May 31, 2011

Make your class a workshop

So you think a classroom that throws out the traditional methods of homework, bell work, worksheets and even grades sounds intriguing. There are several strategies to building this Results Only Learning Environment. One is to make your class a workshop.

What it looks like
Since converting my classroom into a ROLETM my room has desks scattered all over in pods of four or five. Bookcases line the walls, and student work is taped or stapled in no particular order from one corner to the next. Five computers are nestled snugly against one wall (I’m always trying to get more), and one or two carts are rolled someplace, holding student note books, paperbacks or art supplies we may be using for projects. I started the transition to more of a workshop setting a few years ago.

Rows of desks turned into pods. Although re-arranging desks is fairly simple, it can be quite daunting if you’ve lived in the row world your entire teaching career. At first, be careful to keep any potential behavior problems apart. As the year goes on, this won’t be a problem because you’ve thoroughly fanned your students’ intrinsic motivation and thrown out the worksheets and routines. A desired "good chaos" will begin to evolve in these cooperative groups, as students will discuss activities and projects they are engaged in.

A workshop setting embraces what can be the traditional teacher’s worst nightmare – movement. In the my-way-or-the-highway days, students were to remain glued to their seats. I would have literally glued them if I could have gotten away with it. A static classroom, in which only the teacher moves, is the epitome of the controlled environment. The theory is that if the students aren’t moving, there will be no problems, right? Of course, we know this isn’t true. Most bored students become unruly and they’ll find a way to disrupt, even if they decide to remain seated. In a ROLE, there’s no reason to fear movement, because students only move with a purpose. Remember, the class is project-based, removing the boring worksheets and homework

Be a part of it
Don’t forget that the teacher is part of the workshop. Be more than a leader; be a facilitator, a coach, a questioner and a partner. Any workshop will fail if the leader sits back and watches or, worse, roams around and does nothing more than hover over the participants. What I love most about the workshop setting in a results-only classroom is the freedom I have to build rapport with students. I glide around the room, while students are working. I’m much more than an observer, though.

Treat it like a party and mingle
If a student is updating a book plan, I stop to look in and ask about a particular title or to share my feelings on the book, if I’ve read it which in many cases I have. If a book chat is taking place in another group, I’ll sit at an open seat and be an active participant, adding to and pulling from each group member. “Oh, I nearly cried when Rue was dying,” I might add to a talk about Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. “I don’t think I’ve ever read such a powerful scene. How did you react to the way Collins’ handled Rue’s death?”

Make the transition
So, it's the end of another school year. Will you be ready to make your class a workshop next year?