Tales from new teachers

21st March 2014 at 00:00
Lost in space

The problem

For my first year in teaching, the school was nice enough to give me one of the more spacious rooms for my music class. On the one hand, this was great, as I like my lessons to be really active. On the other, I am a big believer in a classroom "speaking" to students. A communicative classroom is one that acknowledges students' abilities by displaying their work in accessible ways. I feared that, in this massive room, their creations would get lost or forgotten. I also worried that a larger classroom would make for a less collegiate group, with the dispersion of the students leading to a lack of cohesion.

The options

During a meeting with my mentor, she simply reiterated the point that displaying work was crucial rather than telling me how to ensure that students noticed it in such a large space. And she offered no real ideas to help me stop the room from being intimidating. Luckily my wife, who is also a music teacher, had some useful thoughts. She suggested that I change the displays after every lesson that included presentable work so that the students would engage with the boards - leaving them unchanged for too long would soon result in the class not even bothering to look. As for cohesion, a fellow teacher suggested putting more emphasis on group work to promote collaboration.

The result

I decided to concentrate on my planning to make sure that group work was a big part of every lesson, along with creating work for display. So, for example, in a lesson about breathing techniques in singing, I first got the class into groups to discuss and draw up a model of the human respiratory system. Then they presented their diagram to the rest of the class. At the end of the lesson, I put the drawings up on the walls. I find that these approaches prevent a lot of the problems the room could have posed. Students are motivated to produce great display pieces and I feel I have a really together class because the group work forces interaction where isolation could have occurred.

The writer is in their first year of teaching in Jakarta, Indonesia

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