Imagine a classroom where every display invites an active pupil response: where learning clues fall from the ceiling and where the floors feature stepping stone challenges. Welcome to the world of Dynamically Different Classrooms!
As Education Consultants we have worked with thousands of teachers over the years and a great deal of that time has been spent developing techniques to create truly autonomous learners who were actively engaged in their own learning and able to transfer and apply it at a later time. All too often though, we felt that teachers were ‘missing a very big trick’ in the role that their physical classroom can play in this.
This article originally appeared in the July 2017 edition of UKEdChat Magazine
From captives to ‘captivated’ in the classrooms ….
1.66sqm is the UK legal minimum required for every child in every classroom and pupils are essentially captive in classrooms for approx. 10,500 hours of their young lives at a time when they are least designed to deal with such constraints. Similarly, although the value of incorporating movement within learning experiences is becoming increasingly acknowledged, this can be uncomfortable for some teachers especially as pupils get older. Rather than suppressing youngsters’ energy and desire for movement we are keen to harness these to boost both engagement and retention.
We know that what happens in classrooms has more direct impact on pupil outcomes than anything at a whole school level, so time invested in maximising the potential of your classroom will never be time wasted.
So… if we cannot magically make our classrooms bigger we should explore how we can allow every pupil to experience the finite classroom in an infinite number of ways.
For the last 18 months, we had the privilege of working with a group of schools (Primary, Special and Secondary) across the UK to begin to explore the untapped potential of the classroom and the wider school environment. This action research has evolved to become the Dynamically Different Classroom Project and the resulting book, of the same title, is going to be published by Crown House Publishing in 2018.
Busy teachers need to work smarter not harder and even small tweaks to the existing environment can have massive impacts on teacher workload and pupil learning.
Teachers need to positively create the hooks of enjoyment, curiosity, challenge and carefully orchestrated choices. We believe the classroom environment tends to be an under-utilised tool in this.
The Dynamically Different Classrooms project focuses on re-thinking the use of the complete classroom and extends into the wider school environment. However, understandably, the starting point for teachers was their walls.
We have come across many well-intentioned policies and guidelines for classroom wall displays. Indeed, we remember well the days of triple mounting and neatly aligned staples! However, such policies are often concerned primarily with aesthetics; showcasing the outcomes of pupil and staff “work” or “key learning points” with the assumption that they will be automatically noted by pupils. Whilst the celebratory aspect of pupil achievement is undoubtedly important, it does little to move learning forward and the novelty of even the most striking display soon fades and does little to actively engage the pupils in thinking even if it is occasionally referred to by the teacher. Could all of this be used more dynamically?
As teachers, surely we want our lessons to be fun, focused and memorable with engaged pupils who feel good about their learning and are clearly “in the zone”.
We would argue that display space can be a major factor in this and hooks pupils into active learning when it is:
The selection of approaches below are designed to ensure that the time invested in setting up displays actually pays real dividends for the pupils by ensuring that learning comes off the wall and into the lesson before travelling back onto the wall. They also assume that not all displays need to be polished and static but can be truly interactive working resources to which pupils regularly contribute.
So how about starting with your existing displays?
1. “Reframing”: use the success criteria as questions and display these prominently alongside the finished product, e.g. for a display of art work “Where can you see examples of perspective?” This simple change immediately challenges the pupils to think and respond and helps them clarify any misconceptions.
After an appropriate period of time, remove some of the prompts in the display perhaps replacing the word “perspective” with “P………?” Now pupils are being called upon to recall the word or concept. Finally, remove all scaffolds, even the “P”: what can pupils recall now?
2. “Cover up”: use sticky notes to cover part of/whole words, phrases images etc. Or try placing a sheet over a whole area and challenge pupils to work together to remember and re-create what was there.
3. “Tag it”: attach a pad of sticky notes and a pen for pupils to post comments, summaries, questions etc. building in the opportunities for pupils to do this until it becomes a routine expectation.
4. “Label the learning”: in order to show the learning process, as well as the outcome (products), provide pupils with a range of large symbols e.g. question marks, thought bubbles, speech bubbles, arrows (for linking) addition symbols (for adding to an idea) or a “C” (to signal that you are challenging an idea).
5. “Beyond the word wall”: lack of appropriate vocabulary has been identified as the single biggest cause of pupils’ academic underachievement. Displays around key vocabulary should be interactive, lively and often require little preparation. Try simply challenging pupils to spot which words are now missing or have been added to a display. Provide sticky notes for writing definitions for others to critique. Alternatively, ask pupils to discuss, “Of the words displayed, which three are the most important to the topic of …”
6. “Connect 4 or more”: try setting up a giant inductive learning display with lots of words/ images/objects loosely connected to a topic. Invite pupils to begin to explore and discuss the connections and possible categories. Giant laminated arrows are especially helpful to signpost these links and have the added advantage that they can be annotated with further explanation.
This is exactly the kind of learning that sits at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy (classify, synthesise, connect) and is very empowering and engaging for pupils.
What impact have the teachers involved in the project noticed so far?
- Pupils leading and directing their own learning on a literal learning journey around the classroom.
- Teachers repositioned as guides on the side and able to respond more easily to specific pupils.
- Successful learning and palpable progress.
- Teachers felt their teaching had been refreshed.
- Very high levels of pupil engagement and satisfaction with their learning.
- Pupils demonstrated high levels of engagement and satisfaction with the learning.
- When pupils were given greater control and ownership, they rose to it and seemed to assume greater maturity and curiosity.
Furthermore, it may be comforting to teachers in this current climate of accountability to remember that when pupils make aspects of their learning explicit, audible and highly visible the evidence of progress becomes incontrovertible.
Janet Evans @Janet_Evans27 is an educational consultant with over 30 years’ experience working in schools. She regularly leads a range of training programmes for whole staff, managers and department Inset as well as coaching and mentoring staff at all stages of their careers. She is committed to helping teachers reclaim their creativity and develop innovative teaching and learning strategies.
Author of “The Perfect Assessment for Learning”, Claire Gadsby @greatergadsby is an educational consultant and trainer with 20 plus years of classroom experience and who has worked with thousands of schools to raise achievement. Claire regularly coaches teachers in the classroom to demonstrate innovative pedagogies and is a leading expert assessing without national curriculum levels.