7 Important Questions Before Implementing Digital Portfolios

Connected Principals

Digital portfolios are something that are really starting to take off in schools.  There are different software programs that will make “portfolios” easy to share, yet do we truly embrace the power that a digital portfolio can bring into our schools?  Since it is “digital”, we need to go beyond a portfolio that only represents one year of learning, but can show the progression over time.

Here are some questions for you to consider as you look into the process.

  1. Is this a learning portfolio, showcase portfolio, or combination of both? – Does this show the student’s progression over time (learning), or just the best stuff (showcase).  There are huge benefits to both for learning and opportunities over time.  A combination of both in my opinion is best.
  2. Who owns the learning? – Is this a portfolio that only shows “school” work, or does the student have the opportunity to display what they are passionate about, or is it simply for items to be displayed based on what the teacher wants?  Is it a combination of both?  If the student feels no ownership over the process and product, the results will not be as powerful as if they do.
  3. How will it be exported after the process? – For starters, see the question above.  Secondly, if there is no plan to ensure that students have the opportunity to put all of this learning into their own space eventually, you are missing another opportunity that digital provides.
  4. How will you make the audience eventually go global? – A lot of parents and educators are worried about the work of a student getting “out there” (for various reasons), but if the portfolio is only available upon request, we are taking a very “paper” mentality, to a “digital” platform.  This does not meant the whole world has to see everything from the beginning, or the student needs to share it with the world if they do not want to, but the progression plan to share it with the world should be there.  Will the audience  be limited long term?
  5. What brings people to the portfolio? – Is there any mechanism that brings people to the portfolio other than telling people to come? Simple things like email help to build an audience.  Is the portfolio more likely to be seen and more valuable to the learning if it goes to people, other than people coming to the portfolio?
  6. What impact will this have on the learner’s digital footprint?Will Richardson suggests that by the time kids graduate grade 12, you should be able to google them and find good stuff about them (see image at the top of the post). Does the portfolio help in this endeavour when every student we work with now will be googled for jobs, university, or a myriad of other things.
  7. What about next year and other classes? – This is a HUGE question.  If the portfolio only lasts for one year, then you are missing a great opportunity. What professional learning is in place for teachers to support a connection of learning over time for the students?  What will the students work look like over time and how will they be able to google or search for their own learning?  If the plan is not in place to grow this over time, we lose so much from the process.

If these questions aren’t considered, I am wondering if we are just doing a digital version of “school”, or rethinking the opportunities digital now provides for learning in school?  This is more than just thinking about the software, but thinking about the potential of what this process can bring to our students and ourselves.

As Students Return to School, Debate About the Amount of Homework Rages

Photo

Discussions on blogs like GreatSchools.org or StopHomework.com reveal a belief that the workload assigned to students may be too heavy. CreditAlex Federowicz for The New York Times

How much homework is enough?

My daughter, Maya, who is entering second grade, was asked to complete homework six days a week during the summer. For a while, we tried gamely to keep up. But one day she turned to me and said, “I hate reading.”

I put the assignment aside.

That was my abrupt introduction to the debate over homework that is bubbling up as students across the United States head back to school.

This month, Brandy Young, a second-grade teacher in Godley, Tex., let parents know on “Meet the Teacher” night that she had no plans to load up her students’ backpacks.

“There will be no formally assigned homework this year,” Ms. Young wrote in a note that was widely shared on Facebook. “Rather, I ask that you spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success. Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside, and get your child to bed early.”

Other conversations about homework are humming in town halls and online. Some school districts, including one near Phoenix, have taken steps to shorten the summer break, out of concern that too much is forgotten over the summer. But discussions on blogs likeGreatSchools.org or StopHomework.com reveal a belief that the workload assigned to students may be too heavy.

“How many people take home an average of two hours or more of work that must be completed for the next day?” said Tonya Noonan Herring, a New Mexico mother of three, in an article on GreatSchools.

