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  • Writer's pictureKristin Phillips

The Third Teacher: Change up your classroom environment

It is good to stay current with the lingo.  The literature now refers the classroom environment as the “third teacher”.  Many teachers are examining how their classroom environment might invite different kinds of learning.

It has been said that today’s physical classroom doesn’t look that much different from one in the 1880s.  Sure, the blackboard has been replaced by a whiteboard, the overhead is now a document camera, and there aren’t too many wooden desks floating around.  But, basically many classrooms looks the same as they always have.  But society doesn’t; and we have been thinking that maybe, in some significant ways, learning shouldn’t either.

Many business organizations are also changing the work environment in favour of an environment that they hope will inspire more collaboration, more creativity, more interaction between employees, more access to technology.  If we want our students to have voice and choice, collaborate, use technology in meaningful ways, expand their thinking, work respectfully with many different students, work both independently and in groups, and move about, does our classroom environment promote that?

Once again, this is a good time of year to explore different ways you might wish to reorganize your classroom space and see what happens.  After all, no one will die (except perhaps from the heat if your school is not air-conditioned!!).  Here are some ideas to try out:

  1. Do you need your teacher desk and/or space? Could it be pushed into a corner if you need it?  Do you need it in a prominent position for classroom control?  What would happen if you didn’t have it at all?

  2. We often ask kids to collaborate at a table with chart paper. A teacher at our school has put up laminated chart paper on the walls.  She’s noticed that the kids move and talk as they work; they can all see the paper; she can see everyone’s paper easily.  What happens if you get your kids standing up to collaborate?  Could you let some groups work at the whiteboard in your room while others used chart paper?  Do you notice any differences?  See the last post about collaborative groupings for more information.

  3. Do your kids need to move? Your first reaction to letting kids sit on an exercise ball may be panic, but try it out.  The novelty wears off and then those kids who need them tend to use them.  What about making some desks higher so that students can stand while they work?  If you are in Ontario, the very large and cumbersome SEA tables work well for that.

  4. There are lots of interesting ways to configure your desks for group work. Wander around your own school one day and see some of the interesting configurations that people have adopted.  Or google it!  Try U shapes, or pinwheels, or staggering the desks.

  5. How easy is it for your students to move their chairs into a circle for knowledge building circles? Does the desk configuration aid in that or make it difficult?

  6. How do you group your students? What would happen if every day or every few days, they were randomly grouped in a different way?

  7. Do students have a choice of places to work that support both group work and independent work? Do you have both groups of tables and some single desks?

If nothing else, changing things up will keep your students engaged during the month of June, and you will be energized, too, with the possibilities for September.

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