The unset-up classroom: Students co-constructing and having a voice in their learning spaces.

This was something I first tried last year, a big step for an organisational freak, and I was hoping it wasn’t a one-off fluke success for both the students and myself.

So with fingers crossed, changes and lesson learnt from last year we began the start of Grade 3 and the tuning in of our first #PYP unit #STP with our rooms unset-up.

Day one was orientation day, in the morning new families and the afternoon the returning ones. Nothing was asked by any child or family as the dropped in for a visit and not because they were forewarned, but because they believed it would be ready for the next morning.


Day two and the students arrived and as we met them at the door they were faced with their first decision- which cubby they wanted for their bag. This resulted in many looks, unsure what to do next and checking with me that they could really select the one they wanted. This stage of the day became more remarkable as each student entered the ‘unset-up’ room and found one of the 3 activities I had put out and didn’t question the room at all. Call for pack up and ‘let’s meet together’ was the first instigator of wondering and questioning- ‘but where’ and ‘there is no mat’. A few students noticed a mat rolled up and asked if they could unroll it. My response confused them, “If you think we need it”. I got another should we question, I shrugged and a few started to tentatively unroll it continually looking back at me for reassurance. I was eventually asked for help as it was upside down a little heavy. Once the mat was down we introduced ourselves. Still very few comments about the room. I handed out letters written by previous 3TS students.


During this second activity, I was finally asked about the room and when I was going to do. It was made clear to me it wasn’t working and they didn’t know where to work.

When we came together again we started a discussion about the concerns and issues with the room. It was quickly decided to ‘fix it’ Some wanted to just move things, other wanted to draw plans. I shared my one requirement- I needed something to put my computer on near when the project cables are. This year I had also put every piece of furniture I the middle of the room and had removed the traditional teacher’s desk that I didn’t like having. Unlike last year no-one wanted to take inventory and the class broke up into groups. 3 groups of overs (not working together) 3 planners also working solo and a sign maker. As there there was lots of big, heavy pieces of furniture I had a safety talk about how to lift and carry furniture and how to ask for help when needed. before setting them of to co-construct their learning spaces and out over all class room.


After observing for some time I paused the work and highlighted what I noticed. 3 groups creating a library in 3 parts of the room. Each group moving each other’s furniture. And that the planners hadn’t shared their ideas to anyone. Some comments ‘ah that’s why we have to keep getting the shelf back’, ‘do we need to share the ideas’ and ‘should we work together?’. To all of these, I responded I was just sharing what I noticed. A few more minutes of working on the room and one of the designers sharing an idea brought the teams together to create 1 library area (without the bookshelf) and a relaxing area (with the bookshelf) in 2 parts of the room. We then broke for a canteen tour, as they now move upstairs with different routines and snack.


After snack, we bus stopped around stations to record what we thought a classroom should look like, sound like and feel like, what helps or hinders our learning and what good teachers and students are like to prompt discussions and ideas. A few more minutes were given to room arranging before we played a get-to-know-each-other bingo activity.


After lunch, I had again put out some social activities and took photos of the students to use throughout the year.  We then came together to discuss any concerns, ideas and problems- big and small. We recorded these on the board to use later. Then Grade 3 came together as a grade to brainstorm ways we wanted to get to know each other and go over the bus routines. These ideas for getting to know each other are being used in our Friday afternoon PSPE dedicated time for the next few weeks as we look at our #STP unit and setting a strong foundation for the year ahead.

While these activities along with self-assessments on reading, writing, math and inquiry were happening we were trying out different classroom arrangements. And due to concerns and experiencing what worked and what didn’t the students worked on several room arrangements over a few days.

I was impressed to see several students take a lead in ideas, those that compromised were needed and everyone got involved in setting up our physical and learning spaces. Yes all 4 teachers took slightly different approaches to how the rooms were designed and who had (some) final say for the room arrangements but all students had a voice and help decided the overall look and feel of their classroom for the year.

Next steps for 3TS are for the students to continue to have a voice in finalising our class agreements and making decisions about flexible seating guidelines.




Summer PD Instagram Book Club #InnovatorsMindset

WechatIMG152Planning on having a low key summer break also involved needing to be prepared to spend as much or little time in and around hospitals waiting with or for my mum so I loaded up my kindle with a variety of books and got myself a fresh new notebook to make notes and doodle in. While waiting for my flight ‘home’ I happened to come across a @gcouros tweet talking about the upcoming Instagram book club he was running/hosting for his book The Innovator’s Mindset Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. I had put this book on my kindle- thought I should finally get around to reading the whole thing for myself, so decided this would be perfect for what I needed on several levels. So here I am in an airport again and now writing a blog post about the book club experience.

It was great to be able to see other peoples takeaways, aha moments and grab a snapshot of other people’s thinking after each chapter. I really liked the format of a chapter a day and the low pressure of it as things came up and I had to miss a day or 2 here and there and catch up when I could whilst still doing in the book in chapter sequence. The fact that each chapter had its own hashtag made it easy for this too. I enjoyed connecting with people I would never have had the opportunity to and to push myself to try out a few new things. I will be using #booksnaps with my Grade 3s this year! As usual, I spent to much time on doing the tasks but enjoyed the process of doing them too.

