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Shhhhhh….

You might also enjoy my other blog, They Never Taught Me That In School.

As I write this Alfie Kohn is speaking onstage somewhere and according to tweets said “classrooms should be loud.”

I agreed with him for my entire career…until last year.  I had always been proud of my controlled chaos room.  The room where the visitor couldn’t find the teacher, the room in which there were groups everywhere, stuff flying, paint being spilled, and the smell of risk in the air.  A few years ago I started to notice a trend.  More and more kids started to ask to work in the hallway.  I did not catch onto why immediately, but eventually realized they weren’t going out there to find a creative space, they were going out there to escape the overwhelming din of creating and building in the classroom.

I started to also reflect on some research I had been doing.  It takes 15 mins to reach concentration, and if you get interrupted it can take twice as long to get back to the same level of concentration and you make twice as many mistakes.  I also read about companies who asked their employees input on how to arrange teh office and they constantly voted to rid themselves of the wide open spaces and build small cubbies and cubicles so that they could get some alone time to think and concentrate.

And finally I thought about myself.  I am locked in a room by myself right now with headphones on listening to my thinking music and everyone is sleeping.  Posts that I write with my family awake are nearly impossible to finish.  I simply can not think of a worse place for me to work, concentrate, create, innovate, than a tiny classroom…especially one with people moving around and everyone talking, even if they are “on task.”

Last year I started something that I am continuing this year.  I make a circle with the desks, but turn the desks outward (sorry, didn’t see this post coming otherwise I would have taken a picture).  I also have a big circle table I put in the middle.  When we are starting a project that requires individual work, this set-up gives them some space, and when they look up, they are not looking at someone’s head or people coming and going.  There is space in between the desks and because of the circle and desks facing outward there is not someone exactly to their left or right.  I have been trying to get them to that 15 min mark slowly but surely..all middle school teachers chuckle here. I have to admit, I am pretty sure that things go better with this set-up.  I know that there are a large number of kids who really appreciate it.

We started a new project this week.  Today was their second day of research, and after lots of talking by me introducing things the last two days, after I opened class they were simply researching independently for the rest of it.  In one of the classes a kid asked a question about twenty minutes into the research and kids jumped.  They had reached a level of concentration that was so deep that when they heard another voice in the class it surprised them…and today being Friday, ten minutes left in the day, they were done.  They never got back to that place.  

Reflecting back on my classes through the years, to some kids they must have seemed like trying to get work done at Times Square.  When we have PD and break into groups with the whole staff in the library I hate it, but that is what I was subjecting the kids to and often wondered why some had trouble getting things done.  

Over the past few years I have reduced the amount of group work the kids do, I have reduced the movement, and reduced the noise. I have changed my seating arrangement for kids and myself to flow more easily without distracting anyone.  I believe have seen creativity increase.  And I am pretty sure that the better quality individual time has lead to more productive group time.  

Just as I was once proud of my loud classrooms, I am now proud of my quite ones.  They are not quite and still because they are doing worksheets, or copying notes upon notes from the textbook, they are quiet because they are concentrating, they are creating, they are planning.  In one more day, it will be loud again.  An architects office is quiet, the building site is noisy.  Monday the desks will be tossed about the room as groups are assembled and the building will begin…

If you ever visit my classroom please don’t be insulted when I meet you because I might not say hello, I might be just as likely to tell
you to Shhhh….

You might also enjoy my other blog, They Never Taught Me That In School.

4 comments

  1. Jeez, Paul, now you’ve given me something else to think about. I think you’re on to something here. Sometimes, and for nowhere near 15 mins, my room gets quiet and I see that concentration you speak of. Then one or two kids get uncomfortable with it and say something or do something and the noise returns.

    Your idea would have helped my 8th graders research their biomes. I’ll have to try that next time. I think I’m going to include some kind of reflection question asking kids if quiet time would have helped.

    Thank you!

  2. I asked my students how I could be a better teacher and what I could do to help them learn better and was amazed when most of them said let us sit by ourselves not as groups as we get distracted! Will definitely try the outward facing circle but I too would like a photo!

    1. Alright…we are in a different set-up this week, some pair activities and movie next week…in a couple weeks we will be back to some individual work and will post picture 🙂

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