Recently, I read a study about the importance of the practicum experience for pre-service teachers (Leko and Brownell, 2011). Reflecting back to my own experience reminded me that, first of all, I am closer to retirement than the dawning of my career, and second, times have certainly changed. My practicum focused on maintaining control. Control meant that learning was happening in your room. Old school evaluations focused on students in their seats, quietly listening to the words magically cascading from the teacher's mouth. Compliant students equated to the best possible environment for learning. The best possible environment? For whom? That question rung heavily in my mind, sitting, stirring, until my professional self was able to pull it out, clean it off, and whole heartedly evaluate what was happening in my classroom.
There were no lightbulbs going off in my room. There was not a place for discovery in my room. There were, however, no behavior problems. I was comfortable at the expense of my students. I knew that if I were to change there would be obstacles to overcome. My room was going to be noisy. Students were going to be moving. I needed to learn how to facilitate my students learning and let them lead the way. This process began by giving the students choice. Differentiated instruction was the new buzzword. As my students chose their path of learning, this meant the room was not uniform and not quiet. My stress level soared and my discomfort was palpable. This, however, was my problem. This was the beginning of the journey that would change my professional career and allow me to see what was possible not only for my students but for me as well.
Fast forward a few years. A student, from the past, visited my classroom as a parent (this is mortifying if you haven't experienced it yet). They walked in and exclaimed, "Wow! This looks so different!". Thank goodness. Thank goodness, the room looked different. If I were about to teach a second generation the same as the first, that would have been hard to swallow. My room now has few tables. I have moved to flexible seating where couches and overstuffed chairs have replaced the institutional seating of the past. My overhead lights are barely on as the room is now lit by lamps. Paper no longer exists in my room as we are now 1:1 with chrome books. Those are the visual aspects of my room that are different. Pedagogically, I have not only changed zip codes but moved continents.
Currently, students decide their own path to mastery and I facilitate the journey. What does that look like? A group of students are sitting on the floor creating a brick film about the rock cycle. Another group of students are coding a game that will journey through this same cycle. The discussion is often loud but meaningful. The excitement is often boisterous but celebratory. The change is powerful and I would never return to the days of quiet compliance.
Leko, M. & Brownell, M. (2011). Special education preservice teachers’ appropriation of pedagogical tools for teaching reading. Exceptional Children. Vol. 77, p.229-251.