How to Let Your Students Set Up Their Own Classroom

You know that feeling you get? That one where you finally have had enough of your summer break, take yourself into school, and look at the blank walls of your new year’s classroom, just itching to fill it with colour and decorations and a reading corner and intriguing objects and all sorts of learning? Isn’t there the slightest chance that your students might walk in on day one and feel the same way?

I wrote a blog post about the need for students to be given the opportunity to set up their own learning space, not to walk in on the first day and see that their new classroom belongs to someone else. It is imperative that students know that you, their teacher, view the room as ‘our space’, not ‘my space’.

At the beginning of this school year, I left my Grade 5’s classroom alone. This was a challenge for me because usually I enjoy preparing the space and setting it up ready for learning, but it turns out that my students can do that better than me. Here are my tips for enabling students to be part of setting up their learning space at the beginning of the year.

Leave it alone.

Leave the room as bare are you can possibly manage before students arrive. Make it neat and clean but not set up. Have resources such as books and furniture organised but not placed. You might have welcoming items such as rugs or canopies available to be set up.

Sort out your own important things, like your assessment folders or filing system. I challenge you to take up half as much room as last year with your own ‘area’. (Next year halve it again. Keep going every year until you don’t have an area).

The ‘before’ shot.

Engage in deep discussion on what a learning space needs.

In the initial days of school, discuss together with your class what both the teacher and the individual students think a learning environment needs. Have students consider all the things they think they might do in the room, all the things they need out of the room and the ways it might be used. You’ll notice not many kids say “amazing wall display with the theme of *insert recent Disney movie here*”. Have students record the look, sound and feel of this room, using a simple Y-chart.

We used a Y-chart to organise thinking.

If you frame this conversation and your questions carefully, you will steer the conversation to a deep level. “What do you think helps you learn best in a classroom?” rather than “What do you want in your classroom?” will avoid the popular yet unrealistic dream of classroom rollercoaster or jumping castle.

Having this discussion will be essential in setting the tone for what the class believes is important in a space for learning – owned by the students, not the teacher. This is where the quiet kid gets to say “I need a space to be on my own sometimes” and the kid with difficulty hearing gets to say “I like when we sit in a circle because I can see people when they talk”. It’s when a group of students articulate for themselves that “We write better when it’s quiet” and “Table groups of six are too distracting”. It’s when the teacher explains “We need some space and materials to build and create and get messy” so that students know that this is part of learning, too.

Have students consider the spaces or zones that might be needed for various tasks or behaviours.

As students discuss and explain these ideas, list the physical materials and objects, the spaces or zones, and the arrangements mentioned.

Breaking it down into the important stuff.

When I did this with my class both they and I were surprised to find that lots of them had very similar ideas of what they wanted out of the ‘vibe’ of the space… there was lots of discussion about sound and atmosphere that continues to drive the way they interact in the room now.

Design the room.

Have your students work in small groups to consider all the ideas that have been presented, then draw what they think would be the optimal way to arrange the physical space. If you have engaged students in effective and realistic discussion, this should be the easy part. They simply transfer what they (and others) consider to be the important elements of a learning environment

You might like to put some parameters on this depending on your students (or your own confidence). You might start next term by just having your students decide how they could rearrange their tables or floor space.

Have each group share and justify their ideas. Allow time for questions and discussion.

An example of a group’s classroom design. Their book cave idea made it into the design created later that day.

Make a collective, and not final, decision.

Find a way of having students vote on the options. I find that hot-dotting works perfectly for this. Each student takes 2 or 3 dot stickers and sticks them on the options they like best. The one with the most dots becomes… NOT the winner. It becomes the first arrangement, the trial, the practise.

Hot-dotting to find a favourite layout.

Make sure students understand that this is not the last way the room will look, nor will it be perfect in every way. Explain that the class will review it and make changes often, according to how the space is working for current needs and how people are working within in.

Look over the plan, make any little tweaks needed and make sure everyone can see it.

