A truly innovative classroom is a place where children are invited to learn, instead of forced to comply. It is a place where children can be active meaning-makers rather than passive receptacles. It is a place where facts and skills are learned in a context and for a purpose. Here are a few ways that educators can work with students to build an innovative classroom:
Create a holistic curriculum: Instead of constructing a curriculum around facts and skills, base it on problems and projects and questions that are meaningful to students. The politics and science of fast food, for example, could form the basis of an interdisciplinary unit in which kids become more proficient in all the traditional disciplines in order to understand a topic they find compelling.
Invite students to take charge of their own education: Help students play a key role in making decisions together in a democratic, caring classroom community about everything from how the furniture is arranged and what goes on the walls to class book selections and designing the next phase of the curriculum.
Create grass-roots assessments: Instead of grades and tests, craft meaningful assessment that’s meant to make kids more excited about and proficient at wrestling with ideas that matter. Assessment should take place over time, using authentic learning projects rather than discrete, stress-filled events that occur after the learning has taken place.
Find ways to protect students from bad curriculum and bad mandates: Some teachers do the required stuff on Monday and Tuesday and then do the real learning, which the kids help to design, Wednesday through Friday. Other teachers maximize the amount of choice that kids have about how they deal with the topics they are required to cover. Teachers who are told they must have a discipline plan can continue to solve problems with their students in class meetings — deciding together “how we want our classroom to be”– but label that process the “plan” to satisfy an administrator. Similarly, “homework” (if some must be assigned) can consist of inviting students to read books of their own choosing and at their own pace.
Reach out to experienced innovators around you: Find people who have more experience challenging the status quo and thinking in innovative ways, so that you can not only get moral support from your more experienced colleagues but a lot of practical suggestions. Choose as mentors people who understand that our ultimate obligation as teachers is not to raise test scores or to maintain order or to please administrators. Our ultimate goal is to do what’s best for children, which often requires us to be rebels.
A longer version of this article, titled“How To Rock the Boat”, can be found in the April/May edition of Educational Horizons: Here’s the link to the full article: http://pilambda.org/horizons/how-to-rock-the-boat/.