Saturday, 10 November 2012

Does my classroom reflect my teaching philosophy?

Last weekend on Twitter, @whatedsaid tweeted an excellent question along the lines of "Does your classroom environment reflect what you believe about learning?"
At the time I thought this was an excellent question and wished I had time to do it justice in a reflective post.
As luck would have it, this week I was asked to give a presentation on a similar topic so I managed to create time to reflect on what I do and whether this matches what I say I believe.
Here is what I found:

Even though what I do, I could do successfully in a different system, my philosophy of teaching is based on my foundational belief in the dignity of the human person. I believe that every child is made in the image and likeness of God, and that every child deserves to feel safe, have fun and to enjoy learning experiences that suits their needs.
 Learners in my classroom are usually busy doing. Of course there are times when they gather to listen, reflect and recap, but I try to allow opportunities for hands-on exploration, discussion and experimentation as much as possible.
 I am very proud of the way that my students are able to speak about their own learning and why what they are doing is of benefit to their learning needs. This year I have implemented the Daily 5 program for the first time. I have found that this program which fits my philosophy well, provides a structure for my practice in Literacy, and that the students and I have been able to transfer the best parts of this practice into other curriculum areas.
 Right from the beginning of the year, I work hard to establish a sense of community through special shared experiences, predictable routines that highlight the identity of our class community and behavioural expectations based on mutual respect. A few years ago I convinced my school administration to allow us to move to a resources levy system instead of a text book list so that I can set up shared resources in my classroom. When students have individual belongings and pencils cases I find that usually by the end of the first semester, many of the twist-up crayons have been turned into pea shooters and half the class can't seem to find a pair of scissors when they need them. Since moving to the shared tubs, I have discovered that students are more responsible for the resources since they don't see them as belonging to them, but as necessary for our class community.
 If you spent a week in my classroom you would notice how much and in how many ways technology has transformed the way that I work with students in my room. I use my projector and laptop as an essential part of many of our routines. I use a bank of student laptops (shared among a few classes) for individual and collaborative activities. I use a set of shared iPads for a range of purposes, and use my own personal iPad and iPhone for capturing student learning on a daily basis.
 I try very hard to allow all learners to engage in challenging activities at an appropriate level by providing differentiated learning experiences and open-ended tasks. I use K-W-L charts and pretests to determine the students' individual and collective knowledge and interests prior to learning experiences and use this information to guide my planning.
 The General Capabilities of the Australian Curriculum are at the heart of what I do. I regularly reflect on how I am offering my students opportunities to develop in these capabilities.
Although I am restricted to the furniture I was given and a reasonably small classroom with no "break-out" space, I have tried my best to arrange the furniture to suit the kinds of experiences I want students to have in the room. I have set aside a large carpet area so all the children can gather in front of the IWB and so there is enough space for games and movement. I have arranged the desks into pods and students know that even though they have a "home desk" which houses their books etc, they can work in a variety of spaces within the room, sometimes for flexible grouping, sometimes by their own choice. In the corner, I have had the old whiteboard installed at floor height so that students can use this space to write questions, reflect on learning, practise their spelling or express ideas in pictures. The PE teacher has loaned us an exercise ball and students love to sit on this either at their desks or around the room. My teacher desk is pushed right into the corner of the room so it doesn't take up more space than it must. I rarely sit at it anyway. My students sit on my "teacher chair" more than I do. I'm always on the move!

I really do think that my classroom reflects my teaching philosophy. Of course it is a "work in progress" and changes as I reflect on how I can improve, and when I am inspired by other great teachers who share their ideas.

Does your classroom reflect your beliefs about learning? I'd love to see more ideas!

Remembering what not to forget...

Today is Remembrance Day. The 11th day of the 11th month is set aside to commemorate the end of World War I and also to remember those who died and suffered in all wars and armed conflicts.
As a teacher, I have an important role in helping my young students to develop an understanding of what we are pausing to remember.
We pause to remember the young lives that were wasted, the families who suffered and the enormous cost of war to both sides. War is nothing but a tragedy. There are no winners in a war.

I have worked all year on the way that my students talk about war and its real effects on our society. 
At the beginning of the year my boys particularly would roll on the floor with their pretend machine guns made from their hands. 
They would cheer at the sight of soldiers and guns in images they saw. They would see war as a game from which you can easily walk away (an idea they get from exposure to video games and movies) or they would see it as something far away that happens in countries where the people are bad and "coming to get us". Luckily for these students, they have not been affected by war in a way that they understand what it really means.
Through our history studies and most recently the contact with their grandparents, the students now speak about war as a time of great sadness, of difficulty for the troops and the families left behind and the ongoing cost to a society that lost so many of its strong young people and who were filled with grief and sadness even if their loved ones returned. 
The children know that their grandparents were affected by the war even if they were born after the war or were too young to go to war. This message came through strongly in their letters. 
They know that WWI was called "the Great War" not because it was fantastic but because it was so big and affected so many people. They know that their predecessors called it "the war to end all wars" and that they had truly and deep down hoped it would be - even if reality seemed to far away from this dream. 
My students have considered a future without war and have discussed how they can learn to work together. Through our quadblogging experience they have looked for similarities in people who look different from them on the surface. We do this so that they might be the generation who finds a better way to solve problems.
I share a message of peace - a message about a future full of hope for all humanity.
These students are our future and we owe it to those who did give their lives to make sure this generation does not repeat the mistakes of history. 
I'll do my bit and hope it works. 
Lest we forget.