It’s that time when I start thinking about upcoming lessons, and then that leads me to think about how I can add something new to my personalized learning journey, and while I was looking at my lessons for January, I realized I wanted to offer my students a new choice – this time it would be a choice of where to work. This option would be available to students when they are doing independent work or have group work to complete. There will still be plenty of times where they all need to be in the classroom for whole group instruction or when other things happening in our building make it challenging for them to be out of the room.
I’ve thought a lot about this because personally I struggle with students being allowed to work on their own outside their classroom. So often I see students who are not on task and disrespectful behaviors (leaving the work space a mess, shouting at other students who walk by, etc). I typically have all my students stay inside our classroom regardless of the work going on. That being said, I’m now exploring exactly the opposite. One reason I thought about offering this to my students is because of my own son’s experience with a hybrid class he’s currently enrolled in. Many days he’s allowed to decide where he wants to work in the high school – or he’s even allowed to go home and work (it’s his last class of the day). He often decides to leave school and go home to work at our kitchen table because he says then he’s not distracted by anything or anyone. Another thing I thought about is as an adult, if I were offered the opportunity to work in a different location I would also want some place new at times. I feel my classroom is a welcoming and comfortable environment but there are times where other places might work better for a variety of reasons. Finally, there is some work that happens in my class that is challenging because of the physical space of my classroom. If we’re rehearsing presentations, it’s too loud and they can’t practice projecting their project. If groups of students could spread out into other locations that have the equipment they need, it would be a more valuable experience. When students are reading stories out loud in small groups many students complain that they are distracted by the groups around them and they can’t hear the student who is reading in their group. I also only have a couple of big tables in my classroom. When students are working on posters there isn’t enough table space. While all these reasons are good reasons for allowing students to have a choice with where they work I also understand that it’s going to take careful planning to be sure that if my students do leave the room that they are engaged, respectful of the space they are in, and that they are able to demonstrate that learning is occurring even though they are not necessarily right in my sight.
After making the decision that I would offer options for students to have options to work where they best felt the space met their needs, I met with my principal. I have to give a big shout out to my principal here because I feel like she’s extremely supportive of all the work I do – even when I constantly want to try out new things and those things could go totally wrong. The good thing is that she seems to understand that learning can sometimes be messy and that if it does ‘fail’ then we’ve learned something and can try again. After a great discussion we came up with the idea of lanyards my students could use that would let other people know they are in my class as well as indicate the location they should be working in. We also talked about how students will use some sort of ‘exit ticket’ activity regardless of where they’re working to provide evidence of work. I’ve already ordered the lanyards with a plastic pouch and will hope to work on those yet this week.
My task for myself today was to explore our building to find the creative learning spaces that I could offer to my students as an acceptable work place. During the walk I discovered that it will be challenging to offer a wide-variety of choices. Many of our small conference rooms are used by staff members who pull students or are used for storage or have materials in them that other groups use. We have all kinds of great nooks and interesting spaces in parts of the building but they often lack furniture for working in. It made me realize that I’m going to have to be creative in how I think about the spaces and consider if there are things I can do to create new spaces. Here are some of the places that I did find:
This collaborative working space is right outside my classroom. It will allow me to easily supervise the students that pick this location to work. This space will be recommended for work that requires collaboration. Students can also use the TV to project work or materials they want to discuss or collaborate on. It’s important to note that while this space is convenient, it’s also very noisy because it’s in a common area that other students are constantly walking by so outside distractions could be a concern.
This was another easy choice – a small conference room across the hall from my classroom. I can see out my classroom windows and into the classroom windows of the conference room for easy supervision. This space could be used for individuals looking for a quiet place to work (I would allow the door to be closed as long as the blinds on the windows are open). It also could be used by groups for collaborative work. It does have a whiteboard that students could use to record their ideas if necessary.
This is one of my creative places for learning – the stage. It’s fairly convenient because it’s just a short walk from my classroom. After working on our drama unit I realized that this space really could be utilized for a lot of work. There’s a small table where 1-4 students could easily work. There’s plenty of space that would allow students to work on posters or other large work. It would be a great space if students were practicing for a presentation (students could even open the stage doors if it would help). It’s also a very private work space with little or no distractions.
These are photos from our newly redone library space. The space is great and a perfect choice because of the flexible furniture, the availability of whiteboards, our 3D printer is there, and it’s always supervised by a staff member. There is soft seating the can be moved into a variety of configurations, there are several large tables with seating for up to 8 students, and there’s a TV that students can connect to if they need to project their work. This space would work great for individuals who are looking for a comfortable space or groups that need to collaborate. The ‘negative’ to this space is that it is our library and that means classrooms are already utilizing this space several days a week. It also is a space where even on the days where classes aren’t scheduled there lots of students in and out to check out books or work in the space. This means there could be possible distractions for some students.
Love this space but I’ll start with the obvious problem – my classroom is on the 1st floor and this learning space is on the 2nd floor. I would want to talk about my idea with the teachers who have classrooms by this space. There are several things I like about the space – the couches provide a soft space to work, the windows make the space bright, and the location is uncluttered and quiet. It would be good for individuals who want a quiet work space. I wouldn’t send groups of students to this space because it’s not by my classroom and I don’t want to interrupt learning that’s occurring in other areas. I also want to be sure that students understand respectful use of this area means to respect the furniture (no feet on the furniture, sitting not laying because we want to look like we’re working at all times, leaving the space exactly as they found it, etc.).
I have a co-teacher with a couple of my classes. Thinking creatively, we could have one teacher in the classroom with students who are working independently, collaboratively, or getting assistance from the teacher – and then we could have the co-teacher in their space allowing students to use their space for the same reasons. The positive is that it’s a new and different space (which seems to be appealing to students) and it gives them another option. Since it’s a conference room, there’s a door that closes meaning there would be few distractions. It would also be another supervised location where students could work. This space could be used for individuals or partner type of work.
At this point my next step is to work on the lanyard/passes that students will use to indicate their chosen work space, to create sign-out/sign-in sheets (so I know where students are at all times), and create signs that show the space and information students might need to know about working in that space. I also know that I’m going to have to work with my students on the routines necessary for this type of work as well as communicate with the rest of the staff so they are not surprised when there are students working in some of the spaces. I plan to start this in January so I’m sure there will be updates to how some of the spaces work.