The National PTA and the National Education Association endorse a 10-minute guideline: Time spent on after-school work should not exceed 10 minutes a grade level a night. “That is, a first grader should have no more than 10 minutes of homework, a sixth grader no more than 60 minutes and a 12th grader no more than two hours,” the National PTA says.

The National Education Association said those recommendations followed general guidelines from the research of Harris M. Cooper, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University and the author of “The Battle Over Homework.”

“The horror stories I hear from parents and students about five or more hours spent on homework a night fly in the face of evidence of what’s best for kids, even what’s best for promoting academic achievement,” he wrote in an opinion piece for The New York Times.

Have expectations about homework changed this year at your school? Leave us a comment with your thoughts.

Attention, Students: Put Your Laptops Away

NPR

Listen·3:193:19Queue

Laptops are common in lecture halls worldwide. Students hear a lecture at the Johann Wolfang Goethe-University on Oct. 13, 2014, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

As laptops become smaller and more ubiquitous, and with the advent of tablets, the idea of taking notes by hand just seems old-fashioned to many students today. Typing your notes is faster — which comes in handy when there’s a lot of information to take down. But it turns out there are still advantages to doing things the old-fashioned way.

For one thing, research shows that laptops and tablets have a tendency to be distracting — it’s so easy to click over to Facebook in that dull lecture. And a study has shown that the fact that you have to be slower when you take notes by hand is what makes it more useful in the long run.

In the study published in Psychological Science, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles sought to test how note-taking by hand or by computer affects learning.

“When people type their notes, they have this tendency to try to take verbatim notes and write down as much of the lecture as they can,” Mueller tells NPR’s Rachel Martin. “The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective — because you can’t write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them.”

Mueller and Oppenheimer cited that note-taking can be categorized two ways: generative and nongenerative. Generative note-taking pertains to “summarizing, paraphrasing, concept mapping,” while nongenerative note-taking involves copying something verbatim.

And there are two hypotheses to why note-taking is beneficial in the first place. The first idea is called the encoding hypothesis, which says that when a person is taking notes, “the processing that occurs” will improve “learning and retention.” The second, called the external-storage hypothesis, is that you learn by being able to look back at your notes, or even the notes of other people.

Because people can type faster than they write, using a laptop will make people more likely to try to transcribe everything they’re hearing. So on the one hand, Mueller and Oppenheimer were faced with the question of whether the benefits of being able to look at your more complete, transcribed notes on a laptop outweigh the drawbacks of not processing that information. On the other hand, when writing longhand, you process the information better but have less to look back at.

For their first study, they took university students (the standard guinea pig of psychology) and showed them TED talks about various topics. Afterward, they found that the students who used laptops typed significantly more words than those who took notes by hand. When testing how well the students remembered information, the researchers found a key point of divergence in the type of question. For questions that asked students to simply remember facts, like dates, both groups did equally well. But for “conceptual-application” questions, such as, “How do Japan and Sweden differ in their approaches to equality within their societies?” the laptop users did “significantly worse.”

The same thing happened in the second study, even when they specifically told students using laptops to try to avoid writing things down verbatim. “Even when we told people they shouldn’t be taking these verbatim notes, they were not able to overcome that instinct,” Mueller says. The more words the students copied verbatim, the worse they performed on recall tests.

And to test the external-storage hypothesis, for the third study they gave students the opportunity to review their notes in between the lecture and test. The thinking is, if students have time to study their notes from their laptops, the fact that they typed more extensive notes than their longhand-writing peers could possibly help them perform better.

But the students taking notes by hand still performed better. “This is suggestive evidence that longhand notes may have superior external storage as well as superior encoding functions,” Mueller and Oppenheimer write.

Do studies like these mean wise college students will start migrating back to notebooks?

