate and genuine enthusiasm was impossible to avoid. Far from being the Drama Queen; Kate delivered with the right balance of humility and substance. As a group of teachers (we really are the toughest of classes) we were inspired by our visitor’s ability to scaffold the delivery of poetic devices within our workshop and season with a wide range of her self-composed morsels (and examples from the best in the field of modern “Slam Poets”).

More importantly, Kate got us WRITING. Individual, small group, large group … WRITING. The groups were “popping” with puns, lyrics, stretched metaphors and beat-box-beats – WRITING but from the platform of speaking and listening (nice).

Since this is MY blog, I will share a couple of our “small group’s efforts”, based on the tasks we were assigned 🙂

TASK / INSPIRATION: An Apple and a Shakespearian Parody?

When I shall die,

Take me out and pluck my seed from my rosy flesh of little stars,

And I will grow to see the face of heaven.

The world will make love beneath my canopy,

And carve their names in my flesh.

Pay no worship for the garnish of my sister fruit,

For when my children fall to the earth .

I will rise again!

 

We also enjoyed Kate’s “pun” activity. We were assigned the word “Bread” and had to make as many puns in a short-story as possible… can you count them?

A SLICE OF LIFE

My uncle, Brian Free, was an in-bred Tasmanian farmer. What a delight! Tip-Top Baker but he didn’t always make the crust, many said he was half-baked; going against the grain and rubbing people the wrong way.

He fell in love with an organic, wholemeal hippie-girl from Rye. It wasn’t long before she had a bun in the oven and she agreed to marry him because she loved the way he rolled. In all, they had five flour-children … Yeast-Free, Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Nut-Free, and a son blessed from another relationship.

We don’t want to put a damper on our story but Brian became a dough-bludger; taking Abbott’s bread. It’s a sad slice of life.

 

Ultimately, there is a lot to take back to the classroom!

A Novel Approach?

Last year, I had the great pleasure of spending some quality time absorbing strategies and approaches through Ritchhart, Church and Morrison’s wonderful book, “Making Thinking Visible” (see previous post https://theteacherlounge.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/cultural-capital-or-culture-clash) … this was closely followed by the opportunity to spend a little bit of time with Mark Church during his visit to Perth, Western Australia.

This had a significant impact on my approach to teaching in the English classroom. I recently promised that I would post an overview of a project we commenced at the start of semester one (2013) – Writing A Class Novel.

I have the benefit of leading a team of secondary teachers who work collaboratively to integrate learning in a Year 6-12 context. We had decided on a broad focus for the semester which informed an array of learning experiences across curriculum disciplines; “Forensics”.

This allowed for a variety of explorative activities to unpack the complex world of forensics, criminology, the ethical implications of law making, detective fiction, exploration of anatomy and decomposition. Our investigation included creation of crime scenes, a visit from two forensic police officers, blood stains analysis, finger printing, “mug shots”, fibre analysis, handwriting analysis, utilisation of composite sketching, entomology (e.g. harvesting maggots) for recognition of time of death… students participated in an archeological dig to “resurrect” half a cow which was buried on school grounds at the start of the year. The “novel” task was delivered in a multi-age classroom for Years 9-12.

I have not ventured on this kind large-scale, corporate writing project (with a class group) before; I have no trouble with large projects with a more “dramatic” flair but a commitment to a large writing-based task was daunting; I remember the cold shiver that went down my spine when I announced to the class that we would be starting the novel project.

College students (Year 10-12) had comprehensively studied the detective genre through the works of various “famous” writers and were challenged to commence a three month project – to write a full 20 chapter detective novel (25,000 words). The task required that students work together as a class in the creation of plot, characters, crime, complication and resolution but also determine who would write each section / how they would establish “flow” between the chapters (since students decided that each student would work on an independent chapter).

As the teacher, I determined that the project would be “facilitated” by me, I would provide instruction and resources on novel composition and guide students in terms of the “structures” that would be required (pov, character, crime choice, genre “expectations”, etc.). Division of labour would be determined by the students. Even in the early stages, the task required the surrendering of fantastic ideas and tested the student’s resilience and abilities to respectfully reject their own and others ideas! As students become more committed to the task, it was harder to surrender long-held-on-to ideas; the process was often wild and frustrating and for some there were tears!