Then let them set it up. Yes, it will be loud. Yes, it will get worse before it gets better. But they will get there. I promise they will. There’s nothing like 25 kids moving furniture on the first day of school for a teamwork exercise.

 

Make it beautiful, inspiring and inviting.

Last year I had my students decorate their book corner. Somehow, some flying hotdogs were suggested and the idea was greeted with a cheer. They were made and even though it is honestly the strangest decoration I’ve ever seen, the kids would always have a giggle looking up at those hotdogs as they sat in the book corner. If one little decoration brings a few extra laughs a day, perfect. They probably wouldn’t have been giggling at my perfectly laminated cartoon books and Dr Seuss quote.

Last year’s hotdogs.

This year’s reading cave is very popular. It drives me crazy because it’s not how I would have made it, but the grade loves it and they use the space really well, so it stays! The shelves now display the books we are focusing on currently, and one of the kids brought in a succulent to put on top to make the book area ‘feel more relaxing’. 

When I met my class this year for the first time (on day 2 of school as I unfortunately was not there on their first day in the classroom) they talked about how they felt when they walked in to their classroom the previous day (day 1 of school)  for the first time. Remember, I had left it as bare as I possible could. They described it as dull, boring, plain. When I asked them how they felt about the room after they had spent time setting it up, they used words like exciting, helpful, fun.  I asked whether they were happy or not that I had left it to them, and the consensus was that “every teacher should let their kids set up the room so they can get it how they like it”.  So there you have it.

The ‘after’ shot.

The Things that Counted: Reflecting on 2016

When I moved up to grade 4/5 last year after teaching only the early years in my career so far, one of the things I both looked forward to and most feared was how to engage students in their learning by making it real.

At the end of that year, I chatted with my kids about what experiences they got the most out of, what they enjoyed about the year. There were two consistent responses: the Poetry Slam and the Kids Conference.

Interestingly, a lot of the parents I talked to also had those two experiences as a stand out from their child’s year. This is important to me; if parents see enjoyment, value and focus in their children’s learning, it makes it much easier for them to support and extend the work of the teacher.

Poetry Slam

The poetry slam came about when my team was planning a poetry unit. We thought that ending the unit with a poetry slam would be a great way to share. When I explained this to my grade, I happened to mention that often poetry slams are held in public places, like an auditorium. One student asked if we could do ours in the local cafe and I said “Why not?”. My initial reaction was to say no because the teachers had discussed having all our grades share together, but when the students come up with a way better and completely reasonable idea, you have to drop your plans and go with it.

Throughout a really successful unit, the kids worked with a mentor poet, Cam Semmens, who coached them over four sessions. They wrote many poems, scrapped some and reworked others. They tossed and turned over their final performance poem. They practised the way their poem would be spoken and watched other poets slam (including this hilarious one by Nick Offerman entitled ‘A Slam Poem to Bacon‘).
They picked the date, called the cafe and booked their space (and submitted their milkshake orders too). They called up the local newspaper, were interviewed and organised a photographer to come down during the performance.

A self-organised story in the paper!

They invited their parents to come and watch, and nervously walked down to the cafe that morning to deliver weeks’ worth of writing. They beautifully performed their pieces and supported the students who had stage fright.

Read their blog post on the Poetry Slam here.

Often as teachers we talk about a genuine purpose for writing being important, but often forget to include this in our planning, and even more often forget to ask the students what would be the best way to share.

The Poetry Slam was one of the most powerful learning experiences I’ve seen in my class. Students were driven, they were excited, they were analysing their writing and helping each other do the same. They were desperate for conferences to get feedback, and soaked up every second of the mentor poet’s expertise that they could get.

Having purpose turns ‘work’ into ‘learning’.

 

Kids Conference

After speaking at #DigiCon16, I was invited by Jo Clyne, a brilliant historian and educator, to have students present learning at the HTAV Kids Conference. This conference showcases ways that teachers and students are doing using technology innovatively to learn about history and geography.

