My personal task this past summer was to get rid of desks. And I failed, mostly. I still have 30 student desks in my classroom. But I did get rid of my desk. A small victory is still a victory.
But desks are really only part of the problem. If I could click my heels and design a fluid learning environment, it would include the following:
- A commons space. Classrooms need a space for students to congregate, engage in discourse, and construct either audible or visible representations of their understanding. In an ideal universe, this space would be equal parts amphitheater and makerspace.
- Two whiteboards in every corner of the room: One for me, one for the students to use when they do small group work.
- Chromebooks for all students. I love a five-subject notebook and a slick gel-ink pen as much as anyone, but a google doc shared among small, collaborative groups coupled with the ability of students to generate their own questions and explore online resources makes the chromebook invaluable. These devices make every inch of the room a workspace.
- Art supplies in a vintage wardrobe with Pablo Picasso’s framed face hung on the door. As a teenager, Picasso could recreate Rembrandts from memory. Perhaps it is the constructivist in me, and I do not mean to dismiss the benefits of students building a digital portfolio, but I believe kids need opportunities to create representations of understanding by hand. They need hot glue and sticks and paint and wire and cardboard, lots of cardboard, and glitter (even though I hate glitter with all my soul).
- Nooks and crannies where students can learn in private. Who doesn’t love to feel like they are alone with a book, a laptop, or an idea and some graph paper?
- Small-scale, indoor garden beds. As hard as I drive the thinking of students in my classroom, they also need to be engaged in activities that do not require deep intellectual activity. They simply need to do. They need dirt under their fingernails. They need to ruin their shirt sleeves. We need opportunities to teach students how to care for something other than themselves.
- A LOT of windows. WIndows above. Windows on every wall. ... My current room, by contrast, is a windowless tomb where time does not exist, so you can see where I’m coming from.
- Uncomfortable burlap-covered couches from the mid-1970’s.
So that’s my Classroom Wish List. Maybe I should send it home to parents in place of my class supplies list next Fall...all I need is an architect, a contractor, a farmer, a financier, and an interior designer. No biggie. I got this. Maybe someday.
Brad Clark teaches 4th & 5th grade English language arts and social sciences at Simmons Elementary in Woodford County, Ky. He is a Hope Street Group State Teacher Fellow, the Director of Education for Idea Festival Lexington and a Virtual Community Organizer for the Center for Teaching Quality.
The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.