I love getting into classrooms. Recently, I visited a couple of classrooms that made me think. Both classrooms were in the same building. This was a middle school. One was down the hall and around the corner from the other. Thus, both had a similar student population. Both classrooms had two teachers (i.e. were co-taught classes).
The first classroom was a very traditional classroom set up. The students were seated in rows. The assignment was projected onto a screen. The teacher was leading the discussion. The teacher had set up a scenario in which the students were to respond. The students responded in their journals. Each student was to made a choice over which of the three options was the best choice. After a few minutes, the students then responded as to which one they chose. A few students volunteered why they made the choice that they did. The co-teacher was seated in the back of the room working directed with two students.
The second classroom was arranged into groups of tables. Each grouping of tables had four to five students sitting around the table. The students were working very collaboratively. The students were working on solving a problem. They were encouraged to talk to each other and check their answers with others at the table. Both teachers circulated and encouraged the students. One teacher had led the set up of the problem. The other teacher led the discussion of the answer (using a document camera to project onto the screen).
It was clear that the second classroom was much more participatory. The students as a whole were seemingly more engaged, more active.
In a follow up discussion, I was asked which classroom I visited was “better”. I think that this misses the point completely. Clearly, the second classroom showed the traits that we have been pushing to see in classrooms. The students were actively doing. It was different than what we would’ve seen even a few years ago. The first classroom was much more in line with what has traditionally happened in classrooms for years. Yet…
For some students, the “old” strategies work. Rather than saying this method is better than that method, we should insure that students have a varied experience in the classroom. There is not one single strategy or method that will work for all students. We never know exactly what the future will bring. Can we sure that getting kids to be active learners is good? Absolutely. We also know that novelty is crucial in learning. If every class is structured the same way, novelty goes down. By providing a variety of experiences, we truly reach the widest range of students.
The trick is to make sure that there is variety. This is not an excuse for each and every teacher to say “Cool. I’ll keep lecturing and let the other teachers be more interactive.” But, it is also a call to administrators and teachers to make sure that not every class looks and feels the same to students. We don’t need to sanitize education into a new standard. We need true variety, true novelty, true interaction with real students. Learning is messy.
So, let’s get out there and create positive experiences for students. Let’s make them do stuff. Let’s make them create. Let’s let them learn. But let’s not think that there is only one way to do that.