We know the classroom is more than a place for pupils to sit and the teacher to store resources. It is more than just four walls, windows, doors, a floor and a ceiling too. What makes a classroom is the dynamic way the resources it provides are used. This is why a classroom can be an open space or a piece of ground under a bridge. My view is that the classroom should say “Welcome to my world.” There should be something about the classroom that celebrates your passion for the subjects you teach and that shows you are a learner too. Here are some of the ways you can use your classroom to promote teaching and learning.
Promote focus by avoiding clutter. Clutter is things that you are not using, do not need to refer to or just don’t want to throw away. It is the last project outcomes, the broken chair or something propped in the corner out of the way. If you cannot bring yourself to throw it away box it and label it. Have only the things that are relevant out on show and in the room if you can.
Make the walls relevant by getting rid of “wall paper”. This is stuff well past it’s sell by date. There is nothing worse than having work on the wall from somebody who has left or was in the class last year. It is also stuff you cannot read if you are sat in the middle of the classroom without requiring the eyesight of Superman. Sit in the middle of the classroom and if you cannot read what is on the wall then bin it. If you cannot read it then neither can your pupils. If it is important then make it readable.
Make the walls a resource for you as well as the pupils. Teachers are adept at using the walls of the classroom to carry all manner of resources but what about using one wall for prompts and reminders for your teaching too. If when you are addressing the pupils you are at the front of the class then use the back wall for your own purposes. This is not as daft as it sounds; the back wall is probably the least viewed by the pupils. Here is an example of how you may use the back wall. Say you wanted to develop your teaching by asking more mindful[i] questions then you may have a large image of a brain posted on the back wall. Unless you explain to others what it is for then it is your own personal reminder to ask questions in a way that encourages rather than discourages responses. If anyone asks you do not have to tell them the reason why it is there, that is up to you.
Share ownership of the walls and encourage pupils to take ownership by displaying their own learning outcomes. You do not have to select every piece that goes on the wall.
Get creative when you need to and this includes using the ceiling, the windows, the doors, and even the floor. The classroom can be “dressed” in the same way as shop windows to promote a theme or support a topic. I have even seen Egypt complete with sand and pyramids appear in a classroom (just be sure to cover the floor in plastic first and get the cleaner on your side!)
Set the mood using technology. Projectors not only project images but hey can be sued to create blocks of colour and coloured light. This can be very effective at creating a mood, especially if you add in some sounds. Plain white sheets can be hung as screens and they do not have to be on the wall. Images can be projected onto them to create illusions of walls or the seaside or anything your imagination comes up with.
Consider the unusual. If you have ever walked into a bakery as the bread is cooling you will know the power of smell. Like music it can transport you both in time and space and lift your mood. Scented candles or perfumes can add that extra dimension. Just image the impact of a few stink bombs if you were studying the history of sewerage in the Victorian era! Having music playing alters mood and pace significantly, just the thing for creative writing.
Move things around, but only for a reason. Too many changes and too much change can unsettle pupils. Like everyone they like the familiar and may need warning about what you have planned. Just imagine how you feel if you cannot use your usual car parking space. Putting desks in rows just like a Victorian school may be a great way of starting off a topic.
Think about the entrance to your room, it is after all a portal to learning. How can you make it more effective? Remember that sometimes your pupils may be lining up outside your door and it could provide a useful opportunity to learn something or set the scene.
Be welcoming. It goes without saying but sometimes you may get carried away clearing up after the last session or in preparing for the upcoming one. Even if you are not ready take time to meet and greet. How pupils enter a room and even how they leave says something about the space they are in. Don’t miss an opportunity to use subtle influences to mark out your room as a place to learn.
Give it an identity so the pupils know where they are. There is nothing worse than bland teaching room after bland teaching room along a corridor. Think what the high street would look like if all the shops were the same. How would you know where you are or where to go?
Promote organisation. A place for everything and everything in its place is a very important adage. So is “Don’t put it down. Put it away.” Have systems that you use to keep your room organised. This helps you find things as well as the pupils and saves them waiting to ask you.
[i] Mindful questions are those that do not impose limits or require absolute understanding in order to answer. They can be satisfied in part or in whole depending on the knowledge and understanding of the pupil. For example if you ask pupils to name the three states matter can exist in then you are excluding those that can only think of 1 or 2 from answering and anyone who believes there are 4 (plasma) or even 5. A mindful question format may be formed in this way, “Who can name me a state matter can exist in?” . Now you have not set any boundaries and can respond to any “odd” or interesting responses you receive.
It was inevitable that LQ should at some point discuss the flipped class or flipped learning because it focuses on changing the learning environment and LQ is all about the learning environment. If you have followed the earlier articles on LQ (http://wp.me/p2LphS-3p) you will know that the definition of LQ is the ability of the learner to manage the learning environment to meet their learning needs. With the flipped class we are seeing a change in the learning environment, possibly a leaking of learning from within the school into the world. A world that through technology and as a result of technology is now more accessible to many learners. A world where they can decide when and where to learn, the pace of learning, explore questions they may have as a result of what they have learnt and if necessary pause, fast forward or rewind and even re-order the learning. A world where they do not have to stop and start thinking on the ringing of a bell as well as navigate the structures, rituals and customs that are such an inherent part of our school systems.
The success of the flipped class is in part due to this change and the technology that allows teachers to find, create, and use online materials to reach and enable learners.
The two people credited with being pioneers in this concept of “turning learning on its head” are Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams (Jon’s website site[i] ). There is a useful article written by Jon and others which states what flipped learning is and is not[ii].