 “It was a difficult process, trying to choose and eliminate ideas, especially when people were passionate about them. It was frustrating to have to deal with people who weren’t listening properly; or who contributed ideas that weren’t realistic or constructive! My chapter was the climax of the novel. I wanted it to be good so as not to let down the rest of the people who had worked so hard on it!” (Student 1 Reflection)

The initial planning / plotting and character development took only 3 weeks, the process of writing / re-working / scrapping and editing took two months of solid and concentrated effort in and out of class.

The student’s decided that they needed to establish an editorial team who took responsibility for the overall “flow” of the novel and worked with individuals to polish and hone individual chapters. It was difficult to “let this happen” – as the “English” teacher – I wanted to jump in to rescue on many occasions.

 “I will never volunteer to be an editor again! It was too much pressure; I hated proof reading [my friends work] I felt like I was being really mean all the time – I tried to make it better by adding smiley faces [on their work] – I don’t think it made much of a difference!” (Student 2 Reflection)

And yet, from the OTHER side of the fence …

“I am not a confident writer. The fact there was an editing team to help out and to proof-read and edit my chapter made all of the difference. They told me if my chapter was ready for submission- it made me more confident to go up to the other people in my class (peers) and ask questions – I felt better organised as a result.”  (Student 3 Reflection)

The rich experiences provided by the whole teaching team gave students a genuine respect for the role of police and detectives – rather than the more “romantic” beliefs many of the students had, had; based on their home viewing of TV Police/Detective Drama. Students insisted on capturing “compassionate” and “real” investigative characters and to show special consideration to the “victims of crime” in their writing.

In order for the students to write authentically about the crime scenes from the novel, we integrated the reproduction of authentic “crime scenes” into the student’s Science investigation. Students closed off local streets to reconstruct the scenes they had “imagined” and “discussed” in English. Students used “evidence photo numbers” at the mock scenes. Students photographed all evidence, bagged mock evidence and created diorama “maps” of the scenes. These were used to write and present reports for their Science (and English) curriculum but also served to fully inform the credibility of the narrative for multiple writers.

As chapters were submitted to the editorial team, we finally had a “read through” together in April.

 “The pressure has started to build but we are now reading out all of the drafts for the first time and I must say I am pleasantly surprised by the quality of everyone’s work. … This has been an amazing experience and all of my doubts about this task have vanished!”  (Student 4 Reflection)

“My favourite part of the process was when we read the chapters in order. I wasn’t only amazed at the fact that we had written a [novel] … but also at the sheer quality of the writing from a young bunch of people” (Student 5 Reflection)

By June, students had completed the written portion of the novel and then moved to consult with a “publisher/printer” to explore packaging choices – paper choices / cover options / font / layout / recognition of authors / cost of commissioning art work for the cover / deciding on title / distribution options and ebook publication options.

We do not yet have a printed novel in hand but students are now in the final stages of pre-production and their “pre-release” of Chapter One was a great success at a local educational conference. I will post again when novels are available for purchase. J

The novel project has helped students to appreciate the depth of research, investigation and angst involved in developing a novel. Documenting the student’s learning journey has also reminded me of the confidence I can have in students – and to keep student expectations … higher!

Teaching World Political Systems with SMARTIES?

2013-02-17 15.55.51My wife is also an educator and we are looking at ways to continue to “make thinking visible” in our classrooms … a challenge we enjoyed from last year (Article A and Article B)

We wondered how we could explore; Fascism, Communism and Democracy through the use of visual codes and we came up with the following idea … using SMARTIES. We modeled the work we wanted the children to produce to see how it might look. We were pretty sure the kids (Year 10s) would like the obvious “pay off” at the end! THEY DID. Here’s our “everyday language” version with visual representation! Let us know if you try something similar!

CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW:

REPRESENTING POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY THROUGH THE USE OF … SMARTIES!

You may also like: GOVERNMENT HOROSCOPE

What Makes a GREAT Teacher?

aYou're the bestI like Todd Whittaker’s book What Great Teachers Do Differently: 14 Things That Matter Most. It asks, “What makes a great teacher?” and seeks to identify the operational features of “great” teachers and how they may differ from less effective teachers.

