Turn Your Classroom into a Workshop to Engage Learners

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photo credit: Barrett.Discovery via photopin cc
photo credit: Barrett.Discovery via photopin cc

If you think a classroom bereft of traditional tools like homework, bell work, worksheets and even grades sounds intriguing, you are ready to convert your classroom into a workshop setting, where learning will really soar. Here are a few simple ways to transform your classroom today.

Say Goodbye to Order 

Order means control. There is no room for control in a dynamic workshop setting. When I created my first Results Only Learning Environment, desks were gathered in small groups. Bookcases lined the walls, and student work was taped or stapled in no particular order from one corner to the next. In the first year, five computers were nestled snugly against one wall, and one or two carts were stationed near the center, holding student note books, paperbacks or art supplies we used for projects. This was my somewhat chaotic, messy workshop.

Re-imagine EducationRows of desks turned into pods. Although re-arranging desks is fairly simple, it can be quite daunting if you’ve lived in the row world your entire teaching career. At first, be careful to keep any potential behavior problems apart. As the year goes on, this won’t be a problem because you’ve thoroughly fanned your students’ intrinsic motivation and thrown out the worksheets and routines. A desired “good chaos” will begin to evolve in these cooperative groups, as students will discuss activities and projects they are engaged in.

Create Movement

A workshop setting embraces what can be the traditional teacher’s worst nightmare–movement. In the my-way-or-the-highway days, students were to remain glued to their seats. I would have literally glued them if I could have gotten away with it. A static classroom, in which only the teacher moves, is the epitome of the controlled environment. The theory is that if the students aren’t moving, there will be no problems, right? Of course, we know this isn’t true. Most bored students become unruly and they’ll find a way to disrupt, even if they decide to remain seated. In a ROLE, there’s no reason to fear movement, because students only move with a purpose.

Be a part of it

Don’t forget that the teacher is part of the workshop. Be more than a leader; be a facilitator, a coach, a questioner and a partner. Any workshop will fail if the leader sits back and watches or, worse, roams around and does nothing more than hover over the participants. What I love most about the workshop setting in a results-only classroom is the freedom I have to build rapport with students. It’s exhilarating to glide around the room, while students are working, popping in to participate as much as possible.

Treat it like a party and mingle

When students were updating a book plans, I used to stop to look in and ask about a particular title or to share my feelings on the book, if I’d read it which in many cases I had. If a book chat was taking place in another group, I’d sit at an open seat and be an active participant, adding to the chat and pulling from each group member. “Oh, I nearly cried when Rue was dying,” I might add to a talk about Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. “I don’t think I’ve ever read such a powerful scene. How did you react to the way Collins’ handled Rue’s death?”

There is much more to the workshop setting, but discovering it is half of the fun.

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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series, The uNseries, and other books from some of education's most reputable teachers and leaders. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Connect with @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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