A hot topic for discussion of late on some of the blogs I read is how some teachers are sending their desks to the netherworld of the hall, or perhaps the recesses of the basement or the welcoming arms of a colleague. They are sending their desks out of the room and out of their use. In many ways, such a bold statement is a powerful symbol of classroom equality and facilitated learning. This is based on the premise that sans the imposing teacher’s desk, students will be less intimidated by the teacher and together they can work to make magic. Poof! The desk goes and presto change-o.
Hey, I get it. It sounds like a great idea. I like it, and I like the meaning behind it. Plus, at the very least, getting rid of a teacher’s desk saves space (and what teacher can’t do without more space?)
Only problem is, I’m not ready to make that kind of statement.
I do want to surrender some of the control and power, though. Yes, I want this to be a year in which I maybe, just maybe, speak less and listen more. I want to begin developing a truly student-centered classroom the best I can. I just feel I’d be lost without a desk. Where else would I find an open drawer in which to lean my lunch? How would I ever replace the surface area that holds so many paper clips, pens, folders, books, and papers? WHERE WOULD I KEEP MY PILES? Tell me, where would I keep my piles?
No, I can’t do it. But there are several things I’m hoping to get going in my classroom that do foster independence and investment. Maybe they’re not quite as obvious as dragging a desk out the door, but they are important nonetheless. Here are some of my ideas:
- Try to shed the “what’s mine is mine” mentality. I can’t imagine how many times I have said something like, “This is MY pencil. Make sure I get it back” or “Why should I give you MY scissors? Where are YOUR scissors?” Oh get over myself, I say. Who am I to stand in the way of a kid who is trying to do well? Yes, I want the kids to learn responsibility and not be dependent on others, but I also am beginning to think that if I check my ego at the door, the kids will benefit. So, I’m thinking of community supplies – containers of pencils, crayons, maybe even pens! Markers galore, both fat and thin (even though my kids know how much I hate markers!) Glue for you, and glue for me! Who needs scissors? I GOT SCISSORS! Hmm, could I do that in place of personal supplies? I wonder. I mean, I probably still have about 200 pencils from my first year of teaching when they were a penny a package at Staples. Right now I can only see this being a good idea because it’ll foster a safe place where no one has the possibility of being unprepared.
- Establish a Digital Documentation Center. Ooh, I like that name. May have to run with it. My room is teensy weensy small, so I have to figure out how such a thing could even exist, but here’s what I envision. I’ve got 10 digital cameras and a Flip camcorder (and I may add a few to my collection by school’s start). I imagine a space in the classroom where students can go retrieve a camera of their own volition and document their work and the exciting things we do in our class. Ideally, they then find the time in the day to upload their photos or videos onto a computer. Hey, maybe they even realize when batteries are dying and take the appropriate steps to recharge them. I don’t know about you, but to me this sounds like a heavenly arrangement. (This will also tie in nicely with any science work we do – I kinda sorta really wanna have a compost bin, worms and all, in the classroom! There is so much to document with something like that!)
- Establish a readily available high-interest collection of reading materials. As a fresh-faced first semester graduate student, I was bewildered when a professor explained that, in balanced literacy, students are encouraged only to read on their own level. I incredulously asked the professor, “So are you saying that if a child wants to read any other book, we should say, ‘No, you can’t read that’?'” She said that would be appropriate. Well, I didn’t understand that nearly six years ago and I still don’t today. Sorry, but I can’t wrap my head around denying the privilege of reading to a child who wants to. Thankfully, my administration supports giving kids opportunities to explore texts beyond their comfort zones. That’s why, as I was going through my materials to prepare to bring back in a couple of weeks, I paused before throwing the kids’ science and sports magazines in a box for some other class, some other time. Sure they’re way above my students’ levels, but it is my hope that keeping them accessible will spark some kind of interest – even if all they can do is look at the pictures. This is a way I am assigning responsibility to the student, rather than me dictating what is acceptable material for them. Of course, I will still work with students on their levels and help them improve, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t time for some high-interest choice time, too.
- Establish and encourage participation in a class blog. I started this on a whim two years ago with my fifth graders using Edmodo. A colleague and I joined forces to teach how to use it, and the kids loved it, but there was minimal direction on it. Sure, I put up videos of me reading books, left them some optional writing assignments, and posted discussion-provoking questions, but that stuff wasn’t really planned, it just kind of…was. (More on my students and Edmodo here). This year, we’re going to start with Kidblog – mind you, in a third grade classroom with students reading well below grade level. My, what a challenge. My hope is that blogging will encourage growth in writing and self-expression. I’m also excited to have to teach some computer skills to my students. To me, blogging can be a phenomenal thing in my class this year. It is truly one of the initiatives I am most excited for. There is still much to sort through: how to make use of only four computers, how to schedule students’ time to blog, how to work around many kids not having internet at home. Oh, and how to get around the whole trouble reading thing. But hey, we’re going to figure it out. So pumped.
- Establish a more seamless inclusion of web technology in the classroom. Whether it be with games, reading sites or places like Wallwisher, I want to take the wonderful resources I’ve culled from my PLN this summer and bring them to my classroom, so that they become the expectation, not the exception. This is part of meeting kids where they are. Our kids today love technology. (Today I’m even telling myself I need to get a case for my phone so we can use it in school. Also need to buy a new battery for my laptop or else they can’t carry it around without it croaking after 15 minutes).
I need to remember that these things take time and require teaching and reteaching. Too often, my goal is to get it all going right away, but it can’t happen that way. It’s too much for the kids to internalize. They’ll feel overwhelmed and the crucial building blocks of trust between me and them and between them and these new experiences will never be set.
However, once they do internalize all the possibilities available to them in their new forward-thinking classroom from their suddenly awakened teacher, I think they can begin to foster some independence and self-direction.
And hey, maybe some of them will even do it while sitting at my desk.