There has always been great debate about the secrets of teacher effectiveness; some focus on behaviour management, student expectation, hands-on engagement, environmental factors … the list goes on.

According to Whittaker; these are the “fourteen things” that “great” teachers DO that other teachers DON’T! (a paraphrased approach – forgive me Mr Whittaker!);

1. They keep PEOPLE first and PROGRAMS second.

2. They determine strong and clear expectation from the very start of the academic year; with a focus on consistency.

3. They determine to minimise the LIKELIHOOD of student misbehavior.

4. They take responsibility for student learning and maintain high expectation of student performance and engagement.

5. They take ownership of their role as the “variable” in classroom which matters the MOST.

6. They are great ambassadors for their classroom and their school. They create and promote safe, happy communities.

7. They look for the positive… always!

8. Relationship, relationship, relationship – they can rebuke caringly and can say sorry liberally.

9. Keep small “inconveniences” and “disruptions” SMALL.

10. No matter what – there is a reason they are doing what they are doing. They have a focus with purpose.

11. Their decision making is filtered by the outcomes for the students, not the outcomes for themselves.

12. They always believe the best of their students – every child is “good”.

13. They keep standardised testing/s in perspective.

14. They care, they care, they care.

I would like to add a few other observations, some from my own experience and some from others who have sought to investigate this question. What qualities would you add to the list?

15  They establish learning environments that are student-focused; not control focused (https://theteacherlounge.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/building-learning-environments/)

16  They build parental bridges EARLY.

17  They promote meta-cognition.

18. They complete the tasks they ask their students to complete – they DEMONSTRATE the literacy process (e.g. they write a paragraph with the class, they show HOW they construct sentences – not just the finished/polished version/s).

19. They link learning with student interests and abilities.

20. They embrace new technology.

21. They stay positively connected with other educators BOTH within and OUTSIDE of their discipline.

22.  They embrace a range of strategies for different learning styles, genders and the labyrinth of ‘special needs’. They allow multiple forms of “assessment”.

23. They build knowledge and understanding from what is ALREADY known.

24. They have an attitude of life-long learning; they know that THEY have not arrived. I would add “self reflection” as an integral part of this.

25. They look for mentors and are prepared TO BE mentors to others.

26. They understand that they can’t always do all 25 of these things … and they can NEARLY live with that!

20 Things a Secondary Teacher Wishes He Could Say to Parents

Can we have an honest conversation?

I promise, I am not “representing the teaching fraternity” by writing this… I haven’t consulted with my colleagues; in fact they may well feel VERY differently from the views I express here. I do want to express some of my thoughts from my own teaching experiences over the past twenty years.

I understand that by doing so – I open the door for “20 Things Parents Want to Say to their Child’s Teacher”; and as a parent, I may well write the reply myself. 🙂

