My goal is to share with you the elements of a 21st century classroom.
We begin with the strategic and intentional design of a classroom environment which supports student success. There are four distinct facets of a classroom environment -
- Physical Environment
- Emotional Environment
- Academic Environment
- Connections to the Community
These skills cannot be developed in a classroom with rows of desks facing the front of the classroom - where the teacher is lecturing. This type of physical arrangement creates a situation in which the teacher has all the power, dispenses information and judges the quality of student work. In this classroom students are passive receivers of information. This model, developed to prepare students to be factory workers, the Industrial Age model, is obsolete in the 21st century.
Instead of preparing obedient factory workers our schools must now prepare students to function successfully in a global, knowledge-based society characterized by rapid change. Students now require 21st century skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, strong communication skills, creativity, collaboration, innovation and adaptability to change (as well as the ability to create change - both personal and social).
The physical layout of a 21st century classroom must then have areas where students may work alone and not be disturbed, areas where students can meet in small groups, and an area for whole class discussions. These areas can easily be created using short bookcases as dividers. In my classroom we had three distinct areas - the front half of the classroom had 4 tables where students could work in groups, and the other half of the classroom was divided into two sections.
One section was called No Man's Land; it was furnished with a table, one individual student desk (some students really need the security of having a student desk), and I also placed the teacher's desk in it for use by the students. Up to three students could be in No Man's Land at a time. This is where students could go if they wished to really focus, work quietly on something and not be disturbed. If a student was in No Man's Land no one could go to that student and ask for help.
The third section was where we had our 12 x 18 rug. We met there each morning, and at other times as needed. For example, whenever we were planning something we would meet on the rug. I spent 20 minutes per day reading aloud to the students, and they liked to sit on the rug as they listened. When students were being self-directed and working independently they frequently went to the rug to do their work.
In addition to creating a floor plan you must consider placement and organization of materials. There was a location where students kept their project portfolios, there was a place where they kept their writing portfolios, there was a location for various writing materials, a place for numerous math manipulatives and games. There were individual baskets for each of the three novels the class was reading, and a file box with activities for their Literature Circles. This way, the students had access to what they needed when they needed it, which greatly supported their being self-directed and independent.
The walls - rather than using bulletin board sets from the teacher's supply store let your walls and bulletin boards be full of student's work. If you like, have students design and create a bulletin board display related to the current thematic unit or research topics.
Plants and an aquarium are also excellent additions to creating a positive environment, as well as providing excellent resources for science and contribute to the appreciation of and love for nature. They also assist in reducing tension and depression.
Finally, keep many books related to the current project. I know that most teachers will not want to do what I did - I went to the public library and the university library, and I had multitudes of books related to our project. You can do this by using your campus library or borrow from other campus libraries in your district. Yes, the students have unlimited resources on the Internet, but it's also nice to just go pick up a book and enjoy it.
The next post will provide some discussion on the Emotional Environment for your classroom.