I grew up in a time where the rows of classroom seats were perfectly aligned. The step platform elevated me to a dusty blackboard. The sun drenched classroom windows were exposed to the elements. The teacher stood out the front, usually on the elevated platform so as to get a clear view of the children in the far back row. I say far because there were usually around 36 – 40 students in the class split into rows of 3-4.
This classroom is familiar to many teachers and for some this is still the method of teaching. Very much teacher centred. But before I throw this scenario out the window, I believe there is a place for this in some classroom learning situations. I, for one, loved sitting in rows because I didn’t have to interact with other students. I had english as a second language when I started school and I just wanted to try to work out what one person was saying i.e. the teacher, without having to converse back. It allowed me to focus.It allowed repetition. It allowed for information gathering.
In my now later learning years, some 35-40 years later I am experiencing a very different learning space through a university unit, and so I question the role of the face to face classroom altogether. I know human beings love to interact, to socialise and to feel that they are fitting into a community, a group, a social circle. Body language, voice tones, eye contact all play a major role in this communication process.
However, I have also experienced a learning arena where no one makes any physical connection. It is completely online. My learning tools are my computer and my virtual voice i.e. my post writing. There is distinct pros and cons for this arena but when delivered well, such as under the Gilly Salmon “5 Stage Model of Learning”, there appears to be more scope for sharing, discussions, informing, collaborating.
Do we then give our students enough of these opportunities in our classroom. I am not suggesting we sit students in a separate cubicle with an outline of their work for the next ten weeks and set them off in an interactive environment, I just believe that we don’t give students enough reasons to believe they can contribute to the learning in a most effective, experienced, emotional, connected way.
Do we give them the technological knowledge to work collaboratively without ever seeing a fellow student or educator working, or hearing their voice. Can they be creative, explore, imagine, design, construct, succeed, fail, instruct, inform? Perhaps, our classroom learning spaces are desperately crying out for some “interior design” of not just elements of curriculum design, or ergonomic furniture but interior designing of the information presentation, the classroom interaction?
Our students have vision, blocked by school expectations; our students have excitement blocked by uniformity; our students have experiences to voice blocked by class regime; our students have more to share blocked by an educators inability to allow structured, well designed teaching frameworks to eventuate.
What are educators missing? An informed, collaborative, creative, well assured group of students who can give so much to each otters learning and discovery. A group of students who would encourage the discouraged; inform the uninformed, express to thosee who want to hear, and walk alongside their peers in a joint effort…sounds perfect, just perfect to me!