In the midst of a history and civics unit, together Jo and I came up with a plan which resulted in a launch lesson with Jo, followed by a longer-term project where students worked in groups to tell the story of an individual or group’s experience of Australia’s Federation. Some of these groups were selected to present at the conference.

My students were both excited and terrified at the size of the lecture theatre!

The whole class took the tram to ACU for the day and attended their first conference. They took notes and met students from different schools (including secondary students) who were all using technology in new and powerful ways to learn.

This conference was exceptionally powerful for my students; not just watching others, but seeing their own learning shared in a public forum was genuine, challenging and exciting. What they presented was something they were confident in and had worked hard on, and they got feedback from students, teachers and a university lecturer on how great their end products were.

As the dad of one of my student presenters excitedly mentioned to me on the day, “10 year olds did not present at conferences back in the day. That was for university professors.” This is not the case anymore. 10 year olds are more than capable.

 

The lesson I have learnt is that:

  1. It is possible to provide (and be open to) genuine ways for students to engage in and share their learning with a wide audience and in meaningful ways. 
  2. Not only is it possible, it is vital. 

Why I Hate Classroom Themes

At the beginning of each school year, my Pinterest feed fills up with tons of pictures that fall under the heading of “Classroom Inspiration”. Teacher friends will send pictures of their freshly decorated rooms to each other with questions about where to put the book corner. Ikea experiences a massive spike in sales of those giant canopy leaves and Officeworks sell out of laminating pockets.

Thousands of teachers begin creating themes for their rooms. Jungle theme. Space theme. Harry Potter theme. Garden theme. The list goes on. Sometimes I wonder if some teachers might have been better suited to being window dressers.

This website lists hundreds of classroom theme examples!

Similar to classroom themes, many teachers will spend days and days before the students arrive setting up every aspect of the classroom, plastering their walls, floors and ceiling with posters and decorations. I’ve been there, and I’ve dragged my mum with me.

There was a time when I thought this was a cute idea, a nice thing to do for students by teachers who were willing to spend their time, money and energy creating an amazing-looking space ready for day one. I myself must have spent hundreds of dollars and hours on my classroom in my first year, spending my nights laminating and my weekends at Ikea or scouring Pinterest for ways to make it look more “enchanting” (I remember this being the word I wanted to describe my first ever classroom for my preps).

But every year I chuck out a bit more stuff. Every year I find more things I made or bought that were never looked at or used. Every year I notice the way the kids don’t notice it all.  Every year I’ve learned more about how kids learn best, and surprise, surprise, hand-painted Hogwarts Express mural across an entire wall, little owls hanging from the ceiling above every table, with pencils carved into wand shapes aren’t on the list, no matter how magical or enchanting they may be.

THE ROLE OF THE TEACHER

A list of teacher-reported conditions that promote learning, provided by Will Richardson.

So what does the classroom need in it? After listening to Will Richardson’s presentation ‘Old School to Bold School’, I was challenged to list the things I believe contribute most powerfully to student learning. He shared a list of responses he’d heard over and over again from teachers. You can read this below. Most likely if you were asked to write a list yours would look similar to this because we know these are the things that matter.

As I started to consider how I might set up my new room this year, I was reminded of this presentation and the things that matter most in learning environment.

Einstein famously said “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” Obviously, this is not only about the physical environment, but we cannot deny that the physical environment has a huge impact on the way students act and interact in their school day. So, if we believe the role of the teacher to be to create the conditions for learning, or to model how to learn best, we must ask ourselves…

How do classroom themes or decorations contribute to learning?

How can I ensure that all aspects of the classroom contribute to learning?

What are our classrooms if not spaces for learning?

Teachers should curate their space and resources extremely carefully so that the room works in harmony with how we know students learn best. This should be our only focus.

Would you decorate your kitchen with mermaids, shells, blue crepe paper hanging from the ceiling and deck chairs and expect to cook better? No? Then it is unlikely that decorating your classroom with an ‘Under the Sea’ theme will make your students learn better.

