Inspired by blog posts like this one from @makinggoodhumans and this one from @traintheteacher, I decided to hand over the setting up of the classroom to my students this year. I wasn’t too sure how it would go down with Grade 2, but I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to begin building a culture of agency from day 1. I also wanted to use the experience as a provocation for our first UOI.
CI: Understanding different ways of learning enables people to respond to their own learning needs as well as those of others
So I ‘de-prepared’ my classroom for the first day of school; getting rid of my teacher desk (my clutter collector), staking all the resources in piles and pushing all the furniture into the middle of the room.
As parents and students arrived in the morning, some looking a little confused, I felt the all-familiar pang of doubt. Was I doing the right thing by the kids? Are they too young for this? Will they be overwhelmed by the task?
After some free play, a check in and a few icebreaking games, we started brainstorming ideas for our learning space. The ideas trickled in slowly at first, with a few students suggesting the majority of the ideas, others simply observing. Gradually, students began to build on the ideas of their peers and this lead to some early drawings of ideas and layouts.
The next day, we got straight into it; moving furniture, creating spaces. Students choose what areas they wanted to work on based on their ideas and came up with awesome spaces like a reading nook and an art space, ideas I would have never thought of! The students were motivated, excited and working as a team.
Interestingly, the few students who volunteered for desk arrangement chose to put all the desks facing the front whiteboard, in rows! This shocked me at first but I then realised that, for some of my students, this is what a classroom looks like. I kept my mouth shut, waiting for them to figure it out for themselves.
By day 2, the novelty of setting up the classroom was definitely wearing off. Even though we had multiple play breaks and other activities in between, it was clear some kids were over it, while others were doing all the work. This lead to some interesting reflective discussions about teamwork and the benefits of working together, as we compared the amazing progress we accomplished in a short time on day 1, compared to day 2, each child reflecting on their roll.
By the end of the day, I was beginning to feel like we were beating a dead horse so we left the classroom as it was and spent the next few days interacting with the space. During these days, I documented student comments and took photos of how they were using the space.
The next week, after a quick see- think- wonder as a provocation, I presented students with the examples I had gathered and we opened up a discussion about the dreaded row tables.
Two students came to the conclusion that a circle style seating might be a better idea, to facilitate conversation. Another student suggested one better- a semi circle, so we can all see if we are watching something on our screen or a student is presenting. So we made some modifications to our space.
Our learning space isn’t finished yet. It is constantly changing and evolving as we interact with the space. Furniture is repeatedly moved back and forth and I find myself working in many different areas of the class, my favourite currently being the pillowed windowsill in the reading nook. As I look around the room 3 weeks into the school year, I wonder if it ever needs to be ‘finished’. Can it remain dynamic, fluid and constantly changing, as it is now? A conversation I need to have with the students.
For the younger grades, I think this is definitely something that needs to be done in chunks, over time, but well worth the effort. As well as building class culture and community, it was a great opportunity for me to observe how students worked together and problem solved. Who took responsibility and who took a backseat? How ready are these students for the levels of agency I dreamt about over the summer? What supports and scaffolding do I need to provide to help them on this journey?