“I think it is a hard sell to get people to go back to pen and paper,” Mueller says. “But they are developing lots of technologies now like Livescribe and various stylus and tablet technologies that are getting better and better. And I think that will be sort of an easier sell to college students and people of that generation.”

Personalized Learning: Enabling Student Voice and Choice Through Projects

Edutopia

Adapt these six tips to bring personalized learning projects into your classroom and build student engagement.

Follow this link for an interesting video

Overview

Addressing four teenagers standing at the front of the classroom, Gary Hook, a history teacher at Nashville Big Picture High School, told them, “I’m going to give you $100,000 for 20 percent equity in the company. I need to know right now, though. I need to know whether you’re in or not.”

A panel of four additional 11th-grade teachers sat beside Hook, and each of them took turns making different investment offers based on the product, potential revenue, and investment request that the students initially pitched.

The power switched into the students’ hands when they chose an offer, and all of their classmates erupted in cheers. They were participating in a two-week Shark Tank project — based on the show of the same name — where entrepreneurs pitch investors to fund their company.

 

 

What began as a classwide math project to learn about the profit function equation and quadratic functions culminated into a grade-level presentation to imitate the show Shark Tank.

Each student was tasked with joining a group to create a fictitious business, which included developing a product and marketing plan, choosing a location and work space, and identifying how much money they would need for startup costs and what the return would be for investors.

“One of the things you hear all the time as a math teacher is, ‘When am I ever going to use this?'” says Derick Richardson, a Nashville Big Picture math teacher. “I try to bridge that. And so through this project, the kids were able to see, ‘Oh, man, we’re talking about stuff that I hear on the news and that I see on this TV show that I like, and it actually makes sense.’ Everybody got involved, even the kids that are not good at math. I’ve never seen these kids get this excited about a math project.”

“When you’re able make learning relevant to a student,” adds Chaerea Snorten, Nashville Big Picture’s principal, “it helps them want to do it and not just because that’s what’s expected. The whole focus of personalized learning is that students see the relevance of what it is that they’re doing. The outcome is students are engaged, and they’re enjoying the learning process.”

If you want to engage your students in personalized learning projects, here are six tips from Nashville Big Picture High School for how you can get started.

How It’s Done

1. Make Your Projects Simple

Not every project has to be a grade-level collaboration like the Shark Tank project. Instead of the traditional paper or PowerPoint presentation, give your students choices in how they show their learning. They may choose to make a video, act out a skit, or create a painting.

Kristin, a Nashville Big Picture junior, was asked to depict slavery in any way that she wanted for her history class. She chose art. Her painting depicted Harriet Tubman and a slave girl against a backdrop of words.

These words — ranging from “kidnapping” to “hope” — depicted a slave’s journey from slavery to emancipation. She appreciated not only being able to choose how she would express her learning, but also the public display of her art — alongside other students’ work — in the school hallways. “My art is a part of me,” shared Kristin, “and so for people to walk by and see a part of me, it feels great.”

When Harley, an alumnus, entered Nashville Big Picture in ninth grade, he was given the choice in how he could approach his first project. “I made a video documentary about myself,” Harley recalls, “and from that assignment, I realized that I loved making movies.” From that moment forward — from his exhibitions to his senior capstone project — Harley expressed his learning through video. “I wouldn’t have put in as much time and effort if I had to write a lot of papers, but by making a bunch of videos, I was able to do awesome work because it was something I cared about,” he says.

Watch Harley’s short video for Edutopia about student voice and choice (and read his four tips on how teachers can engage students).

2. Let Your Students Choose What They Learn (It’s Not as Scary as it Sounds)

In place of a quarterly test, Big Picture history teacher Gary Hook assigned his students a mini-project to research, investigate, and present on a topic within modern U.S. history. He gave them a list of topics from the ‘80s to the present — ranging from movements (like gay rights and Black Lives Matter) to the impact of social media on modern-day society. If there wasn’t a topic on the list that his students wanted to research, he let them choose their own topic as long as it fit within modern U.S. history.

