Bam, nailed it – incredible lesson. The students were so into it! I had them sitting on the edges of their seats with my riveting storytelling as an introduction. Eager learners sat before me hanging on my every word. They asked thoughtful questions and were fully engaged in the topic, learning without realizing it. Then the next class steps in, same awesome lesson and well, it bombs. My enthusiasm wasn’t contagious, my thoughtful lesson fell on deaf ears, and they seemed far from engaged. I do believe I saw a few yawns and glances at the clock. What?!
After I got over myself, and began to reflect on the why’s of what just happened, it was clear. The two classes are made up of such different learners. My first class was certainly made up of primarily auditory learners who were relational by nature. My use of storytelling locked them into the content being taught. However, my next class was a mixture of definite visual and kinesthetic on-the-move learners! Evidence as to why the same lesson flopped for them. This is when I learned that in order to be an effective teacher, I needed to transform my classroom into a Kaleidoscope.
A kaleidoscope is a cylinder of mirrors containing loose, colored objects such as beads or pebbles and bits of glass. As the viewer looks into one end, light entering the other creates a colorful pattern, due to the reflection off the mirrors. “Kaleidoscope” is derived from the Ancient Greek καλός (kalos), “beautiful, beauty”, εἶδος (eidos), “that which is seen: form, shape” and σκοπέω (skopeō), “to look to, to examine”, hence “observation of beautiful forms.”
Stepping into a world that makes upside down and sideways with brilliant colors and ever-changing shapes possible and where these differences flourish is an effective learning environment. Instruction takes place based on all of the different, varied students whose styles and personalities are reflected in how the lesson is taught. Watch out when the light hits this classroom…there is a beautiful array of colorful pattern reflected – and a different beautiful with each class, each lesson. It makes for an incredible kaleidoscope classroom, “hence, observation of beautiful forms.”
Here are three questions to ask yourself when creating a classroom with a Kaleidoscope Effect. I’ll start with the easy.
- In what ways does my classroom reflect the different students I teach?
The space of our classrooms speaks volumes. Big budgets not required. Create space where students can sit comfortably to read, write, reflect. Space where collaboration takes place. Spaces where independent work is required. Allow for your “fidgeters” to stand – studies show that standing actually has positive effects on students. Every nine weeks I rearrange my tables, we currently look like a maze for a pinball machine, but we started the school year in neat pods. They will return in January to a new look that will foster yet another learning environment. It breaks the monotony. While I currently have tables in my classroom, desks can be arranged in the same manner – circles of five, rows, pods of four or six, set back to back or face to face. Varying the look of the classroom creates different learning environments and fuels students in different ways.Whether they sit, stand, relax in the rocking chair, prop on the giant cushion – does it really matter as long as they are engaged and learning? I have written before about sparking imagination, filling our classrooms with objects of interest. Here’s another great article about a Wonder shelf for more ideas. It’s time to let go of fostering the doldrum and embrace an eclectic classroom.
Now for the questions that offer us some challenge. Teaching is not a breeze. Nor should it be. When I do not prepare well for lessons the students know it. If I teach it the same way every year…the students know that too. Yes, they note that they are now doing the exact same project in the exact same way that those students who came before them did it. What worked great three, five, ten years ago should take on a different look today. Professionally, we expect scientists, doctors, and the like to keep up in changing world. Search for new cures, know the latest on medications that were once thought helpful, but have over time been proven to be ineffective. Perhaps we should view our teaching in the same light. So here is the next question:
2. How are my lessons varied?
The concept and content doesn’t change, but the delivery, means of research and presentation certainly can and should! New and different ideas abound, with social media and global connections at our fingertips. Does this require some work? Absolutely. Start small. Look for one different way of teaching that next big concept. Then for the next lesson look for two ways of having the students learn or practice the concept. Pinterest, Twitter, and Flipboard are each rich educational resources and Google is constantly evolving – learn new ways to vary the lessons! As teachers we have the opportunity to model learning new things, let’s do so with excellence and then reflect on how it affects us as teachers and how this in turn affects the students. I haven’t been disappointed yet in learning new ways to teach or by offering varied ways for learners to solve problems, ask their own questions or be active participants in the process. Variation is the light entering the classroom that creates the colorful patterns in your kaleidoscope!
Once the classroom environment is set and variation in our lessons is happening, it’s time to amp up the volume. Hang on, this is the unexpected spiral twist that leads to the upside down loop on the roller coaster…and brings the thrill into the classroom! Finally, ask yourself this next question.
- What creative element did I bring, or allow my students to bring, to this lesson?
Outside of the box thinking required. This seems to be the one that stretches teachers most. First, because we have to alter the way we have always done it. I don’t believe the old, slang saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Yawn, everything can be bettered and should be. Your students have changed, technology has grown, collaboration is now a must. Perhaps collaborating with your students needs to be the first step in bringing in the creative element. They are filled with new ideas. Allow their voice, their thinking, their creativity to become a part of the process. The second reason creativity seems to be more challenging is because it can be unpredictable, you are not “in charge,” and it could fail. All are reasons creativity should be used. Every aspect of those challenges are growing opportunities. Predictability is overrated, let go of the reigns, and learn to fail forward. Thought “failures” have proven to be the best known way to grow. Creativity unleashed in the classroom is the turning of the kaleidoscope, giving new and brilliant patterns in education.
We are created, knit together by a Master Hand, who knows that we learn, think, respond, problem-solve, and create in a variety of ways. When our classrooms begin to reflect this learning becomes meaningful, personal, and interesting! Let’s challenge ourselves with these questions, begin to vary our lessons and methods, and think outside the box when it comes to education in the classroom. Pick up a kaleidoscope and be inspired.