Hands up if your school is heading down the path of 21st Century Learning but you have no idea how to do this in your classroom.
You see pictures online of all these classrooms with fancy Google like furniture and you think, hey this looks pretty cool but how could this work in my classroom with the students in my class? On top of that, you think to yourself, is this just another phase that will die out with time?
YOU CAN RUN BUT YOU CAN'T HIDE!!!
The reality is that the 21st Century Learning pedagogy is here to stay! But it doesn’t have to be as daunting or as challenging as you think it is. You already have everything you need in your school and with these few minor tips, you will have a classroom that is engaging and stimulating, as well as collaborative. This environment will inspire students and promote creativity within their learning.
I will share my experiences with you and provide tips on how you can do this in YOUR classroom. You will also hear about the experiences of a former colleague of mine (and great friend) who job shared a class with me. She will reveal her hesitations, opinions, and doubts that she had initially. She will also tell you why this works and that even though it is challenging moving towards this learning style, you will learn to love it because it truly is an engaging and stimulating learning environment
FOR YOUR STUDENTS!
How to get started
Converting your classroom is much easier than you think!
Before you start, you need to develop an understanding of the 6C’s of 21st Century Learning:
collaboration, communication, creativity, culture, connectivity and critical thinking. Then you need to start moving tables OUT OF YOUR CLASSROOM! Not all of them, but a few to start with. If you are lucky enough, you will have a principal that will support you and direct some funds your way to let you spend some money and buy some furniture that allows for flexible learning. However, if you are like most of us teachers (i.e with limited or no finances), search the school for any unused furniture, play equipment, gym mats, etc… Keep in mind that your new fancy furniture will not make your students smarter or engage with learning easier. YOU, as the educator, will need to upskill your students in how to use this new learning environment and set clear and explicit expectations from the get go. Finally, your teaching pedagogy MUST CHANGE in order to utilise this space effectively.
It is important that you do your research on the 6C’s of 21st Century Learning as this will be the underlying premise of why you are changing your room. Your ability to understand and embrace the 6C’s will determine whether your shift in learning environments will be successful or not. The 6C’s are the core skills that our students will require in order to succeed in the future, especially with jobs and careers that are yet to be created. When removing the tables, make sure that your school has space to store them. The reason for the tables exiting your room is because it clears up so much floor space. Floor space is the MOST VALUABLE COMMODITY in your classroom.
By removing the tables, you eliminate the rigidness and limitations of having big bulky furniture that limits movement and seating areas in the classroom. We didn’t have the luxury of getting new furniture from the start (our principal was supportive right from the beginning and did provide some funds later on for us to purchase some new and exciting furniture!), so we had to make do with what we could find around the school. Old gym horses were turned upside down to make standing benches, unused staff lounges were brought in to form a collaborative seating area, filing drawers (donated by locals) were used as independent workstations, and I myself brought in old cushions, pillows, and a gumball dispenser to use (Sarah also contributed to our exciting classroom).
It was all starting to fall into place!!!
After we had brought furniture into the classroom, the students were super-duper excited and wanted to jump all over the furniture, roll all over the mats and rugs, and place their backsides on every single seat in the classroom! We gave them a chance to get over the excitement (approximately three days), and when the excitement finally did die down, Sarah and I took the time to show and model to the students how to share and use this furniture accordingly. Finally, as teachers, we invested time and effort in upskilling ourselves in order to utilise this flexible and dynamic learning environment to its full potential. This included developing lesson sequences that cater for individualised, collaborative learning.
Last but certainly not least, do not give up! It will definitely be a challenge and it will definitely push you out of your comfort zone. But this is not about making life easier for you as a teacher, it is about providing more opportunities for your students to be successful both now and in the future.
Keep taking photos of your new 21st-century learning environment! Doing this will let you keep track of the progress of the evolution of your classroom as you make changes, evaluate, make changes, evaluate and make changes again according to the different learning styles and needs of your students (it’s a never ending cycle!).
When you are ready, start sharing this with members of your team, staff, and the wider school community. Do you know what the best part about making these changes is? You will know that it is not as daunting as what you initially thought it was! You will see student engagement skyrocket even from reluctant and unmotivated learners, behaviour management drop, your teaching style will evolve in order to best facilitate student learning and engagement. But most of all, your students will start to enjoy learning and this will set them on the path to future success.
Below is a short passage about our journey into a 21st-century learning environment from Sarah’s point of view:
“I always considered myself a ‘by the book’ educator. It is hard not to be, right? We often see ourselves restricted by the curriculum, continuum, departmental and societal expectations. I used to have my seating charts, my students had their names on their tables and my world would end if I unknowingly sat a ‘disruptive’ kid near another kid not capable of ‘remaining on task’ because, how on earth could I teach in a room full of noise and disruption?
Then I was buddied with my friend and colleague Quang Nguyen and he changed all of that previous thinking. One day he presented me with an idea! Let’s get rid of the desks, create different spaces within the room, bring in gym mats and places for them to lay! Let’s allow them to learn with who they want and where they want and let’s go BYOD! I was horrified! Hang on! Are you asking me to let go of control of my space? Are you asking me to take away seating plans and names on desks? You are asking me to allow the disruptive kid to engage with the kid that has trouble staying on task? You want to get rid of the order we have worked so hard for in our classroom? WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO DO THAT?? His reply was simple and confident………because it will work! He encouraged me to do reading on the topic of ‘21st-century Collaborative learning spaces’, which I did. The research was extremely positive and before I knew it we were not only transforming our learning space but my pedagogy and philosophy on teaching were getting an overhaul as well.
Over time, we built on our ideas. Quang ransacked school storage spaces and borrowed old gym equipment. We brought in old pillows from home, turned tray storage units into standing areas and created different learning spaces around the room. Eventually, we were given some funding and were able to purchase some furniture to help finish our space off. The day we got rid of our teacher desk (which was a hard day for me), was the day that I truly understood the importance of creating spaces such as the one we had made and the reason Quang had asked me to consider it in the first place. We had created a space that was for them, not for us!
The response from our students was remarkable. Our biggest concern was the cohort of boys we had during that year. There they were, boys with learning and behavioural difficulties that had been on-going for years. The impact of this new learning space and style was not lost on them or the others. They were excited and engaged and began working in the way we knew they were all capable of. We programmed our teaching in a way that utilised the space as well as the technology we were introducing. The students were encouraged to be collaborative, creative, thinkers and communicators in a connected space that provided the opportunity to be independent and self-directed learners. This new learning space was a catalyst for many amazing learning experiences and proved to be a massive success.
Change and innovation is a process. It does not happen overnight, nor does it happen without its trials and errors. I have never been much of a ‘risk taker’, I was always wanting to do what was ‘best practice’. Creating a collaborative learning space proved to be ‘best practice’, all you have to do is ask the ones who matter most, our students!”
To the many classroom teachers out there who have already done this, do you have any suggestions that may support your fellow educators? Do you have any specific questions about furniture or any of the 6C’s? Go to our twitter or Facebook page to ask us and we will respond as soon as we can.