Thursday, August 21, 2014

Learning Classroom Culture

Classroom culture is absolutely the most important element for a successful school year. Everything else stems from a good classroom culture: learning, positive interactions, values and developing lifelong learning skills. I want the culture of our classroom to be one of collaboration, learning and fun. My goal is for kids to learn how they learn best, how to be independent and how to problem-solve. If they make progress in these areas during the time they are with me, then we will have had a successful year.

"Ours will be a class unlike any you've ever had," I say on the second day of school (on the first day, all we do is learn each others' names). They are already sitting in furniture not usually associated with school classrooms, so they know something is up from the start. "There is a difference between learning and testing. We will do learning in here," I tell them. "And so, I have some bad news for you. This year, we will have no tests." At this point their mouths drop. Some cheer subtly at their seats. Others just flat out don't believe me. The conditioning in schools is that we learn information then spill it back out on a test. That's how schools work, right? I've never been a fan of tests for a variety of reasons. If I ask my kiddos to think outside the box, why can't I do the same? Can I find other ways to see if they are making progress in class? Sure I can. "Oh, and by the way, we won't have any assigned written homework either." Well, by this time, they think either I'm not really a teacher in the building or I have clearly lost my mind. I talk to them a little more about why those things don't equal learning and after a little while, they begin to see that I'm serious.

Most of the time, the kids leave my room thinking either "This is gonna be fun!" or "This is gonna be easy!" Good! I want them to think that. I want them to know that they are going to learn a ton this year but that learning will be relevant to their lives and driven by themselves and so it won't feel like the learning that they are used to. I won't be handing them papers to fill out so I can grade them. Nope! Together, we will learn. Together, we will problem-solve. The most frequently used words in our classroom this year are going to be, "Let's find out!"

I tell the kiddos from the start that they will not have to worry about tests or mountains of homework because I want them to relax and focus on the learning. I want them to let their natural curiosity take over and drive their learning. I want them to see some of the really cool content that we cover in class and be motivated to investigate further or create something new based on what they learned.  

As an adult, I learn about things in which I'm interested. I get on tangents and learn everything I can about a topic. I create little projects for myself in order to learn more. I am relaxed when I learn best and I allow my natural curiosity to take over and lead me on my learning journey. I think this is how all adults learn and so I wonder, why do we make kids learn differently? In our classroom, our kids are relaxed, curious, collaborative, investigative and learning. We are trying to develop intellectually nimble kids who can look at a problem, develop an approach for tackling the problem, and be persistent in finding a creative solution. We don't know what these kids will be doing in ten years. Some will be in college, some will be working and some will be doing other things. One thing I do know is that if we're successful in what we're doing in class this year, these kids will be better prepared to make a difference in the world. 

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