Take steps in setting up your room that will directly facilitate student learning, for example:

  • ensure there is a mix of individual reflection areas and table banks for group work
  • ensure an attractive, easy-to-access, visible display of a variety of texts for students to browse and choose from
  • put resources and equipment (like stationery or games) within reach of the students that use it, rather than locking it away in a cupboard (to only be bestowed with the teacher’s permission).

STUDENT OWNERSHIP

Some teachers will argue that decorating the space makes it more fun or inviting. That might be so, but is there the risk that the purpose of the classroom space is lost in amongst all the shells and vines? When a student walks into a room that is themed or extremely decorated for the first time, they might be wowed and feel like they are in a fun classroom, and that’s great. But what happens when the fun wears off and there’s just a lot of clutter, a lot of teacher-owned items and not a lot of items or space where students feel true connection and control? How can they take ownership in a space so clearly owned by another?

Kath Murdoch, in The Power of Inquiry (2015), say that ‘setting the room up before the students arrive actually deprives them of an important opportunity to develop a sense of shared ownership of, and commitment to, their environment’.

I remember how one of my university tutors, Narelle Lemon, was talking to my uni class about setting up classroom communities. As we listened, horrified, she explained how at the start of each year, she would welcome her new class into an empty classroom with bare walls, the chairs stacked in the corner and the tables all pushed up against the wall.

At the time I was speechless with disbelief. Now I’m completely on board.

I really believe that an important part of classrooms is student ownership in the space and culture. This requires the (oftentimes challenging) feat of teachers loosening their grip and giving some measure of control to students over the space they work in. So another question comes to mind…

What is the balance between creating an inviting space and letting students have ownership?

This question has been on my mind for a few years now and I’ve been dipping my toes in, slowly relinquishing more and more control to my students over their learning space. Unsurprisingly, the ground hasn’t yet fallen out from under me.

At the beginning of the 2017 school year, I will be diving in and experimenting with setting up (almost) nothing at all in my classroom and working with the grade to collectively and carefully make decisions about our space. Watch this space for a follow-up post to see how this goes, both pedagogically and logistically.

‘Creating an inviting classroom means reflecting comfort and productivity throughout the daily routine’ (Fountas and Pinnell, 2001. p89). Considering that, I think some of the keys to creating an inviting and practical space will be:

  • Guiding students to create areas that are important to how the class will work, e.g. a classroom library or meeting space on the floor.
  • Having good quality furnishings and items (throw away the dirty old floor rugs and the sad looking cushions) that students can choose from to set up and furbish.
  • Making sure that students have the resources and freedom to own the space aesthetically, to add their personal touch (for example, last year one of my students brought in some little cupcake cushions that adorned our book corner and made it cheery, another time a lamp was brought in for a dark corner).
  • Creating zones or different areas for different purposes. Read more about ways you can do this here.

This post is not to discourage teachers from the effort they put in or discredit that work. I think most people agree that teachers give their heart and souls to their job, and sometimes this looks like dreaming up and creating a beautiful classroom space for their students to walk into on the first day. But is this the best way to expend our effort? Think back to that earlier list. These are the things that truly make a difference to student learning, so it’s time to re-direct that effort towards the things that make the most difference, the things that really matter.

 


References

Fountas, I. & Pinnell, G. (2001). Guiding readers and writers (1st ed., p. 89). Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann.

Murdoch, K. (2015). The Power of Inquiry (1st ed., p. 33). Northcote: Seastar Education.

Richardson, W. (2016). Old School to Bold School. Presentation, Bastow Institute.

Hexagonal Thinking


img_8342

Hexagonal Thinking is a visual tool to help people make connections and organise ideas on a topic. I first learned about hexagonal thinking through the  No Tosh Lab who encourage the use of it for going from the messy idea stage of the designing thinking process to the stage where ideas are organised and ordered to work towards solutions.

