The purpose of this website is to share my classroom redesign journey with you. Enjoy!
“Wake up and pay attention because this is important!” Have you said this before? Most likely if you’ve had to say these words in class, then the students were not actively engaged with your instruction. Student engagement is by far the most significant factor of student learning and retention of learning in your classroom.
The Kentucky Framework of Teaching supports the teacher in creating and teaching lessons that will engage students in their learning. Domain 3C - Engaging Students in Learning of the Framework states that, “The critical distinction between a classroom in which students are compliant and busy and one in which they are engaged is that in the latter students are developing their understanding through what they do...The best evidence for student engagement is what students are saying and doing as a consequence of what the teacher does, or has done, or has planned.”
As I looked around my classroom I could see students sitting in their perfectly spaced rows with a look of boredom on their face. It was then that I knew I needed to make some significant changes to my instruction to help engage the minds of my students. This change didn’t happen overnight but instead took years of research and implementation of different teaching strategies. To help make a direct impact in my classroom, I worked within a large support group of teachers as a CTEPS (Classroom Teachers Enacting Positive Solutions) Team member. My focus was to increase student engagement within my classroom with a goal to create a classroom learning space that focused on active student engagement. I wanted to create a climate that was beneficial to learning that not only focused on the physical arrangement of space but on the activities that the students would be involved in that incorporated 21st century learning skills.
I began my project by focusing on the physical learning space. I gave my students a voice in how they wanted their new classroom to look by allowing them to draw a classroom layout that incorporates new and innovative ideas. Most of the students included new seating and different tables. Using their ideas I created a newly redesigned classroom learning space full of yoga balls, inflatable cushion seats, stools, reading corner book bench, rolling chairs, individual carpets, standing tables, and larger activity tables with white board paint on top. Once the classroom learning space was redesigned, I utilized the different types of learning spaces within my instruction to better engage the students with 21st century skills. The students would complete activities while writing on the whiteboard desks, or seated around the room in the flexible seating they liked best. The students worked through activities that involved 21st century skills such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity.
I purposefully designed meaningful lessons that actively engaged the students in math and science and I used the physical classroom space to enhance the learning. For example, the students were able to work together (collaboration) to sketch a model of their plant on top of their white boards and create a model (creativity) of a plant that could withstand the Arctic tundra. Students had to research (critical thinking) plant adaptations and then present (communicate) their model and research to the class. The students used iPads and our Apple TV to show their ideas and models on the larger TV screen in the classroom. We then used their plant models to decorate the classroom. During this activity, I noticed all students actively working. They listened to each others ideas and provided feedback. The students showed excitement and were deeply involved in every aspect of the lesson.
How do I know that all of the changes I made in my classroom raised student engagement? I can see it on the faces of my students. Instead of attempting to fall asleep, they are smiling and excited to be in my classroom. I did more than just redesign the physical space, I gave my classroom a feeling of freshness and excitement. They enjoy sitting in the different seating arrangements around the room. The best thing is that the classroom can continually be rearranged to match the needs of each individual lesson. The students would make comments such as, “This is the best classroom, I love it!” or “Will all classes be like this one?”
Are you wanting to help raise student engagement in your classroom?
I would suggest to start out by changing up the classroom layout to incorporate different types of seating and desks and allow the students to work where they do best.
Then try choosing one activity that intrigues their curiosity and allow them to ask questions that you would then use to guide instruction.
Allow the students to work together in groups to complete the activity and follow up with a whole class discussion at the end of the activity
If you can involve the students in the physical arrangement of the classroom as well as spark curiosity in the lesson, they will be more actively engaged and chances are, they just might stay awake! No longer do I see the students sitting in perfectly spaced rows of boredom. Now, they are asking me, “What are we doing today?” and when I reply, “something fun,” they are excited!
Casey Salyers is a 5th grade Math and Science teacher at W.R. Castle Memorial Elementary in Johnson County, Kentucky. She has 6 years of teaching experience and is currently working towards becoming a National Board Certified Teacher.