Last week I shared the following question for us to think about: Should we be worried about whether the kids are ready for the school, or should we be worried about whether the school is ready for the kids? Today I am going to share my experiences visiting a few elementary classrooms here in HSE a few weeks ago. I share these not as a way of saying that our classrooms need to mirror these classrooms, but rather to get us thinking about the learning environments that our students will be coming to us from, and in turn thinking about how the changes at elementary schools might change our practices.
A couple weeks ago I had the privilege to visit FCE and see 2 of the kindergarten classrooms that have transitioned to a Reggio Emilia approach (if you don’t know what that is, click here to learn a little more). A few of the things that stood out to me while I was there: there were no typical student desks or tables, instead there was a large picnic table (that almost the whole class could sit at) as well as a couple of coffee tables, end tables and in one of the rooms, an old dining room table; seating was flexible, there were chairs, stools, benches, tree stumps, and the floor; everything on the wall was student created, the numbers chart, the alphabet, a color chart with labels, and of course student work, I didn’t see a single thing that you would buy at “a teacher store”; all around the room there were stations with questions to get kids thinking, one allowed students to build their own birds nest, another had a mixture of various items in a pan and they could write about their thoughts; this list could go on! We were there right at the beginning of the school day, and when the students came in they put their things away and then began to explore the room. In the time that we were there, we saw high levels of engagement, and almost only heard the student voice in the classroom. I can hear some of you right now – but that was a kindergarten classroom! I agree, but are there aspects of that classroom that could translate to what we know about the developmental stages of our 5th and 6th graders?
The next stop was BSE to visit a 4th grade classroom. When we walked in, students were in the process of coming up with the essential questions for their unit on the Civil War – let me reiterate, Students were coming up with the essential questions. They had been provided copies of various primary source documents and artwork from the Civil War. In addition to the primary source documents, the teacher had also created a Symbaloo (if you’ve never used Symbaloo, click here to see what that is) students could use to navigate to preselected safe websites to research additional Civil War information. As I walked around, students were completely engaged in their work. As they came up with a question they were interested in, they would share with a neighbor. Eventually some of these questions would be written on a post-it and added to the essential questions chart paper at the front of the room. The role of the teacher in this classroom was one of a guide who hopped from group to group checking in to see what they were coming up with and thinking about, and at times asking questions to get them to think deeper.
Both of these classrooms were great examples of HSE21 Best Practices in action. The learning was student centered, highly rigorous, collaborative, and inclusive. So often as teachers at the intermediate level we build our expectations for our students based on where the students need to get to. Intermediate schools in HSE were not originally created to be mini junior highs, and in many districts 5th and 6th graders are still in the elementary school. Again, I’m not saying that we’re doing something wrong, or we need to imitate the examples above, but based on what we know about the developmental stages of our students, what aspects of these classrooms might be beneficial to our students?
What ideas do you take away from the descriptions of these classrooms? Are there things you could see translating to your own classroom? What might it be? How might the physical appearance of your classroom change as you think about the students that will be joining us? How might teaching and learning look different in your classroom based on these descriptions? Are any of you interested in thinking about what a Reggio approach might look like in an intermediate setting? Share your thoughts in the comments below!