I used hexagonal thinking with my class this week as a tuning in activity for our term inquiry unit “Who’s Got the Power?” which will look at Australian civics and history through the lens of current parliament.

img_8337Previously during the week, to collect pre-assessment and to get student feedback to inform unit design, I had my students list any words they had heard about this topic that they either already knew or did not know. They also listed any questions they had or things they wanted to find out more about.  

I used these words and questions to create a list of words to put on the hexagonal cards, and presented small groups with 30 words from their lists, such as government, parliament, laws, refugees, promises, tax, referendum.

The groups worked together to organise and join the word cards by linking words that they thought had strong connections. We talked about strong and weak connections, for example “Governments have lots of money” was a weak link, but “Governments have lots of responsibility because they have to control and spend money for all Australians fairly” was a strong connection, which allowed them to add more words to their honeycomb.

 

fullsizerender-2

The benefits of this activity were clear:

  • Students learned LOTS of new vocabulary (they looked up the meaning of unknown words or learnt it from a peer).
  • Learning new concepts from peers was strong (e.g. one student explaining a jury to the rest of her group by referencing a movie).
  • It was clear for me to identify areas were students have little or no knowledge to follow up in future lessons.
  • The explanations and justification had to be strong for group members to make a case to their group in order to put a card where they thought it should go, otherwise they would be overruled by the group.
  • A strong decision-making process was key for groups to be able to work collaboratively on this task.

 

Resources:

  • I made my hexagonal cards on Pam Hook’s HookEd website.
  • She also has blank templates for printing here.
  • There is a hexagonal thinking generator in ClassTools that could allow groups to work on this in a digital space instead. I did not find the Word Doc download to work on this site.

 

#DigiCon16 Presentation: Coding in the Primary Classroom

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 9.47.16 PMThis year I presented a couple of sessions at #DigiCon16, DLTV‘s annual conference.

One of the sessions I presented was Coding in the Primary Classroom: An Inquiry Into Gaming with Tamryn Kingsley. We took participants through the process of a unit we taught together with our grade 2 classes. The unit was an inquiry where students made their own games using the platform Scratch.

We have been contacted a few times since the conference to share the resources we used, so I thought I would collate them all here. All the slides and links to the resources we used are below. We would love to hear from you if you are creating your own gaming unit!

Introductory video of what scratch can do https://vimeo.com/65583694

Cheat sheets – guides for learning the basic skills of Scratch https://goo.gl/7PGfZU

Challenges – short tasks using Scratch designed to help learn basic Scratch functions  (We used About me, 10 blocks, It’s alive, Music video). http://goo.gl/CgOiO1IMG_4262

Blocks – printable Scratch blocks http://scratched.gse.harvard.edu/resources/vector-scratch-blocks

 

Classic Games

Pong http://www.ponggame.org/

Pacman http://www.playpacmanonline.net/

Tetris http://tetris.com/play-tetris-flash/

Supermario Bros. http://www.ozmogames.com/games/super-mario/mario-mushrooms.play

Space invaders http://www.pacxon4u.com/space-invaders/

Angry birds  http://freeangrybirdsgame.org/play/angry_birds_online.html

 

Scratch Games

Quiz https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/86004996/?fromexplore=true

Platform Scroll https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/1775702/

Punkin Chunkin https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/1445936/

Bridy https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/87143678/?fromexplore=true

Arc https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/2422227/

Maze https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/10128431/

Race https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/13042816/

 

Inspiration

Mel Cashen Festival of Gaming blog post http://melcashen.com/?p=955

Darrel Branson Game Making at Mildura West www.goo.gl/BeWDbt

Google Slides for Collaborative Literature Circles

unnamedScreen Shot 2016-07-15 at 11.02.30 AMMy students are participating in Literature Circles this term. This has been introduced in response to a need – it is a way for students to analyse and discuss texts with the support of others, and to encourage accountability for deep comprehension and critical thinking about literature.

