Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Does your classroom have the 'wow' factor?

I always enjoy visiting classrooms in the last term of the school year because this is when you can see on display the wonderful creative work of students and, by default, the skill of their equally creative teachers. But not in all rooms or in all schools.

Picking up on a phrase from my favourite the business guru, Tom Peters, these creative classrooms have the ‘wow factor’!

If you have the chance, walk around your school looking for signs of ‘wow’. Some schools I have worked with have drawn up a simple criteria to assist teachers develop and assess their room environments.

The first sign of ‘wow’ is the overall first impression the room gives you. The feeling you get is that you are indeed in special place. There is a feeling of positive relationships between teacher and learners and often parents are to be seen quietly helping students. Other students seem to be working without supervision. A quick look around the walls, covered with students creativity gives an impression that this is a room dedicated to the students themselves.

Then take a look at the whiteboard or blackboards. This is where you can see the management skills of the teacher. If students are to work independently in small groups, or even by themselves, then the blackboards ought to illustrate what, when and in some case how, the work is to be done. Naturally it is best if the tasks are negotiated with the students themselves.

Student’s bookwork is an important and often overlooked means to assess the ‘wow’ factor. By term four they ought to show qualitative improvement both in content and design and visual literacy skills. Some schools have reinvented their student’s books as living portfolios.

Finally the walls, where it is easiest to see if the ‘wow’ factor. The entire room is a ‘message system’ passing on what is seen as important to students and parents. A range of curriculum areas should be on display. Look for some in depth mathematical research work or examples of well displayed poetic writing or other language work. Both should be displayed with suitable headings and informative explanations of ideas learnt or processes used. Rooms should both celebrate and inform.

By term four there should be lots of work to be seen arising from the latest content study. This should have: a challenging heading, key questions, examples of student’s research, and possibly criteria for students to self assess their work. Look also as to how well information technology has been integrated into all areas of learning. Finally the most impressive thing to be seen would be the art work, either done for its own sake, or integrated into the current study.

I most case you can pick up the degree of ‘wow’ as you enter the rooms. A closer look around reveals the hard work that has gone into both the teaching and the learning and gives clues to others about how to develop a sense of ‘wow’ in their own room.

There will be ‘magic’ teachers who seem to be born with a gene for this ‘wow’ factor but it is my experience that every teacher can learn the tricks to develop equally impressive rooms: it is not brain surgery! Developing this sense of aesthetic design is an important 21stC skill in itself.


Aim2Know said...

Wow the 'Wow' factor!
I agree with you on all fronts here Bruce.
Have you come across the 'Fish Philosophy?' This is proving a powerful tool in achieving buy in with school-wide WOW!
Under the Fish Philosophy the word 'choose' is all powerful. The choice to choose the way you act, learn and behave.
How do you think this fits into the 21st century education system?

Bruce said...

Thanks for the feedback. Appreciated!

And I agree with your comments about the 'Fish' book philosophy.I have a copy somewhere - I must look it up.

If I remember it is all about treating your job with enthusiasm - and that this enthusiasm catches on with other workers and those who buy the fish.

It is all about giving people an experience they wouldn't miss - the 'wow' factor!

I reckon it applies to schools equally as well.As teachers we model the attitudes and values we want our students to catch.

melulater said...

I agree Bruce that the displays and "feel" of the room are strong indicators of the creativity and hard work of the teacher as well as their relationship with the class and how that teacher motivates them to learn. I've always aimed to have the classroom itself demonstrate all those things. I believe a classroom should celebrate the learning and successes of each child and should be inviting to parents, colleagues and guests.