Gold Trail is a rural district serving the 7 geographically disperse communities of Ashcroft, Cache Creek, Clinton, Lillooet, Lytton, Gold Bridge and Shalath. Each of these communities has been impacted by a downturn in the resource based economy over the last ten years. As a result, families have had to leave their community in search of work and enrolment has declined. This year the enrolment for the district is 1286 students. As you can imagine class sizes have also decreased. While we often celebrate the opportunities of small class sizes and the flexibility it provides to personalize the learning for each student. A small class size can also mean a small community of learners by which to share, deepen, and celebrate your learning. It can also limit a student in their ability to find someone like themselves.
Hayley O’Connor, Grade 2 and 3 teacher at Lytton Elementary School is using a classroom blog as a way of expanding the walls of her classroom for her 16 students. They are now Quad Blogging with Year 3 at Aldermoor Farm Primary, Class 3T and Warminster Prep Year 3. Check out their blog at http://www.div2les.blogspot.ca/ .
As I visit schools this year, I have noticed that classrooms across the district are beginning to take on the feeling of a room in a home rather than the traditional classroom setting. Comfortable furniture is being brought in for students, lamps are being used to soften the lighting, plants are in corners, and pillows everywhere. What a dramatic difference this makes to the learning environment. It feels open, flexible and welcoming, qualities we want for a positive learning environment.
The legacy of the controlled industrial system is so pervasive in the classroom and it is wonderful to see the movement away from the tightly controlled environment of the past. I think desks, chairs and school furniture reflects our feelings about learners and learning. One can recollect when desks and chairs were fixed together ensuring no control whatsoever for the learner. A factory determined how far your chair would be from your desk with no flexibility in that space regardless of your needs. We then moved to desks with separate chairs, a significant improvement but still kept students and learning in silos, with each student having their separate space for their belongings and their learning. Over the years, teachers have tried to work with desks by putting them and therefore students together; however, a division between students remained.
Learning is a social experience where learning is deepened with collaboration, creative and critical thinking which depends on learners working and learning together. We are seeing teachers furnish their classrooms with large tables where a community of learners can work together. Furthermore, an array of chairs is in classrooms, allowing each individual learner to be comfortable in their learning environment and successful no matter what their unique needs. Ball chairs, cushions, and rocking chairs allow students, who struggle to manage their energy, enhance their learning experience and help them become far more successful.
As we continue to work towards a personalized system of education we need to look at our schools and classrooms and reflect on what they are telling students, parents and community about our collective and individual beliefs about learning and students.