As we distribute the coronavirus vaccine and look to bring an end to remote learning, now is the time to rethink some of the old ways of conducting and organizing the classroom. Teaching can become very routine from year to year, and too often, classroom practices and curricula remain the way they are because, tautologically, “that’s the way it’s always been.” But the closing of schools hasn’t just broken the year-to-year routine—it’s shattered it into a million pieces. Upon your return to teaching in the building, take these tips on how to create a more effective classroom.
The conventional wisdom in education was that children’s minds are empty vessels waiting to be filled with information. While there’s some truth that these vessels need filling, you don’t want to fill them with a firehose. Put to rest the didactic lecturing of online learning and its stilted, you-go-no-you-go interactions. Rebuild the classroom around discussion, debate, and activity. We’re all physically back together again—make the most of it.
As we break the monotony of a life lived behind a laptop screen, take time to embrace color in the classroom. Dull white cinderblock walls, all too common in high school classrooms, can have students feeling as if they’re in prison—the last place their minds should go after months of learning at home. Try to bring as much color into the classroom as possible with cool-colored bases, brightly colored accents, and as much natural light to complement them as your classroom’s windows will allow. Thinking about color goes beyond interior design, too. The mnemonic value of color in learning is difficult to understate, and something as simple as color-coded highlighters can aid in retaining critical information.
Freedom of Choice
Let us be perfectly clear: no classroom is a true democracy. Nevertheless, giving students a sense of agency within defined parameters is a great way to create a more effective classroom. Lay out a few tasks to be accomplished over the course of a day or a week and allow students to pursue them independently or as a class in the order they wish. When your students grow up and get jobs, they’ll often find that their daily workflow is not rigidly dictated to them, and that successful completion of their daily tasks depends on them taking initiative and not relying on constant instruction. Do what you can to foster students’ independence and decision-making skills—just don’t let the room devolve into chaos now that everyone’s back under one roof.