Does your class require students to be extroverts?

Susan Cain’s TED talk on the Power of Introverts has really made me think – “a third to a half of the population are introverts”. Like her, I have had to force myself to be an extrovert in professional situations and I avoid large social situations, and the staffroom, like the plague as I do not enjoy the multiple conversations bouncing around the room.

I am a firm believer that, as a teacher be you introvert or extrovert you have to be out there, teach with passion and flare, or Teach Like a Pirate as Dave Burgess says, and hook your students into learning and develop that passion for knowledge and curiosity. But, then do we always allow that space or opportunity for the introvert to operate within the class?

I have quiet working spaces and caves. Provide opportunities to work outside or use earmuffs to remove the background chatter.  I allow wait time with students, so they have time to process their response and make sure that I have a quiet chat with each student every day.  As a class we have modelled and pulled apart co-operative, paired and individual learning and I allow opportunities for student to choose how and where they work. I would like to think that the needs of the introvert is catered for in my classroom, but am not 100% sure.

Now to the next tricky question. How often is the introvert teacher shut down in the  staff room or in meetings by the extrovert teacher? Or, how often

Click to Enlarge - Borrowed from Twitter, but can'f find where.
Click to Enlarge – Borrowed from Twitter from @Psychology.

is the introverts idea squashed because it is not out there enough? Or, more commonly, how often does the introvert teacher not contribute in staff meetings because they just do not feel comfortable? I do not know the answer to those three questions or even if they are real issues, but they are things that we need to think of as educators.

We need to nurture and empower the introverts in society or schools or staff rooms and allow them the opportunities to be who they are and allow them to become the person they will be, not force them to become extroverts because we think it is the way we all should be.

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Learning Spaces a week later

A lot of time and effort was put into class design this year. I visited other classes, researched papers, discussed with peers and parents and I think that for the beginning of school year Room 6 was an exciting place to be. The week before school began I posted my journey so far on this blog and Tweeted it out for comments and suggestions. All were positive and helpful; I had comments from teachers with links to their journey, was sent articles from journals and newspapers on the subject to help with my ideas and even had comments from designers with an interest in education. In a day the posting went around the world several times and I was sure that I had all bases covered.

I had spent so much time setting it out mentally and physically that when the parents and students arrived on the first day I was just so excited to explain and have them explore and test and trial and critique my design and when they arrived they did…

Parents thought that it was fantastic and that the idea of their children getting to work out what type of environment suits their learning best was nothing but a positive. Strangely, most parents wanted their child to either work next to their BFF or in a cave, where there was no distractions from the other ‘noisy’ children. I think that this could be a separate posting by itself.

Many of my past students were very excited in the furniture and design, but what I had not taken into account was the excitement than many of the younger children place on moving up to where you have your own desk with a space inside that is just for you. Initially having a tote tray for your belongings (book, hat and pencil case) and baskets to keep all of your subject books in was not acceptable in the eyes of the Year 3 students. It was if they felt slighted by me trying to be innovative and attentive to their learning needs.

At the end of day one I looked at the way the class had been used for the day and saw that 75% had claimed a space of their own and marked it with drink bottles, stationary and clothing. The other 25% loved it and were trying anywhere and everywhere that they could find a space to work. It was quite disheartening but I knew that it was early days.

The next day I removed a few of the desks and added a standing table and began to scaffold the students understanding of the different learning spaces, as I realised that what was missing was the understanding of how they worked. We spent the day working in different places, moving around, reflecting on the work output in regards to quality and creativity and the on-task nature of each student in each space. The next day it had swapped and only 25% were sticking to the same spot.

Now a week and a half later the design is working and the class is humming. A few of the boys have found it so successful working in a cave type environment that they do not want to leave and we have had a lot of reflective circles at the end of the day discussing how we need to learn to work in all environments. The research and preparation is paying off so far although the journey is still in its early days.

Next steps are getting the kids to identify what spaces work for what type of learning and to get some of the learning language being developed around their environment. Additionally, I would like the class to take control of the design spaces and where they are set up, but that will not be untill later in the year.

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Trying to create a diverse learning environment

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With the beginning of a new year and 80% of my students moving onto the next year I have decided that the learning space of Room 6 needs a drastic change.  The two catalysts for this change were the Central Lakes ICT Cluster visit to schools in Auckland last year and ICOT thinking from last week. Stonefields, Summerlands and Albany Senior College use their space in such a way that students get to take ownership of the learning and also find a space that fits their learning need whether it is collaborative, paired, whole class of independent.

Professor Peter Barrett of Salford Universities research paper on the analysis of the impact of classroom design on students learning identifies the learning environment as a huge part of a student’s ability to succeed or struggle.

The paper claims that various built environment factors have a significant impact on the learning progress of a pupil. Comparing the worst and best designed classrooms in their sample of 34 classrooms across 7 different UK schools, differences in learning progression are 25% on average. Or in short: well-designed classrooms can increase the learning progression of a pupil by 25%.

Taking this into account and looking at the theory of ‘Caves, Campfires and Watering Holes‘I have tried to make the classroom as accommodating for every child.  Although restricted by fixed items such as walls, IWB and wet area I have attempted to add various spaces within the classroom as interesting as possible.

Several trips to the local Wanaka Wastebusters has gained me some inexpensive furniture of an armchair, couch and library corner.

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By getting the handy caretaker to modify some soon to be scrapped pin boards I have created some study booth type ‘Caves’.

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And then the rest of the class has been laid out into cafe tables with stools, kneeling tables, group tables and collections of desks.
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In conclusion, there are a few other small differences this year in comparison to previous years… there is not enough desks for each child. Yes there are enough working spaces within the classroom and there are actually 33 spaces for 25 children not including couches, the floor or outside, but there are not enough physical desks.  This came about by reading Stephanie’s blog post about initial classroom set-up where she pointed out that when space was a premium there was not need for all to have a desk, as rarely do they all use them at the same time, and that by not all having a desk the students must actually share and co-operate together to decide who works where and in what learning area.

But now the classroom is set, the first day is ready to begin and I look forward to trying to articulate to my students why there is not a desk with their name on it.

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