…be aware and don’t overlook the obvious because there is a message you send out

This week the LI team had the pleasure of speaking to Alice Cheung, a grade 2 teacher at Parkside.

She recently revamped the workspaces in her room to give her students more agency and enhance their learning.

Alice had been thinking about this change for a while, but finally took the plunge (being a risk taker) and decided to make the change.

Let’s get into her responses.

1. What did you want your students to know or understand?

I wanted my students to be aware of what type of learner they are choosing to be.

This starts with them understanding their needs as a learner and making a decision which bests supports that.

For example, if you learn better in a quiet space, then maybe a communal space is not the best place to complete your work.

Now in order for this to happen, I needed to open up my classroom and allow for different seating arrangements and spaces.

Although the change was meant to enhance the students’ learning, it also gave me a deeper insight into how each student learns best and allowed me to address any needs they might have.

I would never have known this if my classroom set-up stayed the same with just tables.

2. What skills did you want your students to gain?

There were three main skills I wanted them to gain through this process.

Frist, cooperation. Students would have to choose a learning space and if it was taken, they would have to use their cooperation skills to work it out.

Second, communication. This incorporates both audio and non-audio forms.

For example, if they were sitting in a group, they need to be aware of their body positions and identify which position would allow them to listen and talk to their peers.

Additionally, different forms of communication for different scenarios. Sitting at a desk by yourself or sitting in a group will require different forms of communication.

Lastly, self-management. This is crucial when students have to make a decision when sharing spaces. From materials to where to work, each student has to be aware and manage how to work in the new spaces.

3. How did you teach this lesson in the past?

My old room was very teacher-centric.

It sent a message where the teacher would write on the board. Material would be taught with a projector, and document camera.

Additionally, the front of the room is where the teacher put things for students to read and find.

The crazy thing is I never said any of this, but this is the message I was sending.

4. How did you problem-solve and be creative to come up with this new method for this lesson?

Well, I always admired teachers who let kids choose their own seats or workplaces, typically in older years.

So I thought how could I incorporate this same idea into grade 2.

I actually tried this gradually in previous years where groups could choose, but it never worked out.

Then I attended a workshop at EARCOS named Positive Learning Environments and it was the tipping point for me.

Instead of staying in my comfort zone I pushed through and decided to go all in and say YES!

The workshop provided pictures and the inspiration necessary for me to have the courage to implement these changes in my class.

It was the like the first domino in a line which finally fell, thus causing the others to fall as well.

Now that I think about it, this is similar to how I decided to change my approach to teaching math.

I had heard a lot on blogs and social media, but I did not make “The Decision” to change until a consultant (math) came in and showed the staff how we could do it!

The key I am seeing is both the workshop and consultant helped me overcome my uncertainties and take a chance.

Both started out mainly as curiosity, but the process in each made me reflect and analyze WHY I was teaching the way I was.

The presenter (EARCOS) started out with a simple question, which actually helps me decided to take the chance.

What message does your classroom send?

For me I realized my room was telling my students the teacher has a spot, students have a spot, and we all learn in one space (front of the room).

This made me think how I could step out of the “Ms. Cheung” role and see it from the students perspective.

(The dominoes start to fall…)

This lead me to think about the equity between the teacher and student, which led me to the conclusion

I don’t think there should be a front of the room

(Next one…)

Then, I started to think how we could leverage every space in the room, not just the front of the room.

I was so excited and sent a message to some colleagues on a Saturday and asked them if we could meet once we got back from the conference. I was so excited to start!

It took a couple of conversation, but I decided to start small.

First, I decided to open up the middle of my room (dominated by two large tables) and make it more a communal and interactive space.

This made me re-think the use of traditional furniture and how they are used. For example, I took the legs off the periodic tables and placed them on the ground so four students could easily fit around the table (this also saved a lot of room).

What was the result?

Well, there were two benefits right away.

One, everything became communal, thus allowing learning to happen in all areas of the room.

Two, children were given agency and able to choose the learning space which best suited their learning.

(The dominoes keep falling…)

Next, I invited students to come up to the front of the room (previously all filled with my work) and engage with a “Wonderwall.”

The key was I made it at their level, which made it easy to ask questions and show their thinking visible.

Overall the whole experience of changing my room has been great and the biggest impact has been on the students!

They love the new space and it has opened up a lot of different learning possibilities.


(BONUS Advice)

Like I said, I did not intend to send out a message to my students that everything was centered around the teacher.

Thus, be aware and don’t overlook the obvious because there is a message you send out, even without you intending to be.


Fiona Zinn – EARCOS Workshop Leader

Article: Putting Structure within the Space

John Burns -Satisfying a Need in your classroom

Ms. Cheung

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