When I first think about an ideal classroom I drift off to dreamland and think about the “stuff”. The cozy Starbucks seating area, technology at everyone’s fingertips, beautifully painted walls, and every gadget and gizmo around. Sigh. How pretty.
But then I reflect more, and remind myself of something I just presented in January…
So I ask myself again…what does my ideal classroom look like?
My ideal classroom is messy, it’s sometimes a little unpredictable, and there is a lot of ups and downs. How absolutely opposite is that to my original thought! My ideal classroom is a classroom of empathetic children who want to change the world. Go getters and goal setters who know that the sky is the limit. My ideal classroom is always a work in progress, and both my students and I are constantly encouraged to continue to push the envelope knowing that perfection is not expected, only growth is.
I have pushed my own thinking a lot in the last 2 years and I will be the first to admit I am still a big work in progress. I am also my hardest critic, and will be my own worst enemy a lot of times if I allowed it; but despite that I continue to push myself and evolve my craft, and because of that I do see the learner centered approach starting to flourish in my room.
As Katie Martin writes in her book, Learner Centered Innovation, I am always striving for these characteristics as often as possible in my classroom.
When reflecting on my work, my eyes were initially drawn to looking at everything in isolation. I struggled to write about it, but then remind myself that all of these characteristics are far from isolated, and instead they are a fluid experience in my room that flows in and out and blends at any point of time.
I start with inquiry, because it’s kindergarten…so how can you not start there! Students are asked to wonder, explore, and question with everything we do. They are asked to communicate these thoughts and ideas, and pursue them whenever possible. Encouraging inquiry often leads to a personal experience for all. Whether it’s writers workshop where no prompt is given, only the power to choose your interest and write; to Genius Hour where students have an hour a week to fall in love with their own passion, making the learning personal not only brings out great ideas, but it also brings personality and life to the classroom. We are not a room filled with cookie cutter projects. We are a room filled with life that grows and changes often. When you move to thinking about agency, I am reminded of the work in progress sign that should probably just remain hanging in my room all year. Students have learned that many projects will not be done in a short time span. My room is filled with work that is in the process of a 6 to 12 week transformation. Students are taught to walk away, and pick it back up tomorrow. This has allowed for the time to embrace critique and revision. They are encouraged to stop and reflect, and push through when there are productive struggles, then tinker, research, and continue on. They have models that are never individually created, but instead products of a highly collaborative experience. They learn from each other, and learn how to work together to create solutions to challenges posed. One thing I have worked on this year is the authentic side of a learner centered experience. Students have done a Google Hangout with middle school students, wrote to experts for more information on projects, and have invited people beyond our classroom walls to come see their learning. But before they can present to their authentic audience, we work on goals and accountability. They internalize their goals and take ownership on completing it. We revisit goals often, and reflect on where we are in the process. Teammates hold each other accountable for projects, and we encourage each other throughout the journey .
So what does Leaner Centered Experiences look like in my room?
I looks like this…
So I go back to my original wonder. What does an ideal classroom look like? It looks like life. It’s messy, it’s unpredictable, and amazing at any point in time.