Building the better classroom

Slate has launched its third Hive “crowd sourcing” project, this time focused on modernizing the American classroom. Here’s Linda Perlstein’s kick off article; at its end you can submit your ideas.

For me, when I think about the ideal classroom, the first thing that comes to mind is the space and the ability to make the space fit the activity or activities for that day of teaching. When I go to the theater, I like those productions that have tables or chairs that move or are moved around, that have walls or other scenery that drop from the flyspace, that even have a carousel system for the stage, allowing quick changes for different scenes.

In my classroom the kids and I moved our desks and chairs and other furniture around a lot, in loud and clumsily choreographed bursts; we might gather close up to the board for a quick mini-lesson, disperse into small groups, and finally push everything to the edges so that people could practice their scenes from Macbeth. In addition to matching the space with the activity, I liked the brief bit of chaos, the physical release for my students, as we went from one configuration to another. It was a quick break, and then we’d get right back to work.

A good friend who’s a middle school teacher wrote this last evening, when I asked for his input: “Classroom set up differs from teacher to teacher. Some have a difficult time dealing with the chaos of moving desks. I particularly like that activity but happen to have a huge room and don’t have much need for moving the desks so I regroup students often, or do the think/pair share thing where they have to get up and move around.”

He continued that the classroom’s “Promethean board gets students to their feet and engages them in the learning, so although I teach middle school and not elementary school, I have used it as a ‘station’ a few times.”

“Kids can only focus for so long,” he finished writing, and “so getting them to their feet is a good transition. They tend to remember only beginnings and endings, so if you have a lot of beginnings and endings in the lesson, they tend to remember more. At least that’s my experience, and it’s supported by the research done by Jon Saphier and promoted by the study on Skillful Teaching.”

I very much like what he wrote about “stations,” which are seen often in elementary school settings but rarely in middle and high school classrooms; see this great description of them from Montgomery County (MD) schools. Does your daughter’s teacher use this strategy to differentiate instruction? And how might a better built classroom make easier the use of stations?

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