Give your students a list of options from which they can choose, whether it’s a book to read in language arts, a topic to research in history, or a business to create in math. “With project work, I try to give them a menu of options that they can choose from to show their learning,” explains Hook, “as well as a menu of options that they can choose to research. This allows them to operate in a space where they are comfortable.”

3. Give Your Students a Project Framework

Giving your students choice in what they learn and in how they express their learning doesn’t mean that content or standards get thrown out the window. Hook was able to give his students choice while still meeting his content objectives. Nor does giving your students choice mean that your assignments lack structure or planning. “When it comes to personalizing our learning, we have to look at what our content and standards are. We start there,” says Snorten.

“The essence of personalized learning is understanding where the student is and where they want to go, as well as where you need them to go,” adds Hook. Give your students a project brief to make sure that they cover the content and skills you need them to learn. Hook gave his students a project brief outlining the objective, topic options for research, guidance on how they’ll carry out their project (such as working in groups and presenting their topic), and details on what needed to be included in their process.

4. Use Temperature Checks to Assess Your Students’ Work

When assessing personalized learning projects, do one-on-one or group temperature checks with your students. Are they hot or cold? Are they way off or close to grasping what they need to understand? When Richardson’s students were working on the Shark Tank project, he would go from group to group, checking in on their profit functions.

Richardson also checked in on their progress with their product, their marketing campaign, and the elements of their project that were less tied to math. “Sometimes you have a project, but you don’t follow up,” he explains. “You hand out a sheet of paper, they go do it, and that’s it. I really wanted them to get excited about this, be passionate about it, and create something that they really might be able to use outside of the classroom.” Student choice about their project brings relevance to their learning. By showing interest in the whole project, you show interest in their passions and in your students themselves. They’ll become more engaged in their work if they believe that you’re excited and engaged in what they’re doing and in who they are.

5. Get to Know Your Students

“We need to understand who our students are and how they learn,” stresses Richardson. Once you understand your students’ needs, you won’t waste time delivering content in a way that they won’t comprehend. “It saves you a lot of time and effort,” he says.

“Like adults,” adds Courtney Ivy Davis, Big Picture’s school counselor and internship coordinator, “their passion is what drives them. It’s what gives them excitement, and we want them to be excited about their passion and tie that to their education so that they can be successful lifelong learners.” Students don’t walk into your classroom with their passions and interests written on their forehead. You have to uncover these things while giving your students the opportunity to explore and discover their interests for themselves. By offering them choice in what and how they learn, you allow them to figure out how they learn best. Building intentional relationships with your students will allow you to guide them in this discovery. Here are 22 ways that Nashville Big Picture builds intentional relationships with their students. (Note that these strategies are applicable even if you’re at a bigger school.)

6. Ask Your Students What They Want and Need

“Student voice is number one,” emphasizes Snorten. “Hear it, learn it, ask for it. ‘What is it that will help you do better? How can we help you improve? What do you need from us?'” Building personal relationships with each of your students is important, but it also takes time.

If you have a class of 40 students, and want to know their needs and interests now, ask them.

See Related Resources: When We Listen to Students and Student Surveys: Using Student Voice to Improve Teaching and Learning

Help Your Students Figure Out How They Learn Best

Rather than opening a textbook, memorizing steps to an equation, or learning the teacher’s method on how to understand something, personalized learning allows your students to figure out how they learn best. They also get to see how their peers learn best, showing them that there are many ways to problem solve and reach the same solution. “At other schools, they might know one specific way to do things,” explains Richardson, “but our students are prepared to be more creative in how they figure out the solution. They learn how to learn on their own, and they take that into college.”

Missouri School District Eliminates Grades K-6

Neosho students ‘take ownership’ of their education

  • By Ariel Cooley acooley@joplinglobe.com
  • Aug 4, 2016
  • Joplin Globe

NEOSHO, Mo. — When school starts in Neosho in about two weeks, some students won’t have to worry about receiving an “F.”

