What is a classroom?

For teachers and children thoughts are turning to getting ready for back to school around this time of year. Students in many countries are buying new backpacks, pencil cases and school supplies, whilst teachers endeavor to get classrooms ready and organised for the arrival of their new students. Bulletin boards are being papered, materials labelled and posters go on display. Of course, all of this is important in order to get the classroom ready for learning, after all the classroom is the ‘hub’ of learning, isn’t it?

But what is ‘The Classroom’? It really got me reflecting on some discussion that Year 6 were engaged in at the ‘deciding’ stage of our collaborative, inquiry-based exhibition project earlier in the year. The students were brainstorming and discussing the idea of ‘ childhood’ and their teachers presented them with a photograph to comment on using a web 2.0 tool, Voicethread. A simple photograph and question sparked a lengthy and engaging discussion, both inside and outside ‘the classroom’, about what the similarities and differences were between classrooms.

Year 6 Voicethread

Discussion ensued as to whether a classroom is your physical environment or whether what is happening with the people gathered together makes ‘the classroom’. As one student pointed out ‘it’s about the people not the things.’

As happens frequently, I was impressed and inspired by the reflective comments of students and with the subsequent exhibition project that developed. Their comments struck a chord and really started me thinking about the differences between classrooms globally, both historically and today. I recently came across an article titled ‘An Intriguing Glimpse of Classrooms Around the World’ Julian Germain classroom portraits, which showcased the photographic work of Julian Germain, juliangermain.com, who has been traveling the world taking portraits of classrooms. These portraits provide us with insight as to how varying learning environments are for students worldwide. I wonder how much these varying environments shape the student learning taking place in them today?

We are now in a world where learning in a ‘classroom’ isn’t confined to the traditional space but is online, virtual, global and, in many cases, multilingual. The classroom, as the Year 6 students pointed out, isn’t the physical features and materials but the communication between learners and sharing of knowledge. Our students are inspiring us to think outside the traditional; in a digital age learning ‘classrooms’ are everywhere from webinars, to twitter, Showme to The Khan Academy, the traditional image of a classroom has evolved beyond four walls.

What does this mean for our learners? How does our teaching and learning have to adapt as the classroom environment evolves? Recent books such as ‘Are we getting Smarter’ by James R Flynn present research suggesting although IQ scores are rising, this is centered around human adaptation rather than us getting smarter as a society. Adaptation. Evolution. How will we continue to challenge and support our learners as the concept of ‘the classroom’ environment evolves?

Learning to Make Mistakes

Mistakes, errors, corrections, shouldn’t haves. Whatever you want to call them, we all make them, most of us daily. In fact, education, learning and indeed life is all about making them, yet our students are often most afraid of mistakes. The focus for learners is more often than not on what wasn’t done well and what wasn’t learned. What we got wrong is important but only because it tells us what we need to do next to improve. Empowering students with the knowledge and skills to be reflective as learners is the key. We shouldn’t erase our mistakes, we should highlight them!

Teaching students to use ‘what went wrong’ or the mistakes they have made, is how we can ensure the process of lifelong learning is instilled from a young age. Teaching students to accept mistakes, take control of them and use them to their advantage is a gift that we must give young learners. This is not to be misinterpreted though, we are encouraging students to get things wrong, although, if by doing so students learning is enriched, why not? Taking risks and accepting when we are wrong are skills and concepts that are extremely challenging. So how do we begin to ’empower’ young learners and arm them with using their mistakes to reap positive rewards?

One simple strategy is lead by example. If we show as adults that we will take risks and accept when we are wrong, young learners will do the same. Fear and embarrassment of ‘being wrong’ or failing sends the wrong message to students and reinforces the belief that all mistakes should be erased and forgotten.

Another strategy is to reflect upon how we, as adults, respond to mistakes. Using powerful vocabulary that is focused on future learning is essential. When a child makes a mistake respond with:

‘What would you do differently in the future?’

‘How will you remember that next time?’

‘I remember when I made that mistake, I learned…….’

Demonstrating that we learn from mistakes reaffirms to a child that they are not ‘bad’ or ‘stupid’ and prevents the blocks that we ourselves may have had to face as learners when we were growing up.

Find more good strategies and links here: