Guest Blog – Why do we do things the way we do?

One of the first questions I’m asked when a parent or colleague walks into my classroom is ‘Where are all the tables and chairs?’ At the beginning of each term the students and I spend a week experimenting with different layouts e.g. rows, groups, no desks at all, sitting on any side of the desk, any combination they can think of. At the end of this week we sit down and discuss how they would like the room to be set up, with each student giving a reason as to why they would learn better in their chosen layout. Based on this discussion we set out the tables students need and use the rest to create alcoves, or remove them from the room, giving us greater floor space and room to move within our classroom.

When asked why I don’t have rows of set seats in my classroom, I ask ‘why do we need them, how do they help our students learn? Is being able to sit at the same desk for 6 hours a day an essential skill for an 8 year old child?’ In regards to behaviour management I have found that when given a choice as to their seat, students are also given responsibility over their decision and require fewer reminders to be in the right place, allowing me to focus on teaching.

Whilst I understand many teachers would not like to teach this way, I believe that asking ourselves why we do things the way we do is vital to improving our teaching practices. Our world has evolved so much, and with the integration of technology we are going to see drastic changes in the ways in which we participate in the global economy. Thus the skills the students we are teaching today will require are going to be different, and our teaching styles must evolve and change to meet these new needs.

As ‘digital natives’ our students are often going to exceed our knowledge of technology; even as a 3rd grade teacher I have students who can teach me something when using an Itouch, or assist to fix glitches with the SMART Board. I embrace this. With copious amounts of research dedicated to the benefits of collaborative learning, different learning styles, and deep understanding through hands on, in depth discovery, we must ask ourselves why we so often revert back to the model of the teacher as expert, standing in front of the class lecturing whilst students whisper or stare out the window tuning us out! When we allow students to take on the role of the expert, we teach them that their ideas are valid, that their learning has a purpose.

Just as we as adults like to know why we’re doing something, so to should students have a purpose for their work. Some ways we have done this in our class have been used for years – such as students publishing their narratives into book format to be displayed in the classroom, others have arisen through the new technology we have available – such as practicing our proof reading skills by editing the comments left by classmates on our class blog during literacy groups, for spelling, punctuation, and structure. Students were completing the same content, but because they had a purpose their engagement and learning far exceeded that of when asked to edit a paragraph of writing they had no relationship with. Technology is not used as a token addition, rather it is a tool used regularly to foster student engagement through provision of purpose for their learning.

Greater student engagement and genuine excitement about learning content has provided me with some hugely rewarding days as a teacher. I have yet to find a better feeling then hearing students lined up at the door excited to come to class!

The use of technology such as the SMART Board and Itouch’s in particular, has also led to a few interested parents wanting to know what their child is learning from ‘playing games all day’ and why there is less writing in their workbooks than usual. School has changed since we were there and this is a natural question. Having already asked myself why I do things the way I do I am able to explain how we learn through games, and show some of the great educational material out there. I also address these concerns through my class blog – uploading photos, videos, explanations, and student work samples, further inviting parents to share in our classroom activities.

Students also post and comment on the class blog. In a world being made increasingly smaller through the proliferation of technology it is vital that students learn the skills to communicate on a global platform in an effective manner. This began with our class blog, extended to commenting on other class blogs within our school, and will this year further expand through the use of ‘Quadblogging’ where we partner with three other schools across the world. As well as teaching writing content, students learn the skills to communicate online and are provided with a real glimpse into how other children around the world live.

Just as each student has a different learning style, each teacher has a different teaching style, however we must ask ourselves why we do things the way we do if we are to evolve with the changes and continue to meet student’s needs in this new technological era.

Amy Berrell is currently preparing to teach 3rd grade for the second year at a Christian School in New South Wales, Australia. She is passionate about incorporating innovative practices and technology into her classroom in a real and meaningful way. Throughout the year her class blog http://missberrell.blogspot.com/ will have pictures of her classroom and insights into the new practices being undertaken in her class

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