Having successful schools where all students can achieve is not a new idea and has been the focus of all stakeholders for decades. We are told American students are not keeping up with their international peers; we pass new Federal and state laws to increase accountability and access for all students; we purchase new reading programs, new textbooks, and new technology in order to provide students with up-to-date educational resources and yet, we still are claiming that our students are not performing at the level they should be. The previously mentioned actions are all valid and do play a role in student success; however, we struggle to tackle one of most obvious areas that affect student performance, student engagement.
If you were to walk into a typical middle or high school and look into the classrooms, what would you see? For most, the answer would be desks in straight rows facing the “Front” of the classroom (just like the picture above). The American classroom hasn’t changed much since the growth of public education in the 19th Century. Students are expected to sit in rows, facing the same direction, paying attention to the teacher writing important facts on the board at the “Front” of the room. Have we ever thought what the implied message is with this furniture arrangement? Students are expected to be listeners, note takers, and passive learners while the teacher is talking, asking questions, moving around, and working with the content. Essentially, the student experience in a typical American classroom is like a 15 year old sitting in the passenger seat, watching his parent drive the car, sharing all the rules of the road and safety tips, before then taking the driver’s test at the DMV despite ever having the opportunity to drive.
Teachers need to get out of the driver seat and allow the students to take the wheel. For too long, teachers have been the “Sage on the Stage” instead of the “Guide on the Side.” The future world in which we are suppose to prepare our students for expects them to be independent critical thinkers, collaborators, and creative problem solvers. The only way we can do that is if we provide those opportunities in the classroom. Think about your furniture arrangement and the the message it is telling students; are they going to be doing most of the work or you?
There are easy steps to start the process of creating a more engaging classroom:
- Don’t have rows! Create tables, circle up all your desks, arrange them in a way that says you will be expected to work with others.
- Eliminate the “Front” of the classroom. This is harder because infrastructure can create barriers but, the “Front” implies that is where the important things are happening and it shouldn’t always be at the whiteboard or projector screen. The “Front” should be where the students are; on their computers, on the poster they are making, in the hallway when they are creating their skit, etc.
- Ditch That Textbook! Like Matt Miller says, get away from the one size fits all, prescribed mentality of teaching. The textbook is one of many resources students can use and they should be using a variety of resources.
- Make every day new, exciting, and purposeful. If you had to experience the same, boring thing for 180 days would you? Do you think your students want to either?
- Create an environment that helps students develop a love of learning. Learning doesn’t stop when you finish high school or college. Learning is about discovery and using it to problem solve or create new opportunities.
Food for Thought: When you Google image search “Learning in School” or “Learning in High School” are the images that appear typical of what you see in your school?