The focus is not on the book, but on the reader’s response to the book, and the strategies being developed.

Read more about Literature Circles here.

In our literature circles, students meet in non-levelled groups that are formed by book choice.  The students take on a role for their group which rotates every week. They meet in their literature circles every Friday to engage in discussion about the book and set a “read up to here” goal for the following week. The roles (based on current student needs and which will be added to and changed over time) are:

  • Discussion Director – writes and facilitates discussion around questions they have come up with. We use Anthony Speranza’s complex question matrix to develop these questions. They also manage the discussion and make sure every member of the group contributes equally. IMG_6990
  • Passage Picker – notes and questions passages of text that are interesting, confusing, funny, emotive etc.
  • Word Wizard – notes and  defines interesting or unfamiliar words. They share them with the group and each person adds these to their personal dictionary/word collection.
  • Super Summariser – writes a brief and interesting summary of the key points of the text, to share and consolidate with the group.

In my class, these roles have been initially tasked to one student, but over time I intend for each student to take on all these roles (and others!) as they read, share, question and strengthen their understandings with their group.

The roles will develop where needed. For example, if I find that students are struggling with making text connections, we will introduce a new role. If they are lacking in the use of punctuation to build understanding or phrasing, we will introduce the Punctuation Pal (or something less lame that the kids will come up with!).

The use of a shared Google Slide for each group is critical in providing a collaborative space for students to note their thinking and to share their ideas with their circle. They are each in charge of their own role-related page and spend the week collecting evidence and ideas to share with their team. I can easily see their thinking and track how each student is progressing. It provides a simple way for me to ascertain which students need support in which strategy, and informs my strategy groups.

Google Slides allows team members to add ideas to other’s pages. For examples, this week’s Word Wizard would primarily focus on noticing and collecting interesting words, but might come across a mind-blowing paragraph that they just can’t forget, so they add it to the Passage Picker slide.

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 11.02.59 AM

A Passage Picker will use interesting passages and phrases as a discussion prompt to build understanding of the text.

The slides I use are here – I encourage you to create your own for you specific needs.

Google Translate: Removing EAL Barriers

unnamedI have a student in my class for three weeks. She lives in China but has come to Melbourne for a short time. Naturally she has had some trouble being able to communicate because English is not her first language. Off their own bat, two girls in my class decided to help her out by using Google Translate to convey the instructions in her language, then to continue communicating with her so she could participate in their group. Three students who did not speak each other’s languages worked together on making a film today. I am in awe of the powerful combination of kids and technology. Anyone who says tech does not belong in the classroom is wrong.

Campfires in Cyberspace: Creating Classroom Spaces for Learners

IMG_7078 2
Having moved this year from a modern open plan, flexible learning area school, to a classroom in an old red brick building built in 1922, I have had some new challenges with learning spaces.

I have been considering and implementing the notion of ‘Campfires in Cyberspace’, a term coined by David D. Thornburg The Campfires in Cyberspace theory considers the ways humans have interacted and learned since the dawn of time and applies them to classrooms to suggests ways teachers can create learning spaces that cater to a range of needs – mainly the campfire, the watering hole and the cave. The original paper discusses how we can use these learning spaces on a digital level, but often classrooms don’t even cater to these spaces at the physical level.

Kath Murdoch, in The Power of Inquiry (2015), says that “We send clear messages to students, parents and the wider community about what we value through how we choose to use our learning spaces… The agreements we make about the use of physical environments also impact on student learning.” She goes on to provide the example that if we force students to sit at their own table and that they must do so for all tasks, we remove many opportunities for flexible groupings, collaboration and choice… the message being that we need to be thoughtful and purposeful about the way we arrange our classrooms and allow students a large degree of input into these decisions.

 

campfire

The campfire…

The campfire is about storytelling – a place for a community of learners to sit together and listen to each other and learn from experts and storytellers. This may or may not be the teacher. The campfire encourages whole group discussion.

