At the start of the school year, as teachers, we set the stage, so to speak, in preparation for the arrival of the students. We decide on the basic layout of the classroom, a reading corner, a makerSpace corner, where to put the materials, and more.
This year there has been a lot of push for flexible working spaces and for allowing students to decide and create their learning spaces. I visited different classrooms, observed how kids interact and use the spaces. I read blogs about how teachers transformed their classroom and how students took initiative and created their learning spaces. As a learner, I went on and researched how it looks and how it could function while thinking about how all students in my class could benefit from it.
I then wondered if I should be the one to initiate the change or just wait for them to take initiative and make a change. And, because I am teaching 5th grade, it would be easy to assume that, yes, the kids can do it without my direction.
Then I thought, do I create a safe environment where students feel free to think or voice out that this is their classroom and that they have ownership of it?
It made me stop and think; I always tell my students that this is “our” learning space. A supportive and caring environment that allows mistakes as a way to learn.
I say it but do I actually allow them to take ownership of the place?
Upon reflection, I decided that I should let go of “control” and allow students to design and arrange their learning spaces. But how do I do this? Should I just tell them to change it, would that be authentic or would it come across as a “suggestion” or “directive”?
Then one day, it just happened!
While working in our meeting area, one of the students said, “Ms. M. what if we, for an idea, change how the classroom looks? It is too crowded in our meeting area.” Others chimed in, “Yes, can we also clean and sort out our markers so we know what colors to get. We have new sets of pens, maybe we should sort that too?” This turned into a discussion, identifying what they wanted to do with the spaces in the classroom. They asked others what they wanted to remain the same and what needed changing. Through all this, I was observing and amazed of how the students took different roles without my direction. Some leaders emerged who assigned roles and tasks but did it in a way that was supportive and caring. They then asked me if they could change things and if there was anything that I wanted. I replied that they could move any furniture they wanted, but the only thing I asked was that there would be places to allow them to work with each other.
As they were working and moving, I have to confess I was worried that some might be off task and use this time to play around, but I was entirely mistaken. Not a single student decided to sit this one out. They worked together, helped move furniture, and created a common space to store supplies for the class.
In the midst of this chaotic organization, a student made a connection that, as a practice here in Korea, there is a day devoted to cleaning. He said it is called a big cleaning where everyone participates and puts effort into making sure that their homes are clean. He said that, since this is our home here in school, then this is similar to us working with our family. He shrugged and continued with his task. Wow! I was not expecting this and it did warm my heart. (If I was not convinced then that statement did!)
When they were finished, my boys especially were super proud of what they achieved and loved the new changes.
“I love how I can see everyone”
“I love our room now”
“I love the reading corner”
were just a few comments that they made. They set the tables to allow them to work together, they kept and made the reading corner homey, and took everyone’s request on board and changed their learning space accordingly. They were so excited that they took the “after pictures” and told me to write on my blog the “before and after”.
I was so proud of them! I am glad I let go and released control. I am happy that my students taught me to trust them, to allow them to try and enable them to be creative.
As teachers, how often do we let go and let our students guide their learning or interests?