Developing a Collaborative Classroom

This post is in response to Tania’s amazing provocation and presentation. If you haven’t read that one yet, do yourself a favor and read it first. Tania asks a wonderfully engaging question What if? and I had to try to answer. The timing for this post was perfect for me as I was just going to take over a grade 2 classroom and I had been wondering how the physical learning environment could support student voice, choice, and ownership.

First question: What if we took away the teacher’s desk?

This one I had already done in my previous class and so I didn’t have to dwell on this question for long. The big question for me is just to ensure that there is a place (a shelf) where I can place all the prep materials and where students will put their own materials, therefore I took upon myself to remove the teacher desk and it allowed to change the whole flow of the room.

Second question: What if we took away the students’ desks?

This isn’t of course about taking away student seats but about taking responsibility, moving and selecting a spot where learning can happen. This reminded me of Trevor Mackenzie’s post: and I was keen to explore the idea further. In our grade 2 classroom we now have the following places:


Campfire: A place for our community to sit together, listen to each other, and learn from storytellers.

Watering Hole: A place for learning from peers in small groups.

Cave: An area to be alone and to reflect or work independently, without interruption or distraction from others.

Swamp: For when we get stuck on a task or concept and need to meet in a group with an expert.

Plains: For when everyone is working independently, spread out wherever they need to be.

As a teacher this has given me a lot to think about, how am I planning and supporting learners in this environment and how is this ensuring that students are doing what they should be doing: learning?

Third question: What if we removed the walls?’ Either metaphorically or physically?

We at ISM have been wondering this already for a couple of years and that is exactly behind our reasoning of having Grades 1-2 and 3-4 following a two year programme of inquiry cycle. This means that instead of having just one teacher we now have two classroom teachers and our specialist teachers who can collaborate authentically on the same unit of inquiry and our students have more opportunities and exposure to share and build their understandings.

There were two more provocations that I hope I’ll have an opportunity to explore, but especially during the pandemic it has been impossible:

Fourth question: What if we had multi-age classrooms? and What if instead of having our students go to Specialists classes we brought the specialists INTO our learning spaces as an embedded part of our learning?

So what has changed and how are we learning after these 3 changes in our classroom? My first impression is very positive, students are becoming more aware of their own responsibilities and how their choices have an impact on their own learning.

Learning time-management skills

We are also reflecting on our learning a lot and making sure that we know what we have learned.

Documenting learning

But most importantly we have had multiple opportunities to build relationships, share our learning, and create an inclusive learning environment where all students can be succesful.

As a teacher this has meant that I plan and teach a bit differently, the main changes are:

  • planning depends on student data – feedback and feed-forward, more individual and small group guidance
  • Learning engagements follow a rough guideline; Launch – Explore – Summarize; students have either a campfire meet with a provocation or another provocation, then they explore, try, play and apply which ends with a campfire feedback or a Seesaw reflection.
  • My role is to see everyone, provide support when students get stuck, encourage them to take risks and make sure that everyone feels that they can succeed.

This has been definitely a small success already and I can’t wait to see how much wider we can open our wings and how much further we can fly.

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