This article starts amusingly with a statement of the “traditional definition of a flipped class”; to consider using the term “traditional” so soon in its evolution perhaps shows the pace of development in this form of learning.
What is it is NOT:
- A synonym for online videos. When most people hear about the flipped class all they think about are the videos. It is the interaction and the meaningful learning activities that occur during the face-to-face time that is most important
- About replacing teachers with videos
- An online course
- Students working without structure
- Students spending the entire class staring at a computer screen
- Students working in isolation
What it IS:
- A means to INCREASE interaction and personalized contact time between students and teachers
- An environment where students take responsibility for their own learning
- A classroom where the teacher is not the “sage on the stage,” but the “guide on the side.”
- A blending of direct instruction with constructivist learning
- A classroom where students who are absent due to illness or extra-curricular activities such as athletics or field-trips, don’t get left behind
- A class where content is permanently archived for review or remediation
- A class where all students are engaged in their learning
- A place where all students can get a personalized education
To me this emphasises and describes the landscape of the learning environment created by flipped learning. It does however also demonstrate the need to develop LQ in learners. In an article in which Jon presents 10 questions to ask before flipping the learning[iii] he asks the following questions.
“How will you teach your students how to watch your video content for comprehension?”
“How will you communicate to your students about how Flipped Learning will change their experience at school?”
Both of these questions are directly linked to the idea of developing LQ in learners. Both show the importance of LQ in adapting to new learning landscape. Here is an extract from “The biggest hurdle to flipping your class” [iv]where Jon describes the response of a student to this new challenge.
“I was relieved to see students taking ownership for their learning. For example, I had one student who during the first semester was not really taking class seriously. She struggled to learn in our Flipped-Mastery Model because it required her to actually learn the content. She wanted to just get by instead of engage in the content. I insisted that she learn the material before she moved on. Sometime in January, I noticed a change in her. She was learning! In fact she was learning how to learn. During one conversation with her, I commented on the positive change I saw in her and told her how I was proud of her newfound success. To that she remarked, “You know what, Mr. Bergmann, I found it was actually easier if I learned it right the first time.” I chuckled, but also saw great growth in this student as she was really learning how to learn.”
I would say the learner became aware of their ability to manage their own learning and in doing so found in themselves the skills, attitudes and attributes of LQ. Perhaps Jon’s realisation that he “.. needed to get away from being a teacher who disseminates content, and instead become a learning facilitator and coach” is the underlining and highlighting of the importance of LQ in today’s learning environment which is not any longer a walled garden there to protect and nurture young learners and instead is a wide landscape where a learning compass, map and guide are more useful and important.
So if we flip the learning – then what? We are in part left with a question also raised in the previous article “What is the best use of class time?” So what do you use class time for?
a) dissemination (imparting knowledge or skill)
b) checking on learning (assessment for learning)
c) motivating (encouraging, improving self-esteem etc.)
d) removing barriers to learning (providing resources, differentiation, supporting access)
e) helping learners become better learners (learning to learn)
f) other – (please let me know)
The traditional model of education which uses class time for subject based learning is in many cases “crowded” because it is trying to involve or include all of the above. The strain on the teacher is immense not only because they are trying to do all of the above but also because they are planning and delivering. I liken this to a sort of symphony of teaching and learning with the teacher as the conductor and player of nearly all the instruments. The beat of the lesson cannot be interrupted or messed with without disharmony and certainly without the desire to do it again or to go back to the start until everyone is in time. The single chime of the triangle at the wrong moment can ruin everything. Traditionally (there is that word again!) homework has been the tool used to overcome some of the difficulties in creating and maintaining the learning environment with everyone in step and on the same page. Our next question must then be “What do you use homework for?” Is it for any of the following?
a) to add to the learning (depth or range)
b) to reinforce the learning (practice)
c) extending the school day (more time)
d) to make up for a lack of effort in class time (punishment!)
e) to challenge the learner to show what they know and understand
f) an opportunity to engage with adults and share learning (reinforcement)
g) repetition of mindless tasks best done at home
h) to demonstrate the importance of a subject (the more homework is set the higher the status)
i) to show how good the school is (the more homework the better the school)
j) other – (once again – please let me know)
Traditional homework is often patchy, some do it, some do it well, and some get others to do it. Then there are those who don’t do it at all! To the teacher this is another member of the orchestra they need to manage, to plan for and to check up on. Often the learner does not see the value in this type of extended learning environment and perhaps because a lack of LQ development does not have the skills, or attributes to make good use of the learning opportunity. As a teacher and as a parent I can attest to all of these uses of homework and the difficulties homework causes.
I think the roots of flipped lessons and flipped learning can be traced to the conflicts and difficulties of traditional lessons and the traditional homework model. It is a solution, aided and supported by technology, to overcoming the pressure on class time and the resulting learning environment and the need to effectively support the opportunities for learners to use non class time to personalise their learning. What is missing from this equation of 21st century learning is the need to develop LQ, to support learners in developing the skills, attitudes and attributes to manage their learning environment effectively to meet their own learning needs and then to demonstrate their understanding.
Developing LQ will assist the flipped class or flipped learning becoming more than it is because it will help learners take real ownership of not only the learning but how it is presented, managed, planned, and created. In doing so it will create the opportunity in class time for the teacher to focus on those four very important learning needs, the other “basics” that often get forgotten but which are fundamental and based around building learning relationships with learners. For more on “Understanding Learning Needs” see my e-book by the same title http://www.ace-d.co.uk/id10.html
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