A teacher desk at the front of the classroom with rows and columns of student desks just doesn’t cut it anymore.
The geometric arrangement that teachers have followed for generations was a good one. But we are in a different era now. The things our parents and their parents did don’t work for a postmodern generation full of postmodern students. Times have changed, and our classroom setup has to change, too. Some might balk at the word postmodern alone never mind what it might do to your classroom. But you might be surprised at how easy it is to bring your classroom into the twenty-first century. Here are some simple things you can do to modernize, or should I say post modernize, your classroom.
5 Steps for Bringing Your Classroom into the 21st Century
Set up Learning Stations
Independent learning stations are a great way to engage students and give them freedom and ownership in their education. Set a few desks around the perimeter of your classroom. At each desk, set up a learning activity that students can do on their own. For example, you might have a CD player and a listening textbook that they can work with at one station. You might have a grammar exercise at another desk. At still another you might have a vocabulary game. And of course, have a reading nook with a classroom library available, too. Give your students freedom to choose what activity they work on during designated freework periods. They’ll get out from behind their desks, move around the classroom, and gain a little more ownership in their education – perfect for today’s postmodern generation.
Create Gathering Places
You’re an ESL teacher, so you know how important communication is for students of the English language. We talk about communicative classrooms, as we should. But have you thought about how your classroom setup can contribute to conversation in your class? You’ll see it happen when you create gathering places in your classroom. Think about your living room or the cushy chairs in a coffee shop. When you are comfortable and facing your friends, conversation flows. You can set something up like this in your classroom. Think about the seating you have available. Are there comfy chairs? Is there natural lighting? If you can, give your classroom a living room like feel by setting up soft seats, simple tables, and lamps. Create conversation areas for students to do group work. Make it feel like they’ve accepted an invitation rather than fulfilling an obligation when they come into your class. Even if you can’t bring in outside furniture, consider setting your student desks up to create a larger tables rather than rows and columns. When your student are comfortable and they feel like they are in a homey environment, they will ready to communicate comfortably with each other.
Have a Classroom Technology Wish list
Is your classroom high-tech? If you are lucky, you might already have computers, a television and DVD player, student tablets, and other high tech devices. But if you don’t, you shouldn’t despair at the school budget. Consider setting up a technology wish list for your class. You might be surprised at what friends, students, and others are willing to contribute to your classroom. Particularly if you aren’t set on having the newest generation of today’s high-tech gadgets, your friends who wait in line for the newest iPhone might gladly donate older computers, tablets, kindles, and other items. But they won’t pass them along if they don’t know you are looking for them. If you have a classroom blog or website, keep a running list of donations you are looking for. You may find that one person’s clutter is just what you need to bring your classroom into today’s world of technology.
Give Your Students a Voice on the Wall
In some ways, teaching in the postmodern era is more like facilitating than instructing. I’m not saying you don’t have information to give your students. Not by any means. But I am saying that part of our jobs today is to encourage our students to contribute to their own learning. You can do that by setting aside a space or two on the wall for your students to help each other learn. One of my favorite ways to do this is a classroom Goodreads wall. If you are on Goodreads, you know that on your account you can keep a list of books that you have read along with reviews for each of them. If you choose to review those books, your review become public to anyone else with an account. If your students are at the point where they are reading books in English, encourage them to rate and review any books they have read for the rest of the class. When students finish a book, print out a picture of the cover and then give them a 5x8 index card on which to write a short book review. They should write the title of the book on the top of the card, give it a rating of one to five stars, and write a few sentences to say why they either liked the book or didn’t like it. On your Goodreads wall, post the book cover and then put the review index card near it. Then when other students are looking for a book to read, they can check out the reviews of their classmates and either choose one of the books on your wall or a new one. When other students write reviews on the same books, post their index cards near the book cover on the wall, too. As the school year continues, your Goodreads wall will grow and students will share their ideas about what they have read when they write and read book reviews.
Create a Flexible Classroom
No matter what you decide to do with your classroom arrangement, you will get the best results from your interior decorating when you have furniture that moves around easily. Being able to arrange and rearrange the furniture in your room will not only allow you to change things up throughout the school year. It will also let you try different arrangements and find out what works best for your particular class. So choose simple tables over heavy desks. Use chairs that are separate from tables rather than all in one units. We can’t always choose what furniture we have in our rooms, but you can make suggestions when it’s time to get new pieces or add what you want piece by piece. Keep your classroom decorating goals in mind and work toward them little by little. Over time, you will have the room you want and the one that connects best with your students.