That Green Is So 1999!
Artifact: Seating Plan
Standards of Practice
- Standard A: Commitment to Students & Learning
- Standard B: Professional Knowledge & Learning
- Standard C: Professional Practice
- Standard D: Leadership in Learning Communities
- Standard E: Ongoing Professional Learning
- Theme 1: Secondary School Program
- Theme 2: Law & Ethics
- Theme 3: Special Education
- Theme 4: Class Management and Effective Learning Environments
- Theme 5: Assessment & Evaluation
- Theme 6: Equity, Diversity & Social Justice
Competency Number: 8 – Teachers know how pupils learn and factors that influence pupil learning and achievement
A few months ago, if you had asked me if grouping 16-18 year olds at tables would be a good way to encourage effective learning, I would have met you with a strange look and violent shake of the head. No, no surely that kind of open environment would not work. After all, everyone knows what teenagers are like. To avoid chaos students need to sit in rows and pay attention to none other than moi at the front of the room at all times…right? Wrong. I had no idea how outdated my ideas about classroom management were, and how far high schools had come since I was a student in the late 90s. If we fast forward to the first day of practicum, these preconceived notions of how classrooms looked in my professional and personal experiences were almost instantly shattered.
My artifact is the seating plan used for a grade 12 Business Leadership class with 32 students that was presented to me during practicum orientation. According to the Ontario College of Teachers Foundation of Professional Practice, teachers need to “know how pupils learn and factors that influence pupil learning and achievement.”
This classroom structure has completely changed the way I look at delivering information to students in my practice. Looking at the grouped classroom layout, I was not sure if this seating method would allow me to have their attention in the way I felt I needed. On my first teaching day, I was doing a lesson on Generation Y and the ways in which to manage them as employees. As I spoke, I realised that the points I was making all implied that the new generation of learners work better in teams with positive reinforcement galore and by doing hands on, collaborate work. Was this limited to the workplace? Why did I not think this would work in the classroom? This was my “aha” moment – the connection was so obvious! Collaborative learning is the way to create an effective learning environment and properly manage my classroom. Using this seating method, the students were more comfortable discussing the course work and were there to support each other’s learning.
To my amazement the students were engaged when I was delivering information, and the transition from direct instruction to guided practice was smooth, fast and uncomplicated. There was no awkward formation of groups, cheesy exercise to find partners or shuffling of seats and tables that ultimately wastes precious classroom time. So why then did it take so long for such a simple concept to prove worthy for me to adapt?
If I reflect upon my own working learning style, I realise that I probably had so little faith in collaborative work as I myself have always dreaded it. In my Teacher Education Seminar at OISE we have spent a lot of time learning about Personality Dimensions®. For those unfamiliar, you conduct a series of personality “tests” in order to determine your preferences for various styles of things such as organisation, information acquisition, communication and so on. I scored as having a “Green” dominance, indicating that I prefer individual work and learning on my own (Michael Tudor, Practical Classroom Strategies p.83). I also hold very high expectations of myself and feared that working with others with lower expectations may bring down my grades. Furthermore, I don’t much like to share credit for work when I generally end up picking up the slack of other group members. Simply put, we teach the way we prefer to learn. Thinking back to my own high school days, my classmates were always keen to pick partners and get into groups, whereas I would sigh and ask if I could complete the assignment alone. I was the odd one out, in fact most people tended to prefer to share the workload, discuss and have their ideas validated by their peers and simply loved being social at school.
Between my class about Generation Y motivators and the invaluable information I was learning in class at OISE, I finally made the big connections. Education has changed, at least in Canada, and the changes are for the better. Upon receiving my student feedback forms at the end of practicum, the students stated over and over again how much they enjoyed the group activities and that I did not stand there hammering them with information. I forced them to think critically by engaging them in groups and to question one another. To my surprise, they loved it! After all, who am I to stand in the way of what students prefer?
So what exactly is it about fostering an inclusive learning community works so well? Having students sit in groups allowed them to share their ideas before sharing as a class which gave introverted and passive students a chance to participate comfortably. It is said that cooperative learning works best if students are taught to follow these guidelines: to listen attentively, to offer statements of appreciation to one another, to use the right to pass if they do not have an answer or feel comfortable answering and lastly, it teaches to model mutual respect (Carol Rolheiser and Barrie Bennett, Beyond Monet, p. 144). In the case of my class, it also allowed for students that weren’t native speakers a chance to get help from their peers. In short, in my experience thus far, there was no down side to this classroom layout. It allowed me to walk around and talk to the various groups and to teach in an atmosphere that made students feel valued and heard. It encouraged active learning rather than simply being lectured at. It changed the way I created learning activities so that everyone was involved and I can honestly say that students were challenged and engaged. I am not the only one in the room they can learn from, far from it. In fact, as a teacher I have learned that education is a two way street and it is my role to facilitate this learning. Students helped each other, created bonds and learned valuable skills like teamwork, collaboration, respect and division of labour that will be transferable regardless of what path they choose after high school.
My personal mission from here on out is to learn about as a many activities as possible that can be implemented in a collaborative learning classroom. My goal is to make every student an active learner and to engage them fully; with myself, the material and each other. Typically in whole class situations, the same students actively participate while others roll their eyes, “not him again.” My goal is to create more equal participation that emphasises all learning styles and provides as much opportunity for participation as possible. I currently make reference to Total Participation Techniques by Perside and William Himmele when constructing lesson plans. I also plan to further explore literature by Tom Morton entitled Cooperative Learning and Social Studies: Towards Excellence and Equity in creating fun group work for students.
This classroom style also requires a different way of assessing learning, as its easy for weaker students to hide behind members of their group. It will take time for me to better learn to assess if students are simply participating or if they are actually learning the desired outcomes. I vow to make sure that students understand there is individual accountability in collaborative learning and that interdependence can be positive; a lesson I would have been better served learning myself as a high school student.