When I visit teachers, talk to kids (even my own), and reflect on my own life as a teacher, I often think about the philosophy behind great teaching and learning. Sometimes I wonder whether all teachers learned the same concepts I learned when going through teacher training – or was I just really lucky.
It all comes down to human growth and development. When I was in university, I had a class that focused on the minds and bodies of 10-14 year-olds. I remember my professor making us repeat- “The attention span of a child is their age plus 1.” So, my ten year-old can focus for 11 minutes before getting bored, spacing out, fidgeting, or melting down… that sounds about right. This is why I’m a firm believer in any type of workshop model: 10-15 minute mini-lesson, 30 minutes of independent work, 10 minutes of group sharing. This model can work in reading, writing, math, science, social studies, languages, and art. It can also be done at most grade levels. Oh, and kids LOVE it!
Social characteristics in tweens are also worth noting. As much as they seem completely focused on themselves, they are actually very sensitive to the mistreatment of others. This is a quality that teachers and parents need to nourish- for all too soon, they will become full-fledged teenagers and their mindset can, and will, change. Adolescents also want independence… treat me like an adult!, but also direction and reinforcement… I’m just a kid! It can be very confusing, I know, but we have to help them become the best person possible.
Then we move on to their bodies. They are growing more in these middle years than in any other time other life (well, except for those first few, right?!). Did you know that the cartilage in their tailbone is beginning to harden, which makes it very uncomfortable to sit on a hard chair or surface for an extended length of time (that’s why they’re so wiggly and won’t sit still)? Yet, I am forever hearing teachers say sit down, be still, stop fidgeting. Sitting in a plastic chair all day long would be torture for me- and I’m fully-grown, with feet that completely touch the floor.
In my perfect classroom, there would be standing tables, pillows for chairs and the floor, desks, and whiteboard space on any non-living parts (walls, tables, floor, door). Learning would be student-centered, fun, and tied to local/global issues. Students would have a voice in their learning, and I would support their needs, wants, and dreams.
What would your perfect classroom look like?