Monday, June 04, 2007

A 'criteria' for viewing classrooms.

My all time favourite classroom environment ( and teacher).
Thanks Bill.

Over the years I have often been asked by schools to visit all classrooms to give my thoughts about what I can see and to give ideas about how to improve them.

Those who ask me are well aware ( usually) of my particular point of view and appreciate their school being 'seen' through a different pair of eyes. My thoughts are often far different from those expressed by ERO Review teams

Such an alternative viewpoint is often necessary because, as it it is said,'Fish are the last to discover water'.

My own background places priority value on class content studies ( student research), creative art and the expressive language areas .I also believe strongly in the aesthetic dimensions of learning and see classrooms as the major 'message system' of the school, or the 'third teacher'.The first being the class teacher and the second the intellectual challenges presented to the students.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit in Korea an English Junior School and an American Elementary school that shared the same site . Visiting both the school illustrated clearly real differences in room environments and teaching approaches. Both seemed unaware of the differences but they were clear to me.

To be honest when visiting all rooms the only I really notice are those that 'stand out' - it is to these rooms other teachers should look to for inspiration.

This week I am accompanying a group of principals visit number of schools in our area and before we visit I will share with them a 'criteria' I use to help interpret the rooms on their visit. Visiting other classrooms, particularly in other schools, is one of the best ways to get ideas and to reflect on your own practice. Many innovative schools have introduced regular 'walk and talk' staff meetings in their schools where teachers share, with others, what is new in their rooms.

My criteria reflects my particular point of view so school will need to develop their own. I do not concern myself directly with literacy and numeracy programmes except to say they seem to take up far too much teacher time and energy.

Give rooms a mark out of 10 - 10 being the best.

1 The 'Wow Factor' This reflects the 'power of the first impression' when entering a room. A quick look around the walls, whiteboards and the quality of student involvement is easily seen. Quality work across the curriculum, in such a 'rich' environment, is to be seen everywhere.

2 Does the current study have pride of place in the classroom? The current study ought to provide the energy and inspiration for most of the work that is going on in the room - including aspects of the literacy and numeracy programmes.Do studies have clear headings, key questions displayed, and examples of student research in process? Are the research tasks outlined clearly, possibly with criteria for self assessment?

( Classroom displays ought to both celebrate student thinking and creativity and inform all of the processes involved.The latter is often not a strength.)

3 Look for evidence of students 'voice' and 'identity'. Looking closer at work on display ( or in books) can you see evidence of their questions and answers ( prior idea) in the class content studies. Does 'research' on display feature students own thinking? Are there examples of students personal writing that expresses students' own 'voice' and experiences, or is it all teacher directed? Is there evidence that 'higher order thinking' processes are in place and that ICT has been integrated into the study work? Look also to see that displays feature a range of learning areas or evidence of past studies.

( This an area of weakness in most schools I visit)

4 Does the students work illustrate that they are aware and skilled in graphic design?. This is often a neglected area but one that has great potential for lifting the quality of students work and classroom environments generally. An awareness of design will be an important future skill. Is there evidence of quality design presentation shown in research work ( charts etc). Does bookwork show evidence of continual qualitative improvement in both ideas and presentation/ layout ( living 'portfolios')?

( This is another area of weakness in most schools I visit).

5 Evidence of classroom management and organisation. Look for clear group and task information for literacy, numeracy and p.m. study work. Students need to know what to do and when. Ideally these will have been 'negotiated' with the students. Usually literacy and numeracy tasks are clear but, more often that not, a similar definition is missing for study work. Look also for evidence of a daily programme including an introduction to the day and a end of day reflective 'wrap up'.

The above criteria reflects my 'biases' and to be useful such a criteria ought to be negotiated at each individual school. When done it will act as a 'self reference' for each teacher.

There is a more extensive article on classroom criteria on our website


SC said...

Thanks Bruce. This is really helpful. I teach maths in a secondary school. There is no set classroom and the rooms I teach in are sterile with NOTHING on ANY of the walls. Media, drama, art and sose room look great.....but the maths rooms (that get shared with other subjects....YUK!)

Bruce said...

Thanks for your comments SC.

I attended a session at an ICT Conference once where a presenter, from the UK, talked about how he ( and a couple of handy helpers) transformed a block of secondary classrooms used for drama and english into an area with stages and various props etc that made it clear the space was all about drama and the power of the written word. I am sure maths rooms could celebrate the main 'messages' about what maths is all about - exploring patterns ( linking maths, art and science), seeing relationships, solving problems, the history of maths, maths in other cultures etc etc?

All too often students have developed faulty misconceptions about what maths is - I know I did.

As for sharing rooms that is a problem - but not an impossible one? With no set room it makes it almost impossible! Can this be changed?

All secondary specialist rooms should be full of 'messages' selling the essence of their particular subjects. Maybe they could get the art teacher to help -or any teachers using maths practically?

Be great if every department in a school took it upon themselves to start selling the 'big picture' visually what their subject stands for.

'Sterile' rooms ought to be reserved for hospitals!