What do you love about your classroom? What do you hate about it? If you don’t have your own, what do you love or hate about the ones you travel to?
I have to be honest: the only thing I’ve really loved about any classroom I’ve ever taught in is the students in it.
Given that language use is a fundamentally non-academic activity, almost everything about the way most classrooms and school schedules are set up is a concession: We concede to the limitations of space, time, and money. What is important, though, is that we continuously evaluate how we set up our both our physical spaces and the flow of our lessons, asking what about it is truly limited by space, time, and money, and what is limited only by our imaginations.
My dream classroom
If I had an infinite budget or a working magic wand to create the perfect environment for a language class, I would keep very little from any classroom I know of. My ideal classroom would be either a city block with access to a park, or a country estate with access to a town. (Amazingly, I get to teach in the latter a few weeks a year: Claymont Court, under the auspices of the North American Institute for Living Latin Studies.) A cruise ship wouldn’t be bad, either.
In the city block version, there would be a spacious apartment or collection of apartments for hanging out in the target language. We would have cooking classes in the kitchen, consume and discuss media in the living room, play in the game room, work in the study, read in the library or on the roof. We would do academic things–literary criticism, composition, and so on–when we wanted. We would visit the shops and restaurants on the block, whose proprietors we would all know. We would head to the park to talk about and enjoy the outdoors.
You can extrapolate to the country estate and cruise ship versions.
In case you’re worried, I’m not talking about a boarding school or even a classic immersion system, just a setting for making our language use more natural.
We don’t always get what we want
I doubt most of us will ever have a city block, a country estate, or a cruise ship as our year-round classrooms. We’re bound to both the schedules and the basic physical settings of our schools. And there is no perfect classroom for everyone. But it’s still worth asking these questions:
1. What things about my classroom are really conducive to functioning in the target language?
2. What things about my classroom get in the way of functioning in the target language? Can these things go or be changed?
Note that “Functioning” doesn’t just mean listening, speaking, reading, writing. It includes things like “interacting with a peer in socially appropriate ways” and “enjoying a work of literature.”
One of these days I’ll post about one of my favorite features of many classrooms: the windows.
What would your dream classroom look like?
For related ideas, see 9 Ways To Happify Your Class.
I’ve often thought about the perfect classroom where we’d have couches, coffee tables, and a media center along with work tables and chairs. Windows are a must, of course. I would outlaw desks in rows with the teacher up front.
That’s just the beginning…
I love it, Dan. The kind of multipurpose space you describe would be awesome! And it’s amazing how much one can accomplish just by changing the orientation of the room.