  1. I want to help your child – please trust me and empower me to move your child forward.
  2. Read the school policy statements. You NEVER know when you need to know them.
  3. Serve your child a good breakfast, pack a healthy lunch, stop excusing them from sports and leave the Cola and Energy drinks for the weekend. Nutrition and physical activity hugely impacts concentration and behaviour. PS – They could pack their own lunch and they could make their own breakfast.  PPS – They could pack your lunch now and then too 🙂 .
  4. I didn’t give your child a “D” – the work they gave me however, was.
  5. As an English teacher – I BEG you. MAKE THEM READ! Read TO them when they are young. Buy them books/comics as much as you already buy them video/games based materials. When they get older, buy second-hand texts that will either SUPPLEMENT what they are currently learning OR model the kind of writing rigour they are expected to produce in essays, etc. My biggest recommendation? Put these materials in the toilet and change them regularly!
  6. Please contact me when your child needs help, assistance and guidance in their learning. I know you’re not an expert in my field and trying to help your children with their homework can be a real maze! Please let me know the areas your child is struggling with as they happen (not after the due date of a major assignment). On the flip side – don’t empower incompetency or mediocrity by justifying your child when they have been lazy by not following through on a task, responsibility or their homework.
  7. I know my obligations to have a working ownership of your child’s condition, learning difficulty, illness, allergy, diagnosis – I take my working knowledge of this really seriously. With all due respect to the professional who spent time diagnosing your child; please remember that (in most cases) they have spent 1/2000th of the time I spend with your child in the year – I really do have some valuable insights about their learning and behaviour too. On a similar point; when a doctor tells you not to notify the school that your child’s medication has been adjusted so they can get “accurate feedback on its effectiveness”; please remember to discuss with your health professional that the school has a duty of care.
  8. I ask this question of teachers too – Should we reward children for things that they should be doing anyway?
  9. On Parent Interview Night I have only 5-10 minutes with each parent and we need to communicate effectively in the short amount of time we have. If you need more time – please ask – I want to make sure you are happy with what is happening in my class and that we are clear about expectations and all of the support materials available to your child. Also, please make a time to see the drama and dance teachers… they don’t have as many bookings on these nights and you’ll be amazed what you learn about your child from a meeting with them.
  10. Your child is just like you were at their age. Your child’s version of class events, homework due dates, behaviour and attendance; reflect this similarity. If you were a perfect child and you don’t know what I am talking about – please speak to your partner /spouse.
  11. Your child’s education will be negatively impacted if you continue taking two-week holidays during school time because it’s cheaper to buy Bali tickets in the off-peak time. Yes – I will prepare work for them (though experience tells me they will do it the night before they return to school – it just makes you feel better – right?).  Yes – it is a great educational experience. But – ask your boss if you can take two weeks off during non-leave time; ask if s/he will send your work to you while you are away and promise me it won’t impact your work routine.
  12. Be involved wherever possible. Read the diary, read the blog, read the school newsletter, know the examination timetable. Ask me how you can help in my class – but only if you’ve done the other things first.
  13. Talk to me FIRST (not the poor office lady, the principal or another parent). I know I can be a moron, I have a weird and wacky sense of humour that is easily misunderstood, I make mistakes, I make tippos in my typing (;)) but please; unless it’s almost criminal, talk to me about it – FIRST. IDEALLY, have your child talk to me about it (because when your child talks to me – the version of reality that got home is stripped away and we can talk from a different platform). If you aren’t happy after talking it through – then please talk to someone else – you have given me a fair go at coming to a resolution.
  14. If you are visiting the school to see me – GREAT. Please make a time. I don’t want to be rude when you “talk to me at the classroom door” but when I am talking to you during teaching time, I have my back to 30 children.
  15. Stop doing your child’s homework for them. I know it is tempting to do some “creative scribing” and editing. I know you want them to do well. BUT … I know it’s your work because they can’t replicate it in class. If you keep doing it – I will embarrass you by asking you to stop. It is OK to let them fail.
  16. If you’re allowing your child to use technology – YOU have the GREATEST power and responsibility as the gatekeeper – please exercise this power. Letting them have free rein and saying you “aren’t tech-savy” is like sitting in the backseat when your 17-year-old commences driving lessons with your car.
  17. I understand that school may have been hard and even traumatic experience for you but this isn’t about you or me.
  18. Please don’t ask me to be your FACEBOOK FRIEND until after your child has left the school. Please don’t visit my home, phone me at home or send mail to my personal home or email address. BUT do write to my school email, leave me a message to ring you back or arrange a time to get together.
  19. Provide your child with a well-lit, organised, comfortable and distraction-free environment for study. If your child tells you they can study with the TV on – they are probably lying. If they have been on the computer for longer than 25 minutes – check on them – they are either on a social network or they need a glass of milk.
  20. You know your child – I DO want to know what motivates them, what their interests are, what might be “eating them” at the moment, a little of your family situation and of course any challenges or medical conditions that need attention. Please don’t leave vital information for me to discover after three months. I only have a small window before they potentially move on to another teacher.

I hope there is something that you can reflect on. Thank you for allowing me to be so candid – I feel cleansed! Now I will read it back to myself with my PARENT hat on – and will make some adjustments myself.

“They Only Had An 8th Grade Education” … What that REALLY means!

This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina, Kansas, USA . It is taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, and reprinted by the Salina Journal.

