Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Tabula Rasa Classroom--Building a Learning Environment Together

This past winter I read Paula Polk Lillard's Montessori in the Classroom. The book consists of a Montessori Kindergarten teacher's diary entries during the school year. In it, she wrote about something in particular that I keep reflecting on, and that was her method of beginning and ending the year. Lillard begins each year with her classroom completely bare, a blank canvas for children to paint together upon. Likewise, she closes the year by asking the students to tear everything down and put materials back into the closet.

What follows is as mostly a promise to myself and future students.

When I have a classroom, we will begin tabula rasa, as well. "This classroom belongs to you," I will tell the children. "It will be our home together, and we will use this space to help us learn."

Each material I make available will be useful and serve its purpose in our quest for knowledge, information, and learning. When it no longer serves a purpose, I will remove it. When a material enters the room, it will be thought-provoking and will therefore be discussed.

All materials will be of high enough quality to deserve being shared with the students I value.

There will be authentic instruments and cultural items from around the world. There will be no need for cartoons when photographs exists--there will be photographs and books of our universe, planet, and people.

There will be computers, highly accessible, available to answer questions and look up anything.

There will be no patronizing themes or puns. The walls will not be covered in generic decorations purchased from catalogs or teacher supply stores (and thus found in countless other classrooms across the country). Rather, each item that goes on our walls will be constructed lovingly. There will be artwork created by individual students and larger pieces created by all of us together. There will be charts and graphs that the children will be proud to say that they designed. There will be lists of questions we are researching and words we want to remember. We will proudly display our evolving list of agreed rules.

And at the front of the room, framed, will be my Pledge to Guide Today's Students, my reminder and promise to the children and to myself, the reason our communal classroom exists.

We have the serious work of learning to do, and our classroom will show it.