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Smiley, sparkly classrooms

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about life changing times for two of my grandsons. I’m happy to report that the elder has become the cook for his friends and the youngest is still skipping happily to the new adventure….school.

This week I’ve been struck by what my youngest granddaughter has been asked to think about at school. She has just started in Yr2 and her class has been asked two really important questions;

  • What kind of teacher do you want me to be?
  • What sort of classroom would you like?

Wow! What a learning-full start to the year. Two apparently simple, innocent questions that for educationalist are loaded with value and meaning. What Evie’s teacher is effectively saying is ‘I want you all to become autonomous, independent learners and I know that if I afford you some degree of control in our relationship and in the classroom culture, I know you will be more motivated to learn.’

These questions are a sort of early version of “forging the classroom’s constitution”, a constitution that is rarely written down, usually devised by teachers without discussion, and mostly concerns rules and regulations.

It’s the first time these children have been invited to think like this. Here are some of their first stabs at creating a classroom culture:

What sort of teacher would you like me to be?

  • Kind
  • Happy
  • Graceful (!)
  • Helpful

What sort of classroom would you like?

  • Clean and tidy
  • Full of smiley people
  • A sparkly carpet
  • Peaceful

Whilst the list reads somewhat like an REM single, it is notable that (most of!) the requirements equate to a well-organised, nurturing, coaching environment. These ideas have been collated into a wall display as a reminder for the pupils and their teacher to strive to make their classroom the place they want it to be (sparkly carpets aside). The result is that each child feels they have a stake in shaping their classroom culture, and there is a collective drive to maximise their learning. I’ll be quietly observing how the ‘constitution’ evolves and how it impacts on my granddaughter.

Shifting the degree to which learners have a say in their classroom will, research tells us, have a major positive effect on their motivation. The questions themselves imply “you are important here, you have a role and responsibilities in learning”. Children have inner motivational resources which classroom cultures can support or frustrate, and the challenge becomes a matter of how to achieve the best sort of autonomy – supportive classroom with a learner-driven focus.

In the early stages of that shift all it takes is for the teacher to:

  • Listen to the children more often
  • Allow the children to manipulate and handle things and ideas
  • Ask children about what they need
  • Respond to children’s questions
  • Show children you understand how they feel
  • Resist giving them ready solutions and directives (less is more)

To operate a classroom with increased learner involvement and direction is to seek the prize of greater engagement. And before you say “That’s obvious and all teachers and schools are like that,” I’m sad to say that more and more of them are losing sight of the learner in the false pursuit of ever higher performance. Let’s buck that trend.

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