Kindergarten to sixth-grade classrooms will be implementing a new grading system that is standard based.

The new system breaks down subjects into standards. The students will receive a 1 to 4 for each standard, with “1” meaning the student is “emerging,” but does not yet understand the standard. A “4” means the student is “advanced” and understands the standard completely. Participation and behavior will still be important, but will be evaluated separately from academics.

“Ultimately, the benefit as a school leader is that once you put standards in place and you have a way to assess where a student is,” said Superintendent Dan Decker. “It allows us to tailor make the education for each student.”

Students who master content more quickly than others will be able to move on to more challenging material. Teachers will be able to pinpoint where other students are struggling and help them to move ahead.

Becky Sears, assistant superintendent of curriculum, said the goal is for every student to be at a “3” in each standard by the end of the year.

“It’s all about progress and learning,” she said.

Though Sears said she hopes to implement some of the standard-based grading philosophy at the high school, she doesn’t expect to be able to be able to stray away from the traditional letter-grade system.

“If they have an assignment and do really poorly, but go spend some extra time working on that standard, they could come back and show us they have improved in their learning,” Sears said.

Students and parents will receive detailed explanations of the new grading system, what each number means and how to progress from one number to another.

IN OTHER NEWS: STUDENTS SURPRISE TEACHER WITH KITTENS

“It will really put the ownership of the learning back into the student’s hands,” she said. “They will have so much information and will know how to get to the higher level.”

Students will have ample time to work on each standard. Unlike traditional grading, after the final test on the subject they will still have chances to learn and show their teachers they have mastered the standard.

“It will help to keep us from leaving students behind that really haven’t grasped it yet,” Sears said.

Sears said that eventually they will individualize instruction for each child. This, she said, will require more work and research from the teachers, but a lot of teachers have already started doing this on their own.

A few teachers began using the grading system last year as a sort of test run. Sears said that in those classrooms, students are already “taking ownership of their education and are more motivated and engaged in their learning.”

Eileen Ford, principal at Neosho Middle School, said she is excited about the change.

“With standard-based grading, the number is only what the child knows,” Ford said. “So it actually gives you a more valid picture of their learning level.”

Ford said she thinks parents will like the new system, too. “It will let them know how to help and their child know how to improve to reach that goal and that standard,” she said.

Origin

Some schools adopted a standard-based grading system as early as the 1970s and 1980s. T.H. Bell, the U.S. Secretary of Education at the time, created a task force that wrote “A Nation at Risk” in 1983. The report detailed educational standards and gave recommendations to improve the quality of education in the United States.

How to Deliver an Effective Presentation: Lessons from a Middle School Speech Contest

“Hi, my name is Beckett. You must be Mr. Selover.” He looked me in the eye and held out his hand for a firm handshake. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

As a frequent public speaker, I had been invited by a local charter school to judge a speech contest among their younger students. The school is outside of downtown Orlando, under some shady old-growth trees, with a well-worn parking lot and an unprepossessing entrance. Front door locked, with no attendant. I escaped the Florida sun through a side door and wandered the cool, dark, semi-deserted hallways, unsure of where to go… until I found a little knot of students, the boys in jackets and ties and the girls in dresses. Beckett, who looked to be about 12, saw me first, and stepped forward. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, too,” I said. The ice broken, the others introduced themselves. If you’re reading this, you’re likely an educator who has been surrounded by a crowd of preteens, so you know what that’s like. Their excitement carried me down the hall and into the contest room on a wave of enthusiasm. Speech contest: on.
I’ve been to hundreds of corporate meetings, seminars, and other events over the years. I’ve met and worked with dozens of big-name speakers and high-profile executives. And you’d be surprised at how few of them know to do what Beckett did — reach out, say hello, get things started. We’re all nervous with each other, a little bit shy, even people of great accomplishment. So a greeting, with some energy and a desire to connect behind it, means more than people realize. So does dressing up a little bit. What these students knew, and many adults don’t, is that a speech is an occasion. When you’re up in front of people, taking their time and asking for their attention, you owe it to them to step up and give your best.

