I was asked recently, “If you had your druthers, what would your ideal learning environment be like?” My response was as you might expect. I would like to create an environment within my classroom that has the following characteristics:
- It is intellectually stimulating.
- It is safe.
- It has positive energy.
- It reflects the interests and cultures of all the students.
- It is a place students wouldn’t mind visiting even if they weren’t in class.
- It reflects the challenges students have faced and conquered within its walls.
- It is a place in which studying the English language is interesting, fun, challenging, and seems worth every minute.
- It is a place of change and growth brought about by learning.
- It is situated within a larger learning community in which Matt Damon’s mother would have been able to convince the world that standardized tests are not accurate measures of intellectual growth and only make students anxious about going to school.*
In this microcosm of a larger learning community, it would be possible to challenge the students to take part in various projects. They would feel up to the challenge and see how intellectual stimulation can be just as good for them as physical stimulation. Host a poetry slam? Sure, why not! Create a literary magazine? No problem. Put on a play? Sure! A Shakespearean play? Bring it! Write a script? Done.
With National Novel Writing Month coming up in November, however, I thought I would share that one of my dreams would be to engage the students in a novel writing project. I can see the students leaning back in their chairs now, giving me a wary look. I can hear their thoughts as they wonder what Mrs. Edick has in store for them now. In this learning community, however, we overcome challenges. I have the following ideas that result in a vision of students gathered in groups debating one another while they create something new they will own forever.
- We would not have to worry about test preparation taking over instructional time.
- Students would learn by doing, not by completing worksheets.
- The work would be relevant, stimulating, and memorable.
- Students would learn about English grammar, acquire new vocabulary, and hone their skills as fluent speakers of English.
- Classroom visits from novel writers would inspire them to move forward with their project.
- Students would collaborate on the novel creation process, mapping out the plots and the conflicts, creating characters, envisioning the settings, and so forth.
- Students would learn how to critique and edit writing without endangering the self-esteem of a fellow student.
- Collaborative conversations via Twitter in the evenings would help students to record and debate their thoughts for the next day while keeping the posts short and concise.
- The students would own the finished product and be proud of their accomplishment while acknowledging they had moved that much closer to being a well-educated and productive member of society.
- Students would feel empowered to direct their learning, set goals for themselves, and achieve their personal objectives.
In my opinion, the vision I have establishes the ideal learning community. If I had my druthers, then, my students and I would construct that environment and thrive within it. I would love to know what you think.
*For an explanation of this point, see the text of Matt Damon’s speech to teachers during the recent Save Our Schools rally at this URL: http://tinyurl.com/3ghj923.