The examination was 5 hours long and broken-up as follows;

Grammar (Time, one hour)
1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications
3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph.
4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of ‘lie,’ ‘play,’ and ‘run’.
5. Define case; illustrate each case.
6. What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
7 – 10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time,1 hour 15 minutes)
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. Deep, 10 feet Long, and 3 ft. Wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 lbs, what is it worth at 50 cts/bushel, deducting 1,050 lbs for tare?
4. District No 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find the cost of 6,720 lbs. Coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent per annum.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft long at $20 per metre?
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance of which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.
U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus .
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States .
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas ..
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton , Bell , Lincoln , Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865.
Orthography (Time, one hour)
1. What is meant by the following: alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication?
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals?
4. Give four substitutes for caret ‘u’.
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final ‘e.’ Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: bi, dis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sup.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane , vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.
Geography (Time, one hour)
1 What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas ?
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
4. Describe the mountains of North America ..
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia , Odessa , Denver , Manitoba , Hecla , Yukon , St. Helena, Juan Fernandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco .
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U..S. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each.
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give the inclination of the earth.

Gives the saying ‘s/he only had an 8th grade education’ a whole new meaning!

Schoology – 1 Year On

A little over a year ago I posted about my delight in discovering SCHOOLOGY (READ FIRST POST HERE); I was asked to complete a quick review of our experience, one year on;

For us, Schoology was initiated as a means of assessment/homework communication  between teachers, students and parents. I looked at a LOT of platforms before deciding on Schoology … a year on … I have had no regrets.

It is important to note that, like all platforms, it does require some significant time to establish and administer – with particular careful attention to the privacy and communication settings.  Once up and running, the core administration time is lessened with some upkeep required for semester changeover, new arrivals and exiting students.

The platform offers significant capacity (Function capacity is well explained on the website along with some great videos – https://www.schoology.com/about.php).

I was attracted to:

  • Safety / Cyber-safety features – Student email is NOT required (though functionality is improved if students have an email)
  • Ability to synergise with MOODLE (if you choose to go that way in the future or you have existing resources on this platform)
  • Gmail connectivity and (new) additional “apps”- REMIND 101 is a RIPPER!
  • Internal “dropbox” facility
  • Friendly platform for students
  • HIGH visibility WITHIN our learning community and ZERO visibility/access for OUTSIDE users
  • FREE with high functionality – great to “test” with a small class group before paying for subscription
  • Clear Calendar function – settings for students / parent and staff
  • Making visible the expectations of courses/homework, etc.
  • SAFELY building community (parent/student/staff) e-skills
  • iPad APP (this was a bonus as we had already committed to this platform before the iPad decision)
  • Handles roll and grade books for each course – available securely to parent, student and any “approved advisors”

I liked the ability to stagger the functionality so user were familiar with each “phase” we added over time. E.g. as students and parents have become more confident with the space – we added student blog function (WITHIN SCHOOLOGY) , student comment on course materials (MONITORED) – ability to access grades and roll.

You may ask what it doesn’t do well… it doesn’t train the parents for you :). In most schools this is done VERY poorly or as a one-hit-wonder with little consideration of on-going-induction (personal rant). Administrators have to be willing to sit down with parents LONG after the excitement of the platform has worn off, and reteach how to access/utilise the platform fully. Easily the most “administration hours” are in this area but I do believe it has been well worth this investment. By showing a full commitment to this process; parents now believe that we won’t be “flipping” to the next exciting thing that comes on the market – a frustration for many parents (and staff!).

There is a need to keep selling this to the parents/students and remember that some students will still need to keep a paper diary despite your best efforts to keep things well organised. Also, a BIG WARNING, if you don’t have organised teachers who will commit to use the platform – don’t do it! Training staff is important but it is intuitive to use for the basics and then time needs to be invested in expanding functionality (e.g. quiz, test, roll, links, files, dropbox function, etc.).

As you can tell – I love this platform! Here are some comments from a member of our staff about their experience with Schoology:

As a part-time teacher Schoology has enabled me to communicate with the students when I’m not at school.  Also, I have been able to set up quizzes and comprehension tasks, the results of which are recorded automatically into a grade sheet for me to evaluate later. It has also been useful for setting due dates on tasks and for some students who keep losing their handouts I can upload course info, tasks and medical forms to schoology for them to download.

