My Seemingly Chaotic Classroom

Two things happened yesterday that had me reflecting on my classroom environment as a learning space.

First, I was in the midst of a low-stakes evaluation by my principal, who is very supportive of my work around technology and writing. We got to the point in our new rubric around classroom management and here is what I had running through my head: my students right at that moment, sitting all around the classroom, laptops in hand, writing their Make Your Own Adventure stories while chatting away, helping each other out. Some were no doubt fooling around. Others were intensive focused.

My room is often sort of chaotic, but in a good way (I think). My students are active learners in whatever we are doing — whether it is tech work, or making and performing puppet plays, or doing collaborative activities. It’s not the ELA class that I grew up in. We don’t sit still for very long. And while it may seem to outsiders that there is no method to the madness, there indeed is. I am always in tune to student dynamics, always encouraging students to help others when help is needed, always engaged in mini-lessons in small groups that then filter out to the whole, always pushing students to take risks beyond their comfort zones.

My principal looked at the evaluation rubric and acknowledged that my class is not the traditional class and that makes it difficult sometimes to find the right substitute teacher when I am out. I don’t give my students busywork at their desk for an hour. Even when I am not there, I expect creativity to be happening. Then, my principal said that he liked the engagement of the students, the energy level of the activities and he gave some praise to me in this area that I often consider a possible weakness in my teaching. That was nice to hear.

A few hours later (same scene: students, with laptops, writing around the room on a wiki), a family of  potential School Choice students comes into my classroom on a tour of our school. Yeah, it’s a bit noisy and active, and the school’s administrative assistant who is acting as host explains that she wanted the family to see technology in the school on both ends of the spectrum (I think they were down in kindergarten first? Gail?). I can’t tell what the parents are thinking as I say hello — they seem to be trying to take in exactly what the heck is going on in this sixth grade classroom — but I could tell what the kids in tow were thinking: “We want to join in on the activity, whatever it is!”

So, yeah, my idea of classroom management is allowing for movement and voices and some chaos, and I still every day try to find the balance between students listening and learning, and students engaged and active. Some days, I am more successful at that balance than others. It doesn’t always work and it doesn’t always work for some students. I adapt as I go. Some days, I wish I were a traditional teacher with a traditional classroom. Then, there wouldn’t be so much noise. But I don’t think there would be as much creative exploration, either.

And I can’t imagine doing things any other way and getting the same results from my young writers and composers.

Peace (amidst the chaos),

  1. Kevin, I love how you describe your classroom. It sounds so much like my old one (seems so far away already, though it’s only 18 days gone). There were times when I thought of how nice it would be to have a quiet room but creation and energy make noise, that’s it and all about it!

    Now I don’t have a classroom, I go from class to class and have 40 minutes at a time with each one, though I do see them everyday. Finding that same energy in that context is proving challenging! I’m hoping (won’t know for sure until August, urgh) to be working at the same school in September and am looking forward to making French a class to look forward to for the students – a creative, learning, fun place.

  2. Kevin,
    Great post, you explained what an engaged classroom should feel like regardless of the use of technology. It is interesting your principal was concerned about finding the right sub when you are gone. In my experience if you create a culture where the class is expected to do great things, finding the “right sub” is not that hard because the kids already know what to do and they do it because they have the desire to create, not just fill in the blanks.

    And I really don’t think you would do well as a ‘traditional’ teacher.


  3. Wonderful post Kevin! I, for one, enjoy a classroom like yours. My classroom tends to lean towards your style most of the time. My thinking sometimes when it does get quite is “Are they confused? Do they not get it?” because I am used to students talking to one another while working to bounce ideas off one another and to check-in with each other about their work. I like to describe my room as “organized chaos”!

  4. I think your classroom sounds like a place where collaborative learning takes place which requires both talk and energy. You have reassured me as it sounds like my classroom and I like the buzz.

  5. Your classes sound much like mine were. My students were always busy with a project. Subs actually loved my classes because the kids knew what they were to do and got in and did it. Rarely was there a discipline problem. Sounds like you a similar situation but rather can’t find a sub that fits in. If I lived nearby, I would gladly sub for you.

  6. My room is equally chaotic, but I’m not bothered by it. I think students are getting a lot more done when there is a buzz in the room, rather than just sitting quietly reading or writing away. The sub situation is tough though. I hate being gone because I do about three times the work preparing for a sub than if I was there myself.

  7. Thanks for all the support and it is good knowing I am not alone here. Delaine, come on in! You can be my sub! Mike, I agree that planning for a sub is difficult and I try to avoid the paper busywork. I want kids creating even when I am not there.
    Peace to you all

  8. Hi Kevin. How refreshing to read your post. My dilemma is my classroom seems to be chaotic, especially in comparison to the class next door, but I’m not always as confident that it’s as productive as yours. Sometimes i walk next door (our rooms are sort of open to each other, and think how lovely and peaceful it is, but I just can’t seem to manage that – it just doesn’t sit right. I love the communication that happens in my room – even if it does give me a headache some days! 🙂

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