The Genius in the Format

The administrator who had invited me to be a judge had found me by looking online. A few years ago, I was fortunate to be asked to speak at the local TED conference, where I talked about a worldwide public speaking series called PechaKucha Night (pronounced puh-CHAW kuh-SHAW). I organize the Orlando version of this event several times a year, not only hosting but coaching the speakers before their performances. PechaKucha is a bit like TED, but on steroids: Each speaker uses PowerPoint, but only 20 slides. The slides run automatically on the computer for 20 seconds each, and the presenter has no control. Unable to pause, go back, digress, or indulge in any of the other bad habits that make an audience squirm, they are onstage for precisely six minutes and 40 seconds, after which they cede to the next speaker.
PechaKucha (a Japanese word that roughly translates as “chatter” or “chitchat”) was invented by architects Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein about 12 years ago. From a small venue in Tokyo where they work and host events, it quickly spread around the world — PechaKucha Nights are now held in about 900 cities.
These nights are a chance to hear a variety of local speakers on any number of fascinating topics, but the real genius is in the format. With only 20 slides, and only about 50 words sayable in 20 seconds, the presenter is forced to not only be brief but also to be concise. It makes a huge difference. The compression of thought and ideas into this tight space causes the same explosion of meaning that’s found in haiku. As Dytham put it once, after all that cutting and pruning “all that’s left in people’s presentations is the poetry.” So a PechaKucha Night has one distinct advantage over any other speaking event, including TED: None of the presentations are boring. Or to put it more precisely, none of them give you that terrible feeling of trudging through a desert of bullet points with no horizon in sight.

The Elements of a Captivating Speech

Back at the speech contest, we were at a more traditional speaking event. There were 15 contestants, all speaking on the topic of the world’s dwindling supply of water and what to do about it. This was (pardon me for saying) a typical academic mistake. You’re putting a student at a terrible disadvantage with a topic like this, something requiring not just expertise that’s way beyond them but a highly developed ability to package that knowledge in a way that resonates with an audience.
I’ve actually had speakers at my events talk about the world’s supply of water, and there is no drier topic. A fair number of the students did what you’d expect — they went to Wikipedia and found a bunch of facts. This, too, is something many adults are guilty of doing. Many people view communication as a conveyor belt: Put a pile of facts on one end and send it off to the audience. But facts are not enough. You need to have a point of view that the facts are in support of, and more than that, you need to convey passion and purpose behind that point of view.
Yet several of the students gave excellent speeches despite the fairly deadly topic they’d been saddled with. During their presentations, they:
  • talked about water in their own lives;
  • gave details about their families and their neighborhoods;
  • shared their feelings and experiences;
  • used the subject as a starting place for a broader discussion;
  • structured their talks with a clear beginning, middle and ending; and
  • made sure that both the start and the finish were dramatic and interesting.
The beauty of a well-done speech is that it doesn’t have to be on a timer. In fact, you’re unaware of the time passing and it’s over too soon. That’s how it was for our three winners, Karmelyn, Cortez and — you guessed it — my friend Beckett, who came in a strong third. Each of them gave the audience a clear sense of themselves and their sensibilities. I share this advice with the speakers I coach: People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.
After the contest, the students and I talked about how all of the above elements make a good presentation. We also discussed the other lessons PechaKucha teaches: Focus on your topic, have a clear goal (what you want the audience to know, to feel, or to do), and organize the presentation clearly around that goal. All good lessons. But when I think back on it, the most memorable lesson of the day was the one I relearned from Beckett. Step forward, hold your hand out, look somebody in the eye. Don’t make a speech — make a connection.
Eddie Selover is a marketing communications professional, a life coach, and an award-winning public speaker. 

