Monday, November 1, 2010

A Message from Space

One day, a couple of weeks back, I visited a fifth grade classroom during independent reading. I was on a quest to lift the quality of student thinking through conferring. One-by-one, I made my way around the classroom and eventually, I came to this reader.

Look for a moment at this picture. What are your first thoughts? How might your conversation with this reader begin?

The first thought that I had when I met this child was engagement. His chin sits on the desk and he isn’t touching the book. I immediately drew the conclusion that he wasn’t reading. And if he was, no way was he really into his book.

My objective, as I mentioned a moment ago, was to lift the quality of student thinking. I was wondering how I would do that with a child so clearly disengaged in reading. So, rather than try to go somewhere I doubted would be successful, I introduced the elephant in the room. I said, “I notice you sit differently than other kids sit during reading time. Tell me about this choice.”

I expected that he’d shift in his seat, extend his arms to touch the cover, and initiate a transformational posture change because of what I implied in my opener. But that isn’t what happened at all.

He looked at me and said, “I’m not comfortable sitting at a desk and reading. This is the only way it feels good.”

He went on to tell me about the characters in his book and shared some of the questions he was grappling with. He was clearly not disengaged as I had first thought. He was just uncomfortable.

I have spent a good part of the beginning of this school year thinking about environment. What should a classroom look like? How should a classroom be laid out? At the beginning of the year, it feels like these are aesthetic choices. However, as the year wears on, we are reminded that the choices we make about how to organize our classroom space reach far deeper than aesthetics. Environment establishes the parameters for learning and communicates what we value.

It is now November. Stand in the doorway of your classroom and take a good look around. What message is your space sending?

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