Friday, June 22, 2018

Designing the Ideal Classroom

An idea that I have been toying with for a few years now is getting my students involved in designing the physical classroom space in which they spend so many of their daytime hours. It always seems like an insurmountable task during the beginning year, when we are working on developing routines, and then midway through the year has never felt like the "right" time to start something of this nature. The end of the year feels much more feasible, but then the students who are doing the design never get to benefit from the changes because they will have moved on to a new school the following September.

A sudden brainwave hit me this year though, and I have decided to embark on this project with my grade 7 ELA students. Being a French Immersion teacher in my school means that I teach a group of students in one subject during their grade 7 year, and then those same students become my homeroom class the following year. Sometimes I find that the grade 7 class is not quite ready for the organized chaos I employ with my homeroom class, but I decided to take the plunge this year and see what happens.

Inspired by the materials from this product by Rainbow City Learning on Teachers Pay Teachers, I created a workbook as well as an instructional website for my students. I introduced the project, and students have had just over two hours to work on their designs.

Their first reaction, when I told them I had been thinking of doing this and that they would be my guinea pigs was, "Wow! We're the first to do this? We're special!" Exactly what I was hoping!

Before the end of classes this year, I had each group or individual come and "pitch" one or two of what they considered to be their best ideas to me. These ranged from how to set up the desk (two lines down the middle, groups of 4 etc) to alternative seating options (bean bag chairs!) to a class pet (iguana, anyone?) to repainting the walls & installing a display case.

I've made it clear to the students that not all of their ideas will come to fruition right away (or maybe at all), but that we will work together as a class to make some of these changes. I am envisioning some work when we return in September on writing professional letters, writing grant proposals, and creating video pitches to submit to our administrator and the school board. So far, students have been highly engaged and I am hopeful that this will carry over into the start of the school year. I am also hopeful that they will have success in achieving some of their goals with this, so that it doesn't become discouraging for them. This will be an ongoing activity over the course of the year, and I want the momentum to continue!

Empowerment of students is so essential, if they are to learn to think creatively and critically, and if we want them to see themselves as agents of change in the world. For me, this is not a theoretical classroom design activity, the students and I will be actively designing the learning space for themselves next year. Student input needs to be valued and meaningful, rather than purely academic. I am excited for September!