Going back to my first point, I particularly like the way we can post updates (like a news feed in facebook) this is really handy when new things come up or to remind students and parents about coursework or events. It is fairly labour intensive in the beginning to understand how to travel around the software, but with some time and effort and coaching from Paul it began to earn its keep. All of the teachers use the software regularly. Schoology works for us because we all use it and are dedicated to using this software as part of the communication between students and parents.

For College and MS it is great to be able to keep in touch with what the rest of the staff are doing as well as using it to communicate with students.

What’s the Word on Building Learning Environments?

One of the great luxuries I have at my current workplace, is the freedom to “develop environment” with my colleagues and more importantly our Middle School and College students (admittedly with little/no budget :)).

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Historically, I have taught my classes in many … unique environments … including teaching Year 11/12 English in a staff room, a gym equipment room, a hot tin shed, a board room meeting space, a canteen (this was only a six-week stint which had “other” benefits – LOL) and under a tree for a year. I think they all had their special moments which we enjoyed together :).

There has been a lot of development and research based around the form and function of learning spaces for education and it is no surprise that in our modern, digitally rich contexts we need to experiment with the use of space. I think I was pretty lucky to have teachers in my Primary School who used space effectively, making it both aesthetically pleasing and functional but there was certainly no consultation with students on how the room should look / feel.

Secondary environments tend to be a different story – there has been little room for creative freedom; not because teachers don’t necessarily want to “own” a space, but because the general discourse in secondary timetabling accounts for teachers who move from classroom to classroom, multiple teachers who “visit” each “learning space” throughout the timetabled day and the growing trend toward lighter teacher loads (the part-time teacher).

A quick GOOGLE image search of “Classroom Environments” will reveal some amazing looking class spaces. They range from traditional desk-centric rooms with creativity directed to the windows and doors; to rooms/spaces which look as though they were designed by supermarket architects! What is ALSO interesting to note is the few learning spaces which represent secondary (Year/Grade 7-12) learning environments.

Whether intended or not, all learning spaces do sell a message about learning WITHIN that space to our students. Whether the educator is “influenced by the historical lab school movement of John Dewey, the innovative early childhood work of Maria Montessori, or more modern theorists such as Howard Gardner, one thing is certain: classroom environment has been a subject of teacher consciousness.”. The recent trend has been to focus on our digital environmental priorities and it would be great to re-strike the balance.

I am also learning the value of “building and CAPTURING memories” from outside the classroom environment that are “projected” back into our class-home. It’s not a foreign concept, we do it all the time in our own families; for the learning environment it is about trying to capture where we have been; camps, incursions, excursions, activities, “shared” moments, capturing “fun learning” on film to frame and display … not just for Parent Nights! I am also learning the value of having a stack of old cushions available to maximise the use of the outdoors – which students love.

Whilst most of us don’t have access to master architects; we do have some control over the shape and sensory elements of our classrooms; even if this requires some form of strategic alliance with those we share our classrooms with. These include; practical resourcing, choice of furnishing, consideration of “traffic” routes, maximising natural light, the “student’s stamp” (displayed production, evidence of visible learning (see earlier entry)), sensory considerations (e.g. access to music, multi-visuals, comfort, heating/cooling/ventilation, storage, ability for the environment to accommodate multiple “groupings”, aromatherapy (hey – why not?), use of all “levels” within the space… not just a floor plan?

Environmental considerations do not only focus on room aesthetics but on the functional operation of the classroom. A recent Washington study  (2011) focused on the role of basic resourcing (paper, pencils, room heating/cooling, ventilation, child-friendly furnishings, access to computers, musical instruments, art supplies) as a contributor to student (and teacher) mental health! The study concluded that use of space and availability of resource was a crucial factor in contributing to positive mental health in the classroom; this was defined by four components:

  • learning (e.g., attentiveness),
  • externalising problems (e.g., fights),
  • interpersonal behavior (e.g., forming friendships), and
  • internalising problems (e.g., anxiety and sadness).

I was particularly impressed with the following incidental remark;

“I think parents care a lot about their children’s mental health (their emotional and behavioral well-being) but we, as a society, don’t tend to focus on that as an important educational outcome nearly as much as we talk about and think about academic outcomes.”

A great challenge for us all.