Sunday, January 15, 2012

Innovating learning requires innovating the classroom too



I have always liked moving classroom furniture around, mixing up tables, moving bookshelves along with reorganising the learners in the room too. I usually do this at the start of every term as a way of shaking off the last term and starting afresh, a new perspective and for some, a new partner to work alongside. But recently I have realised that not much has actually changed, the classroom is basically still the same. The mode of learning has remained focused at designated tables. I decided that if I wanted to continue looking at innovating teaching and learning I also had to innovate my classroom too.

The word classroom can be defined as a place where teaching and learning occur. It can be indoors which is normally the case or outside. Today it can even be on your PC or mobile device. Yet in almost every school we see classrooms very much alike - chairs will be grouped around tables or in rows so that each learner can clearly see the teacher who is usually at the front of the room. Victorian classrooms were not much different and we have all heard the the tale that a Victorian teacher would no likely feel very comfortable in classrooms today. That's why I threw the 'classroom organisation rule book out the window and have tried to innovate my classroom layout as much as I try to innovate teaching and learning.


The room is now our Learning Zone and there are no pre-seating arrangements. My class are free to move around, sit with whomever they wish at any time and, if they so wish, pop outdoors for some fresh air and a quick 'chill out' session if needed. The Learning Zone is divided into 5 areas.
  1. Discussion and Thinking Zone - Learners can drop in whenever they wish to talk about their learning, find solutions, help each other and just to think and chill out. It's also still the area where my class gathers for a whole group focus or an additional Creation/Show Off zone.
  2. Discovery Zone - There are 2 of these although one is missed off the top of the image. These contain laptops, pc's and other technology that the learners can use to guide them on their learning, discover answers, investigate and solve problems, collaborate on projects and create presentations.
  3. Show Off Zone - This is where the learners focus on discoveries they have made and demonstrate their understanding through writing, presentation, art work, display whatever medium they wish to present their work.
  4. Repeat Level - This has evolved from my use of Gamification of learning and an approach that my class enjoy. Whenever any learner requires help, advice, explanations and is 'stuck' this is the area they come to repeat the learning so they can move to the next level.
  5. Creation Zone - Creating content for use in their learning, creating presentations to demonstrate learning, blogging, refining, editing. It happens here and it's usually very busy.
I have used this arrangement for one week and both my class and I prefer it to any other organisation we have created. Feedback from my class has been extremely positive
I prefer this because we can move around and sit with anyone we want....You can work anywhere you want which is better than sitting in the same chair all day....I can do my work better now
This adaption has come about because I have started a personalised learning approach with my class this term too. During the Christmas holidays I came across Doug Belshaw's Daily Planner V2 which he created to help him and others to plan their day. This plan only needed a little editing to use with my own class so after checking that I could use Doug's idea (it's CC licenced) I created the Personal Journey (PJ) for every learner to use. A PJ lasts for one week and can be continued if required. Each learner receives their PJ on a Monday morning with Numeracy and Literacy targets and the Most Important area added by myself. The personal area is for every learner to complete and this is done during the morning before we start the day. Learners can add to this section during the week and there are areas where I, or the learner, can add steps to take in the next PJ as well as a section to add thoughts about the week. There is also an area each learner can use to collect their discoveries made during the learning journey. The PJ needs tweaking but like any plan it is a working document.
My planning has now become their learning journey. It is no longer trapped in a file, hard drive or online. It's there for every individual in the learning zone. PJ's allow every learner to move through their journey at their own pace so some PJ's have had additional targets added where others have remained the same.
How has this changed my teaching approach?
I no longer do whole class introductions unless it's a vital part of the learning journey for the whole group.
I have to move around as I don't have a table or chair.
I can focus on targeting every learner.
I don't follow a timetable anymore.
I am incredibly excited using this approach and I will add further posts over the next few weeks as our Learning Zone becomes our new classroom.