Extreme Makeover: Classroom Edition
This year, the first day of school was “reveal” day as in the reality TV shows where rooms and houses are redesigned and updated. My classroom became a new learning environment. The first impressions were beyond positive.
Other teachers’ and students’ reactions were: WOW! The space was different; more welcoming, prettier and purposeful for what I had in mind.
And yeah, some colleagues were skeptical and doubtful: “How was I going to manage the class?” Students would only want to sit in the couches and hang out!
For years, I opted for an organized, ascetic room. It inspired austerity and fostered a teacher-centered classroom. The walls were minimalistic with a few decorative pieces illustrating French art and architecture. The teacher desk was before the one board where instruction was delivered. Students worked efficiently and orderly.
During the past couple years, the space evolved into a more student-centered environment. Students seated in “islands”, the teacher desk was moved to the back of the room and the walls displayed students’ work, signs that supported instruction, and some icons of French culture. Students were invited to engage and communicate.
Influenced by COETAIL and workshops on standards-based language learning with Greg Duncan, I realized that the space didn’t fit either my needs as a teacher or my students’ needs as learners. I wanted an inviting, student-centered environment that was suited for student’s individual needs while fostering collaboration and experimentation..
I started researching literature on classroom environments and their impact on learning, motivation and engagement. I then moved on to learning environments in a digital age. I looked over several trends and examples abundant online. I even created a selective Pinterest board! Read more.
I collaborated with other colleagues and students to design the space. Ideas, conversations and theories in mind led me to the “drawing pad” and I envisioned this room:
I wanted to build a physical, psychological and instructional environment that allowed my students and I to communicate, create and inquire.
Some of my wants:
- A gathering area/conversation space
- Individual and group work areas
- No teacher desk/ designated area
- Collaboration walls
- Storage space
- Café feel
- Calming colors
- Reference to French & cultures
- Collaborative work spaces
- Individual work space
- Blended learning environment
- Wi-Fi/Non Wi-Fi zones
After a couple of meetings with my very supportive principal, I was granted the allowance to move forward with the project and pedagogical experimentation.
The makeover took place during summer break and when I returned to Abu Dhabi in August. Quite a deal of flexibility and work was invested during this process. Overall, the classroom looks a lot like the one I designed.
I have been working in this space for a little over 6 weeks. I can say that the physical and psychological environments are successfully settled. The room has become part of prospective parents’ tours, a gathering place for students and, somewhat, an inspiration for other learning environments.
The instructional piece is where my adventure is nothing but starting. Such drastic physical changes have a direct impact on the way I facilitate class. I purposefully say facilitate because it’s mostly what I do. I am trying to follow this structure in all my classes, for planning and consistency purposes:
Class breakdown (Ideal)
- Class Targets
- Activities explanation
Activities Rotation (3):
- Three activities each class, one always focuses on speaking.
- Blended learning/rotation model: one activity always uses technology
- Activities target different language competencies
- Speaking (always)
- Often activities focus on specific knowledge and skills
- Games are occasionally incorporated
- Target check/formative assessment
- Homework/Next steps.
Evidently, this is a flexible structure that is adjusted according to my students’ and my needs. It provides me with a framework that facilitates my planning as well as gives a sense of predictability to the students.
My students have been fully engaged and busy. Many visitors who have observed our learning environment see kids at work, collaborating and communicating. Many students have been able to advance at their own pace. Collaborative and independent work is part of our routine.
There are no changes in behavior because of our flexible environment. Students feel comfortable in the space but are aware that it’s dedicated to learning.
I have been consumed in trying to plan meaningful, engaging, aligned activities that challenge my students while acquiring their language skills. Not an easy task! I have been working countless after hours planning and creating activities that fit both my learning targets, methodological and student’s individual/group needs.
I also try to incorporate technology tools to modify/redefine our tasks; another considerable endeavor.
So far, we spent a couple weeks practicing/trying rotations of different activities. I gained a better sense of timing while my students had a “menu degustation” of what’s to come.
I have been experimenting here and there, modifying activities, and learning as I go. My students seem to be responding well and are achieving the established targets.
The future looks promising. Exhausting, but promising! I’ll keep you posted.