Design Thinking and the Deskless Classroom

Edutopia

Back-to-school conjures images of desks in neat rows, and the smells of crayons and glue. Teachers work hard to make warm, inviting learning spaces for students, but let’s take a step back. What does a desk represent? Imagine a classroom that looked less like a traditional classroom and more like an artist’s studio. Our physical environment, as explored in The Third Teacher, tells us what is possible in that space. What if, instead of making our space for our students, we made it with our students? This is what design thinking allows us to do.

Last September, the day before students returned, I looked around my classroom and panicked. Bulletin boards were bare, and there was no furniture. I said to myself, “Parents are going to think I don’t care!” But the opposite was true after I took a risk: instead of me decorating a classroom for my students, we made a learning space together. After all, I work here, but so do they. Design thinking our way through making our own learning space was, hands down, the hardest and best change that I ever made as a classroom teacher.

Why Design Thinking?

Increasing student engagement by taking the leap into a deskless classroom required an introduction to design thinking and the support of my admin. Creating a learning space through design thinking is about fostering student agency from the outset. Students are more engaged in this space. More than an interior design project, rethinking a learning space is about remaking not only the space, but also the learning that happens there. Design thinking is about finding a real-world solution to a real-world problem.

How to Use Design Thinking for a Deskless Classroom

Step 1: Create empathy

Students explored where and how they work best and what might be done in this space if it could be remade in any way that they needed. At first, I had a hard time taking a hands-off approach and letting students own the space. I let go of my ownership by trusting them.

Step 2: Ideate

Brainstorm. To begin, every idea is a good idea. Students brainstormed and shook loose hundreds of ideas on sticky notes and chart paper. A silent gallery walk of all the ideas allowed us pick out the best ones.

Step 3: Prototype

After brainstorming, students sketched. Initial sketches led to the project-based learning where students measured the classroom and created a scale model. They discovered that the limited amount of space meant planning how to make it work best.

Step 4: Test, build, and tell the story

Volunteers helped construct and move furniture, but students were in charge of furniture placement, right down to arrangement of the bulletin boards. Rethinking our space on a limited budget meant that students had to get really creative. They looked around the school for unused furniture, asked for donations, and wrote letters to admin asking for funds. After the build, students reflected in their visual journals about how this space might work for them and what goals they would set for themselves.

Making It Work Day to Day

The deskless classroom looks like a space with no structure, but the opposite is true. In a space where more choice is available, students need to be held more accountable for their behavior and work outcome. This is still a fine balance for children in primary school. Self-regulation is difficult for some (let’s be honest — it’s hard for lots of adults, too). So there must be a balance of choice and self-regulation. Remaking the space means putting students at the center of their learning. Giving them the privilege of choosing where and how to work requires them to take responsibility. And they will.

Many Iterations

Looking back at last September, I remember my feelings when the classroom was done! And then . . . it wasn’t done. Some elements worked, and others actually made me a little twitchy. In the end, every member of the classroom community needs to be comfortable with how it works. Some elements were taken out. Others were added. This space constantly flexes to meet the needs of students.

When is a good time to start creating a deskless classroom? Now! There will always be reasons not to take the risk in learning with students, and honestly, I expected a lot of pushback from parents and admin that just never happened. Students in my classroom don’t have an assigned space, but it’s never been a problem. I know that my room can be confusing for some people first walking in, like substitute teachers or other teachers’ students when we exchange classes. My solution has been careful routine building with students to help them take responsibility for the space.

Taking a leap into something new with students can be scary but also incredibly rewarding as they take ownership not only of the space, but also of the learning. Part of the reason for the space’s success is that it’s not mine. It’s ours. And now that I’ve ditched the desks, I’m sure I’ll never go back!

Whether you’ve visited a deskless classroom, taught in one, or have further questions, please share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

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