Whilst nothing was over the top new or going to revolutionise my teaching this year, that is possibly from a combination of being an international teacher for many years, having had some really inspirational teachers around me and my IB PYP experience but there were so many reaffirmations and areas for me to put back in focus for me. There were definitely some points that made me stop, think, check and ask am I really doing this? or can I improve on that? And the answer a few time was no not really or I could be/ should be doing better here. The last chapter in combination with the others also helped come up with some clear focus goals (less is more) for the year for me personally and with a team I will start leading this year.

Did I enjoy the Innovator’s Mindset and would I recommend it? Most definitely.

So thanks George Couros for the timely book study as it made the book so much more rewarding and thanks for the other Instagram participants for putting your stuff out there too.

Here a few of my takeaways.


Student Led Conferences: a change in the process. Part 2

This week has been student planning, selecting and conferring about their SLC.
I gave 1 period- 40 mins to the initial planning and thinking on Monday. We also needed to consider the proud and challenge piece we would identify in our portfolio to share on the day. This honoured both school and grade agreements of using the portfolio. The portfolio also travels home for a week to look over in more detail.  Students had already been ‘practicing selecting and discussing several pages to different buddies explaining the learning or skill the piece focused on and why they selected it during each filing session so now just needed to narrow it down the 1 focus piece for each area.

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Over the week the students looked through and adjusted their choices and reasons in small groups for 10-15 mins once or twice. If they wanted to work further on it or look through their work more than that the could use ‘their time’- a rotation choice or early finishing time.
On Friday afternoon there was time to set up and have everything ready for ‘the day’ which included any final collection of the evidence and tabbing pages that show them as a learner to their family that they needed.

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The day in photos:

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And yes I did read Taryn’s post and am glad I travelled the journey with my students without first reading the article as I would not have been so sure what was mine/ours or Taryn’s. This statement “So often, the “what” of SLCs is pseudo-chosen by the teacher. “You must show something form math, literacy, UOI, art, music, PE etc…”” is exactly where my thinking of was and what I wanted to change at the beginning of my process too.
I also found that  “So instead, we put the decision of “what” entirely in the hands of the students and instead of guiding them to choose the what based on subject, we guided them to choose the “what” based on what they wanted to share about themselves as learners.” is what I truly aimed to do.
I like Taryn’s point of using more of the IB Learner profile, PYP attitudes, ATL skills and a variety of sentence starters to guide and assist the students as part of next years SLC planning and will definitely up the ante on this, but on the whole I think I set the students up for success and they did an amazing job of doing it differently behind the scenes for a successful day.
Student reflection:

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Student Led Conferences and  a change in the process to prepare for them- P1

As the Spring break was winding up my thoughts turned to upcoming Student Led Conferences (SLCs). ‘My burning question was How will I prepare the students for them?’
Monday morning arrived and like I have for several years broached the topic of SLCs with the class. Fortunately, most were looking forward to them. Those who were not, were worried about being ready, the parents testing them and being worried they would forget the answer or what to say. The discussion moved on the ‘why’ and ‘when’ of the SLCs and then onto “So what it is it you want to share with your family?” As you can see from the photo below we had quite the brainstorm about his. I ended the session with “ Great start, we will leave this here for a day or 2 and come back to when we have had more time to think.”
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I was thinking about this session and the direction we were heading in well before the day ended, but not in the way I first thought I would. It was similar to what I have done for a few years now, but that wasn’t the problem I had with it. While I knew I was going to be giving my students choice I knew it was still really going to be happening on my or the teaching teams terms.
The next morning as I entered my classroom I saw the brainstorm chart and thought these are really just the ‘liked’ activities/ engagements based on curriculum and learning needs,  but what are they showing about each student as a learner? They had already likely to have been discussed and shared when they occurred to.
As I arrive early to school I use this time to check twitter -and to have my coffee- and discovered SLCs were are a current topic for many right now. I follow Taryn BondClegg @makingoodhumans and her current post was intriguing …but I didn’t look- yet!
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I was getting notifications about this tweet, being involved in conversations about SLCs and student voice for days, but still resisted opening and reading the blog post as I really wanted to go through this process myself (or with my team) without influence, just yet. I didn’t want blurred lines about was it me and my thinking or was it another person who I copied who got 3TS to the point of more voice in their SLC. When I reflect on my and 3TS’s process and look at Taryn’s post I will make the adjustments that I know are needed and why and be happy to be guided and influenced by a great practitioner.
By Wednesday I had come up with a new plan to help my class get the best out the SLCs, meet my school’s requirements and honour my student’s choices and voices better. But first I needed to share my idea with the class and see if we could try the process together. They were willing – if I helped and gave extra ideas if they didn’t know what to do. This seemed fair to me.
We talked about them showing themselves as a learner – their parents know them their child; a musician as they hear them rehearse and watch their concerts; a soccer player as they either coach or drop them off to training and them watch their games…etc. Here is the opportunity to show themselves as a learner and not just talk about their favourite units, activities or new game.
Here is the planning following a 35 min session (by the way I really didn’t need to give many prompts):
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So as I sit here a week later I am ready to post my first professional blog (other than the class one!) and tackle Part 2 of this SLC process – The students deciding on and collecting the evidence that will show them as a learner to their family.
Stayed tuned for P2- finishing the planning and engaging in the SLC Day.