I believe this idea of a campfire as a place for storytelling puts a lot of onus on the teacher to provide engaging and thought-provoking stories, questions and teaching. It means teachers are not there to dispense information like a vending machine but to create a narrative for learning both old and new ideas.

In a classroom, a campfire will often be the place everyone usually meets, in front of a board or screen. However, it is important to challenge this; a campfire should be regarded as a meeting of the whole group in which to listen and share, so in my classroom this often looks like a fishbowl around a table or a circle on the floor. Classes might also have online spaces that act as a campfire where the whole class views ideas and responds in a shared space, like a Padlet wall or on Edmodo.

A campfire - this is often also in circle form to make it less teacher-centric

A campfire – this is often also in circle form to make it less teacher-centric.

 

drop-of-water-545377_1920The watering hole…

The watering hole is a place for learning from peers. It is less formal than a campfire and in it people gather in smaller groups to share ideas at their point of need.

In the classroom this might physically look like a group of tables where students work together,  a nook filled with cushions or simply the spare bit of carpet no other group has taken yet. A watering hole might also occur in digital contexts such as shared Google Docs where teams of students work in the same space.

IMG_7063

Waterholes in action

caveThe cave… 

The cave is simply an area to be alone and to reflect or work independently, without interruption or distraction from others. It provides isolation, something that can often be difficult to obtain in a classroom. I have seen one teacher who draped a brown piece of fabric over a couple of chairs, added a couple of plants out the front and made a beautiful dark little cave for students to retreat into. Sometimes caves are this elaborate, sometimes they are simply a comfy chair or a corner where a student sits alone. What is important is that students have, and know they have, the option to be alone to think, work or reflect.

A student working in a ‘cave’ which is really out bag area, but is a perfect space for working alone and tucking away.

 

When I started discussing Campfires in Cyberspace with my students they had ideas about other ways we physically organise ourselves in the classroom. They thought we needed some more names for these spaces. It is so important to allow students to take ownership over the way we run and organise the classroom, so I encouraged them to develop their own ideas and the results were the following additions to the spaces.


watts-1012402_1920The swamp… 

Students talked about how sometimes we need a group with the teacher when we get stuck on a task or concept. From here they decided that you can get stuck in a swamp and you need someone to help you out of it. The swamp is now the official name for a teacher group of students who want some more guidance and don’t feel ready to work independently on a task. They “get in the swamp” and we “squelch around with some learning”  until they are ready to get out and get going on their own.

Since this started it has evolved to include small groups of students supporting each other when they need help. It’s not uncommon to hear phrases like “I just swamped with Dave and now I get the maths” or “Can anyone make a swamp with me about using rhetorical questions?”.

Student-led swamp

Student-led swamp

 

plainsThe plains… 

We talked about needing a name for when everyone is working independently, spread out wherever they need to be, not bothering anyone else and working on their own thing. This was dubbed “The Plains”. Students thought that this is like a Savannah where you might see a zebra here, a lion there, a giraffe over yonder, but all the animals are just doing their thing, relaxing in the sun or munching on some grass and sticking to themselves. This is such a calm and lovely metaphor. It takes away the teacher-controlled notion of ‘silent work’ and replaces it with independent purpose.

The plains - students are spread out and working independently without distraction

The plains – students are spread out and working independently without distraction

 

It is important to both provide these spaces and have your students know where they are, what they are for and how they can use them most effectively. In my classroom we have discussed learning spaces at length and negotiated different ways we can use the spaces and respect peers in these spaces. Student ownership of the concept is key.

To do


Further Reading and References 

Teaching Measurement using Google Maps

unnamed

Just a simple activity using a tech tools to enhance student understandings.

This week I have been working on area and perimeter with my 4/5s. This has included a lot of estimation. It became clear early on that students were unsure how to estimate common units for measuring length (i.e. mm, cm, m km). To provide a reference point for estimation, I asked students to create a poster for themselves to be able to remember the sizes of these measurements, with the intention that this would make it easier for them to estimate with a visual cue.  Most chose to use the app Pic Collage to display their work.

