What’s the worst that can happen?
So many times in our lives we elect to turn down a risk. The word itself holds quite negative connotations that redirect thinkers back to the ‘what if’s‘. But what if we didn’t turn them down?
It is easy to say that about taking some risks.
‘Should I risk eating this Double Decker before Slimming World?‘
‘Should I risk buying this kitten without asking my other half?’
However, risks that are taken in the classroom can have more serious repercussions than your other half having a sulk for an hour then falling in love with said kitten. Risks taken in class are analysed and assessed until the risk of risk is essentially zero.
Some people like to stay in their comfort zone, I don’t. At least not in my teaching.
I proposed an idea in a staff meeting not long ago about an experimental classroom. I had heard about people experimenting with halving the amount of tables and chairs in their classrooms and painting the whole room white to ensure no distractions and I was excited at the prospect. I’ll admit, it was a stab in the dark at first, a notion. But then I got the go ahead. I was given two weeks, to try it out, take the risk.
The reason behind my wanting to try this was that I thought it unfair that we expect children to listen and learn sat with 5 other children on one table. Do adults work like that? Being told by their boss that they need to get on and focus quietly? The honest answer is no. Most adults are given a choice in the manner that they want to complete their work whether that be quietly and alone or collaboratively.
Like I said, I liked the sound of it but I really had no concrete plans of what I wanted my classroom to look like. I drew up an albeit messy plan, detailing the ‘zones’ I wanted in this new concoction. I use the term ‘zones’ deliberately as I was drawing a lot of inspiration from Vygotsky’s theories of Social Constructivist learning.
I removed tables from my classroom and started to reorganise. I came up with the following zones:
(1) A place with single island tables, one chair, facing the wall.
(2) A collection of cushions on the floor for a more comfortable style of work.
(1) A group of tables with white paper stuck to cover the surface. No chairs.
(2) A group of chairs with whiteboards and pens. No tables.
A horseshoe table layout for Teacher-Pupil. Either to support or challenge.
An area in the former ‘Book Nook’ wherein the completely puzzled pupil can take their work into the pit, supported by a Teaching Assistant, until they have overcome their problem. Then they climb out of the pit.
In The Zone
These zones were the foundation for my new classroom with the whole principle being encompassed by pupil choice. Yes, they may be children, but they know how they work best. Giving them this sense of responsibility for their own learning unleashes a new mindset for them.
The two weeks went by, not without their flaws, but we are still going. Still innovating. Still taking risks.
I’m not saying that every classroom should be this. But I have seen first hand that this has given me a new perspective. Seeing them choose where they want to be every lesson is just phenomenal and it allows you to see a mature and adult way of thinking coming from 10/11 year old’s (in my case).
So next time you’re erring on the side of caution, ask yourself:
What’s the worst that can happen?
Hollie Anderton writes for Teacher Toolkit