The architecture of improvement: remodeling classroom management
Classroom management refers to the wide range of techniques that teachers use to keep students engaged. The goal is to encourage student success by facilitating an orderly learning environment that enhances academic and social skills.
The traditional classroom management methods run the gamut from posted classroom rules to seating arrangement charts. However, these methods tend to focus on managing student behavior within the classroom and do not acknowledge that the classroom is a direct factor in that behavior. That is, the classroom is a structural entity in and of itself.
As we move further into the digital age, teachers are altering the architecture of the classroom, which in turn alters the behavior of the students within. Classroom management techniques must then change as well.
For example, Digital distraction is a growing concern among educators in regards to classroom management. In response, some schools have banned cellphones. Although it may be an enticing solution, banning technology in the classroom should not be the answer. Students can do interesting things with their mobile devices, and cell phones provide an incredibly important component of future education: digital literacy. Improving classroom management starts by integrating digital solutions into the architecture of the classroom, not fighting them.
Creative Use of Space
“…We are, for better or for worse, different people in different places.” This statement by philosopher Alain De Botton expresses a simple sentiment: Our environments affect us. As a space is constructed, so, too, is our identity within that space. To create an environment that fosters learning and engagement, educators must first create an engaging space. One way to do this is through flexible seating.
The sage on the stage model of education positioned the teacher at the front of the class. The students’ chairs were arranged in rows that faced the teacher. Technology has changed this.
A tenet of the digital revolution is the democratization of information. Outside of the classroom, students have instant access to an infinite amount of information. This is in direct contrast to traditional practices of classroom management, which have always been about restrictions. Allowing students to choose their seating arrangements circumvents one of these restrictions: the restriction of movement. But let’s take it a step further by eliminating this restriction all together.
Look at places where creativity thrives: art studios and coffee shops. Look at the way these spaces are arranged: They are arranged dynamically to provide different seating options—arm chair, bench, stool—while facilitating ease of movement between these options. In these spaces, the flow of the people mimics the flow of information and the flow of creativity. The classroom should be no different.
If students are engaged in discussions or working on their mobile devices, there is much less of a reason for them to be confined to their seats. The freedom to move around the classroom creates a dynamic environment. This isn’t to say that in creating a new structure for the classroom, there is no space for the more traditional fundamentals of classroom management. To the contrary, these fundamentals are an essential factor for the success of students.
The foundation for any successful relationship is trust. This goes for classroom management as well. Students must trust their teachers. They must know exactly what is expected of them, from class participation and in-class assignments to online quizzes and video lectures. The more transparent a lesson plan is, the more effective it will be.
Transparency also extends beyond the aspects of the lesson plan to its implementation. Teachers should let their students know how class time will be used. This helps build content-related anticipation and increases student engagement.
In the flipped classroom, which is dominated by in-class discourse, transparency helps to structure said discourse accordingly (i.e. “We’ll spend fifteen minutes discussing this and then fifteen minutes on that.”). Having students that are not only engaged, but self-motivated is a fundamental of good classroom management.
Good time management skills go hand in hand with good classroom management. They should be a part of every educator’s repertoire. In the flipped and digital classrooms, where students are asked to be more self–reliant and educators function more like guides, time management is essential. Students should know exactly how much time they have for in-class assignments or discussions. This way, the clock acts as the authority, not the teacher.
Instituting a classroom timer for activities and discussions not only increases student awareness of class time, but helps them develop their autonomy. Rather than being told what to do and when to do it, students will have to prioritize tasks on their own. They can decide for themselves how much time they can afford to spend socializing or surfing the internet, and how much time they should spend doing their work. This way, a healthy work ethic is a natural, logical choice, as opposed to a demand.
Let’s talk more about this sense of autonomy, how students can cultivate it and how this in turn affects classroom management. The first thing to note is that students, for the most part, are autonomous. They are more digitally literate than some of their teachers and the ubiquitous nature of tech in their lives has played a large part in allowing them to be independent. Some students may not dress themselves, and others may not be able to cross the street by themselves, but they can all access information in an instant.
To encourage autonomy in the digital age, teachers should embrace mobile learning and the bring your own device phenomenon. They should let students use their electronic devices in class.
When teachers set the standards and goals, they should trust that their students will meet them. Contrary to how it may sound, learner autonomy is not self-instruction nor is it a detriment to good classroom management. It is simply a student’s ability to determine how they will meet the goals set by the teacher.
Yes, when left to their own devices, students might surf the internet more and they might be tempted to check their social media. But as long as the students are aware of what they have to do and how much time they have to do it, they should be trusted to get their work done.
Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory of human learning posits that social interaction is fundamental to cognitive development. The learning process, therefore, is a social process.
Peer-assisted learning (PAL) is intrinsically linked with Vygotsky’s theory. In PAL, students work with each other to augment classroom instruction. They learn through interaction and are able to further their development by using the knowledge of their peers as a platform on which to build.
Students will naturally socialize. To optimize classroom management, educators shouldn’t so much restrict this behavior as harness it through PAL and collaborative classwork. More so, as lectures and instruction move into the digital world, class discussions can as well.
Educators can utilize social media to maintain a quiet, productive learning environment by moving this collaborative effort online. Students can IM questions to classmates and teachers. Documents can be shared and edited via google docs or OneDrive. Emphasizing the social aspects of learning takes something students are already doing and frames it in an educational light. It also reinforces classroom goals and etiquette made transparent by educators and uses successful students as the parameters by which other students can judge their behavior.
Virtual Architecture and Classroom Management
Classroom management is about flow. People, time, creativity and information should all flow easily through the environment. As we bring more technology into the classroom, however, we are expanding its boundaries. The concepts of space, identity and flow, then, are no longer restricted to the physical plane, but expand into the virtual one as well.
In order to implement effective classroom management in the digital classroom, educators need to manage its virtual aspects. While student autonomy, effective time management and lesson transparency can all have a positive impact on student engagement, poorly managed digital tools can lead to distraction.
For this reason, designing a digital classroom where students can check grades, watch video lectures and communicate with each other is essential to good classroom management. UI Design solutions like LiveTiles Mosaic allow educators to create a user-friendly digital classroom for the 21st century. Mosaic enables teacher to easily integrate principles of classroom management, both in the physical classroom and the digital one.
Mosaic is a free tool that works off of Microsoft SharePoint and can be used by any K-12 classroom with an Office 365 tenant. With a simple click of the mouse, teachers can customize their very own digital classroom.
The real benefit of Mosaic is the beautiful and intuitive virtual spaces that teachers are able to create. Within seconds, students can access video lectures and in-class assignments. They can instantly enter a library of curated educational materials or IM another student for help.
As the screen shot below shows, this kind of “home base” allows students the freedom to access internet-related services like YouTube and social media, but within an environment that minimizes distractions.Within this highly structured space, students are free to move along the provided educational channels, effectively striking a balance between autonomy and instruction.
Educators must strive to create a space that optimizes the flow of information, while at the same time, provide a structure of support that facilitates responsible access to this information. When a city is designed well, it facilitates the movement of its citizens, and its negative spaces have just as much impact as its structures. The classroom is no different. In this regard, classroom management is somewhat of a false term. The ideal classroom is not something we manage, it is something we create.