For example, to remember the size of 1 millimetre, some students took a photo of the thickness of a fingernail. For 1 metre, they referred to the length of a classroom table.

Kilometres proved to be difficult as it is a difficult distance to visualise. So we used Google Maps to experiment with distances and see a visual representation of exactly how far 1 kilometre is. Students found a familiar local point on Google Maps and used the directions function to map the journey to another familiar location that was 1km away (for example, the local Coles or skate park).

IMG_0467

Gender in the Classroom: Books about Girls

Often when I read a picture story book to my students they will identify characters as male, regardless of the character’s gender. They will use ‘he’ and ‘him’ to describe a character that has just been called ‘she’ or ‘her’ only seconds before when I read aloud from the book. I thought this was a strange phenomenon. My students correctly used pronouns in other situations but for some reason, so often girls would become boys when we discussed the characters in a book.

A commentary on a study by the University of Central Florida noted that the study found that out of children’s books published each year in the US only 31% have lead female characters, while 57% have male lead characters. That’s almost twice the amount of males to females at the forefront of the stories children read. There were many more alarming statistics in a similar vein that all highlight the same problem: We are telling children that boys and girls are not equal, that boys are normal and girls are secondary.

51HoHYJv6TL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_I was reading an article recently that used the popular book The Day the Crayons Quit to illustrate this problem perfectly. It said that in this book “not a single crayon is identified with a female pronoun. Just about everything and everyone in the books – from five of the crayons to a paper clip to a sock to Pablo Picasso to the crayons’ owner, Duncan, to his father to his little brother – is male, or not assigned a gender. The exceptions are a female teacher and Duncan’s little sister, who uses the otherwise under-employed pink crayon. To colour in a picture of a princess. And is praised for staying in the lines.”

Polygraph recently released an analysis breaking down the dialogue spoken in 2000 screenplays by gender. If we look at the sample of 30 Disney films analysed, we find that 22 of them have a males accounting for majority of the dialogue. 22 out of 30! This is hideously unequal! Movies like the The Jungle Book  and Monsters, Inc. have almost all dialogue spoken by male characters (98% in The Jungle Book), while the extremely short list of four movies with a majority of dialogue spoken by females only had them contributing a little over 60% of the dialogue (Alice in Wonderland, Inside Out, Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty).

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 11.19.31 AM

                                                         Image from Polygraph study

 

How will girls learn that they have value and are equal members of society if the literature we provide them does not value being female? We are teaching girls (and boys!) that females come second, that girls are lesser, that they are not as interesting and not worth being read about or watched.

It needs to become normal for animals in the farm book to be females, rather than for males to be the standard and females the deviation.

It needs to become normal for superhero teams to have a majority of female members, instead of five boys and one token scantily-clad girl.

It needs to become normal for there to be no default gender.

So what do we do?

It is imperative for teachers – as well as parents, carers, friends, everyone of influence – to model, speak about and encourage the importance of females in an equal society.

In our classrooms we can start with books. We can read books with female lead characters. We can read books with heaps of female characters. We can challenge our boys to read books about girls (since most girls will read books about boys without hesitation). We can discuss female characters. We can discuss the fact that the gender of the character often makes no difference. We can stop students assigning genders to genderless animals, objects and people. We can analyse films with females in the lead role. We can read books about girls that are not about ‘girl stuff’ but just about ‘stuff’. We can encourage them to write stories about girls. And we can keep going until gender is no longer an issue we need to deal with.

Which books or texts do you use for reducing the gap between girls and boys in literature?

IMG_6188

 


Some resources:

  • A Mighty Girl has a huge list of picture books and novels that feature girls as main characters.
  • For children’s movies that pass the Bechdel Test (a test that requires a film to have at least two named female characters to have a conversation about something other than a man) check out this article.

Sources: