Tag Archives: Classroom

What does learning look like?

Play a game with me. (I love games.)

Picture a teacher. Any teacher. A teacher you’ve had or a teacher you wish you’d had. A teacher you liked or a teacher you didn’t. Picture that teacher in a classroom. What does the classroom look like? Where’s the teacher? What’s the teacher doing? Put some students in that room. Where are the students? What are the students doing?

Try to keep that picture in your mind while reading the description of what my grade ten classroom looks like on a typical day.

Current Classroom
All students have laptops. They’re working, some talking with others but mostly just sitting quietly. Some are listening to music. The desks are in three clusters of four, one cluster of five, and two rows of three. I’m not sure who set them up that way. The students go back and forth from our class blog, which contains links to all resources they’ll need for the day, to whatever it is they’re working on. Some have printed copies of the linked resources and some are using pocket translators to help. There are notes from whatever we’ve recently discussed on the board. As the teacher, I’m either sitting in a spare student desk or on top of the cabinets at the side of the room. I have a laptop, too, and I’m probably on it.

We spend the beginning of each class reading through and then sharing the news. We discuss or review a few things together as a large group. Students complete a task, we discuss, students complete a task, we discuss. Sometimes these tasks are done independently and sometimes they work together. Sometimes students submit responses or assignments on GoogleDrive and sometimes they comment straight onto the blog. Often, they do neither and we periodically discuss for a few minutes after students have talked in their groups.

I’m willing to bet my classroom doesn’t look much like the one in your head.

The classroom in your head probably involves a teacher standing at the front of the room. Depending on how old you are, the students are probably in rows, though maybe groups of four. If you’re picturing a high school class, the students are probably taking notes while the teacher talks. Maybe there’s a PowerPoint presentation that the teacher is using, or maybe there are notes written on a transparency or perhaps on the board, again depending on how old you are. In this classroom, I’m willing to bet that the teacher is “teaching” and the students are “learning” and that the roles and responsibilities of both are clear. Anyone walking in could see that the teacher has the information and the students are supposed to take it in and understand it.

And if that’s not the classroom in your head, I’d love to hear what the classroom in your head looks like!

Even though my classroom might not match what we often think of when we hear “classroom” or “teacher” or “learning”, I have no doubt that my students are indeed learning. I can make this claim based simply on what they say in class, whether we’re having a discussion or they’re asking for clarification while working. I can make this claim based on individual conversation I have with students while checking up on their progress. If necessary, and sometimes it is, I can also provide samples of student work and show you the data I’ve collected and tracked on each student.

And yet.

And yet there’s some anxiety, anxiety for me as the trained educator in the room. What am I actually doing when others walk in or walk by the room? What am I actually doing that requires me to be there? I feel a sense of insecurity because I’m doing what I think is right by my students but looks inactive as compared to what others may do in their classes. The reason my classroom looks the way it does and I organize my classes the way I do is because I know, because I have learned, that with access to curated resources, assistance as needed, and feedback on their progress, my students will be just fine.

I might not be “teaching” in the traditional sense, but the point isn’t that I teach; it’s that students learn.

A few months ago, I read Michael Horn and Heather Stacker’s book Blended, which argues for disruptive innovation in schools. The authors explain that disruptive innovation comes from attempts in the business world to make products and services available to more people at lower cost. It was while reading this book that I began to rethink (yet again) the way that schools run and, more specifically, what I could do within my own classroom to meet students where they are and let them learn in the ways that make the most sense to them.

Future Classroom
Disruptive innovation in schools means making education and educational opportunities available to more people in ways that education may not have been in the past. In order to receive a diploma, everyone used to attend a building called a school. Considering schools in the context of disruptive innovation makes us ask, is that necessary anymore? Horn and Stacker describe models of schools that are a mix of remote and in-person learning experiences, either determined by the students themselves, by a the student in conjunction with a counselor, or by the student’s results on assessments. The very idea of a classroom, then, is called into question.

If I could, I’d design a school that looks like the one described in earlier writing here. I still believe that building peace is the purpose of education and that our students need a toolkit to make the world a better place. As much as I can, I design my grade ten curriculum around the real learning that is necessary for solving world problems and realizing one’s role and responsibilities as a citizen of the world. While my students have due dates, deadlines, and specific assessments, I’m trying to make my classes more flexible by providing students access to a wide range of resources and a choice about which ones to use.

There’s a long way to go. I know. There’s a lot of working, dialoguing, and understanding that has to happen. None of this happens quickly and I’m trying to be patient. I’m trying to be satisfied with one small change at a time. This isn’t the type of change that happens quietly, either, which is why I write about it.

Play a game with me. Design your ideal classroom or school or learning environment. Why do you think it should be this way or look like this? Comment below or send me a message.

Thank you for your thoughts, as always.


On the phone this morning, my mum pointed out that I haven’t blogged in a while. I haven’t written in my journal as often as usual, either. I started thinking about why that might be, and I feel that nothing I have to say is important compared to all of the hate the world is experiencing. My grade 10 students write up current events reports every two weeks, and some of them have already come in.

As the world is aware, it has not been a good two weeks.

My students are genuinely concerned, not just about Paris but also about Nigeria, Lebanon, ISIS, and the debate over refugees in the US. They’re concerned about potential evacuation drills, and they’re concerned about why there’s been so much violence in the world lately. One of them told me, “I wanted to find a current event that’s not about war. But I can’t.”

As I listen to student concerns, look over news articles in class, validate fears, and explain what/who/why ISIS is, I have also come to terms with my own unease. I realized this while journaling just a few minutes ago, and I thought it would be a good time for a post.

What frustrates me, and always has, is hate. Hate is not something I understand, not when it’s directed at a specific group of people (and I mean people, not monsters like ISIS, Boko Haram, or the Nazis). I understand fear, though I don’t always agree with it. However, I don’t understand the underlying racism, the hate, that accompanies fear. How is it that we don’t know better? Where did we, as educators, go wrong? Where did we, as people, as humans, go wrong? I’d expect that if asked, everyone in the people category (again, excluding monsters and their affiliates) would claim to want peace.

But we know that wanting peace isn’t enough. Peace doesn’t happen overnight. Peace needs time. It needs to be built. It needs to be strong so that it lasts.

As a student and a teacher of history, I know that peace is fragile. Peacebuilding itself is fragile. Peace is scary for some, I think, because it means letting go. It means admitting fallacy. It means apologizing when you’re in the wrong, when you’ve hurt others. It means compromise.

The way I see it, peace is the only way forward. And if we can’t build peace as a world right now for whatever reason (and I do understand the obstacles) maybe we can start by building peace within and among ourselves. We do that with children. We say things like, “Two wrongs don’t make a right!” (And we smile indulgently when cheeky kids respond with, “But two negatives make a positive!”) We tell children that “hands are not for hitting” and that it’s important to be nice to our friends. Sharing is caring, right? We teach children that everyone is unique and we teach the acceptance of difference. We teach about different cultures, different customs, and the importance of the Golden Rule. We teach friendship and respect and fairness and trustworthiness. We teach about taking risks and about trying again. We teach about perspectives and beliefs and opinions. We teach about hope for the future.

We teach children how to stop, listen, reflect, apologize, shake hands, and move forward. We teach children how to live.

As an educator, I am not in a position to negotiate world peace, and I do not envy those who are. But I do believe that it the responsibility of every person to create a better world. I became a teacher because I firmly believe that every person can play a role in doing so. In my classroom, we build peace. We communicate. We debate. We reflect. We listen and respond to one another as people, regardless of our differences. We highlight those differences to understand them, and we ask questions when we are uncertain. In my classroom, my students are safe. They are learning how to create a peaceful environment, and what it means to be a member of a community.

It is those lessons that I believe the world needs. Bombs aren’t going to stop us from hurting.

Peace, even in the smallest of ways, is our way forward.

I finally have a classroom!

I’m about to start my third year teaching and, as the title has doubtless told you, I finally have a classroom! My students are probably savoring their last days of summer, as I am, but I’m getting excited to go back school.

As promised, here’s the virtual tour. The quality isn’t the best because YouTube kept rejecting my file formats, but it’ll work. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mqosOqcnsc&feature=youtu.be