Thursday, December 11, 2014

Where are we now?

So we've nearly reached the end of the year and things have continued to develop since my last entry. The physical changes in our classroom have continued to work successfully and the two classes have merged to the point where I almost can't remember which kids were originally in my class! We do most things together now and the integrating of the two classes for numeracy, literacy, inquiry and other classroom happenings has led to some really effective teaching and learning.

So 'what's the point?' I hear you cry. Here are some of the positive aspects of the systems we've introduced:

- Sharing of planning, resources, energy and teacher expertise has gone a long way to reduce teacher burnout. We've been able to support and learn from each other throughout the year, and having another skilled adult in the room to share the load has been invaluable. Relaxed, happy teachers means relaxed, happy kids who are able to think, learn and co-operate. Even at this late stage in the year, we are all feeling less stressed and there is a lovely, consistently calm and happy vibe in our classroom.

- Regular collaboration and discussion has improved teacher growth. We are learning from each other all the time and our professional knowledge has grown at a rate that otherwise wouldn't happen in a 'single cell' environment.

- The children's learning has benefited from various styles of delivery. We have seen positive results in national standards data (although it's difficult to prove that this is a result of our new systems) but, more importantly, the children have increased hugely in their ability to cope with change and take risks in their learning. Adaptability, flexibility and risk taking are lifelong skills and are far more important than this year's numbers.

- Through strategic grouping of children, we have been able to address a greater number of learning needs. We have been able to devote more focused teaching time to the areas of greatest need.

- The children have access to each other. A wider range of skills and personalities has given children access to a wealth of learning discussions and situations.

As far as the areas for improvement go, there are 2 aspects that stand out for me. 1: Break-out areas are a must. In this age of national standards, testing is a necessary evil and spaces need to be provided to cater for this. 2: Loss of desks meant loss of surfaces to create art on. I'll need to come up with a plan for an art area next year.

Of course, we've asked the kids for their thoughts too and it's been unanimous: We love it!
When surveyed, some of their comments were:

"I've enjoyed having 2 teachers to help me. If one is busy, the other one can help when I need it."
"I love that we designed our own spaces and can work in a space that suits us."
"I like that I can work with different people from another class."
"I like that I can go way down the other end of the room if I need a change from our end."
"It's cool that we have games, iPads and laptops from 2 classrooms. There's heaps more to choose from!"
"I like how the teachers are good at different things they can teach us. Like Kurt is good at art and Kirsty is good at sport."

Very satisfying!

I guess the biggest buzz for me (although, there were a few) has been the improvement in their ability to direct their own learning.
At the beginning of the year, I told my class: "I'll know if I've done a good job of teaching you because you will be a community of independent learners. There should be no use for me. I should be able to sit on the couch in class all day and read the paper while you manage your own learning."
Sure enough, yesterday I strolled into class in the morning with my newspaper and plonked myself down on the couch. The class had prepared the day. They did the roll, the planning, the photocopying, the groupings, the management, the teaching and the problem solving all day. No fights, no gripes, no off-task behaviour at all, all day.

Here's what it looked like:

Happy, self-managing kids. Very happy teacher!

Hope you've got something out of this and that it goes some way towards helping you develop your own thoughts around modern learning pedagogy and environments.

Have a great Christmas and Summer holidays. Maybe you'll hear from me again next year :)