My classroom has been set out in groups for years now. I occasionally resort to rows for assessment purposes, perhaps the odd poorly behaved class, but, more or less, it remains the same. As a reaction to my own school experience, I always wanted to avoid that monotony some students must experience at times, when faced with six periods of the same thing; but groups are just another form of uniformity, aren’t they? To believe I am being especially revolutionary or radical is ludicrous but also missing the point. The uniformity is not about the layout of the desks. It is the desks themselves.
Our student teachers left us this week and the subject of uniformity came up in our final report meeting. They have a day where they ‘shadow’ a pupil to every subject and experience the same things the pupil experiences. It seems not much has changed since my day in school. The same desks, the same copying from the board, the same experience of being trapped behind a desk. And we wonder why many of our children switch off. So, when you see a class which is neatly set out in rows ( or groups, for that matter) do you ever ask yourself who it’s all for?
Where uniformity becomes a problem is when we lose the will to be brave and adventurous in the classroom. When we feel the lurking eye of management peering over shoulders. When our own creativity feels stifled.
I’ve written already about my thoughts on Learning Intentions and Success Criteria. I’m not against intending to learn. In fact, I think it is a good thing. I also want my students to be successful in their learning. Nothing wrong with that. It just concerns me that always having specific success criteria ultimately discourages creativity. If we always want students to arrive at the same destination there will be limited routes to get there.
I was about to start teaching the poem ‘Out, out -‘ by Robert Frost this week. I had copies of the poem, questions for analysis, photos, a clip from ‘Walk the Line’ set up. (thanks to @DavidMiller_UK). But I didn’t use any of that. Two minutes before, I changed my mind. I cut one copy up into lines and handed one line to
each pupil on entry to the class. I told them to get on with it and find out what they could. We moved all of the desks to the side of the room and I stood back. By they end of the period they were setting the poem out, mostly, correctly on the floor. They could tell me the story, recognise language techniques, comment on the tragedy. Not a Learning Intention or Success Criteria in sight but loads of learning.
Nothing original really but the students had the opportunity to learn for themselves. They got out from behind their desks and helped each other. I loved it. So did they.
It is the last week of term before Christmas. Go into your classroom this week with the same resource you were intending to use. Fight the desire to write that Learning Intention on the board. Hand it over to the students and see what they can make of it. I think you may be surprised.