I.4 - Opening up the classroom

In terms of teacher practice, it is important to plan for the fact that the pupils themselves will lead a lot of their learning in the DIVERSE classroom. Through DIVERSE activities, learners are given freedom to:

• choose what role to take on in the lesson,

• decide when and what to contribute to discussion and activities,

• create characters, plot, actions and story,

• propose and evaluate solutions,

• design graphics, written outputs, sets, costumes,

• develop own opinions and understanding of the world around them,

• choose their own use time.

Such freedom may go beyond what they or you are currently used to in the classroom, and so certain adjustments in expectations and behaviour need to be made. In this case, the following considerations may be helpful.

As a teacher, how much does your current practice allow your learners to use their initiative? What are the benefits of your learners making these choices for themselves, rather than you making them for them?

The biggest choice learners have to make is in how they relate to each other and to the teacher. When a teacher dominates the classroom, learners’ behaviour is prescribed. When the classroom is loosened to allow them to lead their own learning, they also have to learn how to monitor and regulate their own behaviour. If this is not something they are used to doing, they have to learn the skills that help them make the most of this freedom. These include:

• skills of listening and observing,

• flexibility and adaptability,

• communication skills,

• co-operation skills,

• tolerance of ambiguity and other people’s views.

The activities in DIVERSE both require and provide the conditions for the development of these skills. The teacher plays a critical role in being explicit about the importance of these skills, modelling them, and highlighting where students display them.

Giving learners freedom in the classroom is not the same as letting them ‘get on with it’ – the teacher has a crucial role to play in organising learning and giving feedback.

In organising and leading DIVERSE lessons, the following checklist will be of help in managing behaviour and supporting the development of skills for independent learning. They draw on the lessons of earlier projects. 

• The main work for the teacher is in the planning. When the lesson is organised well and learners know what they are doing, it will be the learners doing the work in the classroom. 

• Be explicit to learners about the aims of the lesson (what they will learn and be able to do), what they need to do during the lesson, and how they will do it. 

• Share the plan for the lesson / individual activities with the learners, and encourage them to refer to it, so they can move on at their own pace where appropriate.

• Formulate the rules of the classroom with the learners (or if you already do this, continue to develop them for DIVERSE lessons). Return to the rules if learners drift off task. Consistently require rules are kept to, and agree any changes as a class.

• Check learners’ understanding through open questions. When learners ask questions, where appropriate, address these to their neighbour or the whole class for discussion. 

• Where the noise level rises, understand that this in itself is not an indicator of off-task behaviour – collaboration requires talk. Where learners are in discussion, ask them questions about their conversation, and use questions to bring their focus back to the activity if they are off task.

• Hold your nerve and be consistent. Changing behaviour takes time, as does learning the skills to work independently and collaboratively. Be consistent in your approach and monitor changes in behaviour over time. Speak explicitly with learners about the lessons, what they need from you, what they need from each other, as well as what you need from them.