on education

thoughts from a graduate student at the university of mary washington

my philosophy of education: hashing it out. week two.

September6

When I envision my if-money-were-no-object-and-my-principal-were-awesome classroom, this is what I see:
It would be twice the size of a standard classroom. (Let’s not kid ourselves, with the way class sizes are increasing lately, it would have to be twice as big.) It would have a row of windows with lots of sunlight.  Built-in bookshelves under the windows. I would have lamps everywhere – floor lamps, table lamps… anything to keep from using that horrendous (and distracting) florescent lighting in most classrooms. I would like a carpeted floor with area rugs. Several bean bag chairs would be by the bookshelves under the windows, which would be the free-reading center. The desks would be set in rows of 5 and columns of 5 (or whatever, you know, it’s possible to have 6×5 these days), with space between each for me to walk around readily. My desk would be in the front of the classroom facing the students. The bulletin boards in the room would be covered with a brightly colored, themed fabric with organized and easily accessible folders, calendars, lunch menus, etc. The class rules (having been designed by our class as a whole) would hang prominently in the room. Student artwork would be displayed year-round. I would have space for a half-moon conference table, where I can work with students in small groups or one-on-one. There would be 5 computers set along one wall. The students would have classroom responsibilities, like watering the plants, feeding the class pet, organizing the art center, reading center, etc. I plan to make them responsible for their classroom environment; if it’s theirs, they’ll protect and respect it. I would also like to have several round tables available so that group work can be done at those tables, and I can change group members easily without re-arranging desks and upsetting the delicate social network that is an elementary school classroom.

There’s a method to my detailed madness. My classroom will look like this because it facilitates the kind of learning that I want in my classroom: focused and independent learners when they need to be, and collaborative, respectful group members when they need to be.

I take an easy, comfortable, and respectful approach to learning. I want my students to know that I welcome questions and I don’t mind mistakes. I don’t mind repeating myself four hundred times in thirty different ways to make sure everyone is on track. I’ll even make the material into a song and dance routine if I have to! (That’s actually really effective, by the way.) When students can see that you’re approachable and that their classroom is a safe space where they’ll be respected and supported, they open themselves up and don’t mind constructive criticism or making mistakes. How amazing would that be?!

Have you ever seen a child have a lightbulb moment? It’s really something to watch. It’s how you know, as their teacher, that they’ve grasped something. They get a little giddier, they smile at themselves and start working frantically on their assignment. If I can see that they are actively discovering and manipulating information, then I know that they’re well on their way with what I’m teaching them. They may not master it right away, and in fact it may take them all year to do so, but that lightbulb moment lets me know that learning is happening. Recognizing that all kids learn in different ways and at different paces will save your sanity and theirs.

Personally, I’m a big fan of the multiple intelligences theory: that people have many different modalities of intelligence, and no two people are configured the same way (Gardner, 1999). Learning occurs in so many different ways! Some kids need to move their bodies or build things to understand. Others need it said to them or shown to them in a picture. As an educator, it’s my job to target as many modalities as I can in one lesson so that my students have a better chance for success. And, bonus? It keeps you from doing the same tired old routine. Death to worksheets, I say!

One of my biggest goals for my classroom is that we all have fun while we’re there. Now, I’m not suggesting that we’ll stop and play Yahtzee! at 2:00pm every day (how about on Fridays? Acceptable?). What I mean by fun is that we’re all so engaged that we don’t realize we’ve spent an entire day learning! We’ll be sad that the last bell has rung! (Okay, I won’t be sad – I’ll probably flop into my chair at the exact moment my room empties out and crack open a caffeinated beverage and cucumber slices for my eyes.) I want everyone to pass with flying colors, of course. But more than that, I want my students to come away from my classroom having learned about themselves, about society, about the value of interpersonal relationships. And most of all, I want them to be able to ace every single standardized test ever thrown their way, without having spent one minute on dull, repetitive, mind-numbing test prep exercises. I want them to be able to manipulate what I teach them to apply to any situation, any test question. And my goal for myself is to come away from each year feeling like I did the best I knew how to do and helped the kids in my class move forward a little more well-rounded. In short, I want to be a best practices teacher – one that  provides a student-centered environment with experiential, holistic learning. One that challenges students and helps them reflect on what they’ve learned. (Zemelman, Harvey, & Hyde, 2005)

If we teach kids how to survive and thrive in a democratic classroom, they’ll enter society as well-rounded, better educated citizens who are more readily prepared to work and be engaged in their community, their government, and the world. When the paradigm shifts from a monotonous, irrelevant school career to one in which students are taught to think for themselves, ask questions, and problem-solve, then US education will be a force to be reckoned with on a global scale. Until then, we’ll continue to falter and fall behind, which doesn’t bode well for the future.

_____________________________________

references:

Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence reframed: Multiple intelligences for the 21st century. Basic Books.

Wong, H., & Wong, R. (2005). The first days of school. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications, Inc.

Zemelman, S., Daniels, H., & Hyde, A. (2005). Best practice. (3rd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

 

posted under EDCI 506
5 Comments to

“my philosophy of education: hashing it out. week two.”

  1. Avatar September 8th, 2012 at 9:35 am ctrumbetic Says:

    Hello Angela, I get to comment on your blog again because no one else has their blog post up yet (Yay!). Your ideal classroom sounds like an awesome place to feel safe and hangout. However, I question how well students would learn in a very busy environment versus one that has only a few distractions. It seems that your ideal classroom would be perfect for an elementary school setting, but in high school time is so limited that I don’t think all the awesome parts of your classroom would be utilized. I like that you addressed the concept of experential and holistic learning, but I wished you would have gone more into it because I am not quite sure what it means. I think you have a lot of good ideas about how learning occurs in the classroom, but I would have liked to seen how you were going to specifically see and implement learning in the classroom (i.e. assessments). I definitely think you are on the right track to having a fun, inventive, creative classroom.


  2. Avatar September 8th, 2012 at 11:22 pm Angela Says:

    Cassie,

    I suppose I sure didn’t mention anything about assessments, did I??
    In general, I prefer informal assessments. Formal ones stress kids out, give me more to grade and pore over, and make everyone tired and cranky. I’ll certainly give them, but probably only as often as absolutely necessary.

    It certainly is set up as an elementary classroom – that’s my certification area. I think it could work for high schoolers too in the right content area (like English).

    What I meant by experiential learning was basically that students learn by doing – hands on, forging through. They make their own experiences within the lessons. Dewey and Piaget were big fans of experiential learning. Holistic learning engages the entire student in the learning process. It’s not just a cognitive thing, it gets their entire being involved. Again, this works really well in an elementary school setting, but not so much in upper high school classes or universities.


  3. Avatar September 9th, 2012 at 12:48 pm nkelley88 Says:

    I absolutely LOVED your classroom set up. I think it is wonderful and a great to incorporate the independent and group work that you are looking for your students to be exposed too. I didn’t think about describing what my classroom would physically look like so I think it is wonderful that you went into the kind of detail you did! It sounds like a beautiful place that I would have loved to learn in as a child 🙂


  4. Avatar September 9th, 2012 at 12:50 pm nkelley88 Says:

    One last thing and I realize this doesn’t have to do with your blog post but I like you page a lot! I like that it looks like a notebook.


  5. Avatar September 9th, 2012 at 1:59 pm Angela Says:

    Thanks 🙂


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