How Can Teachers Create A Self-Organizing Classroom?

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A Self-Organizing Classroom

To promote efficient learning and minimize behavior problems, here’s how to ensure a well-run classroom…

The typical general-education classroom can be best understood as a complex, self-organizing system. The various solutions a teacher selects to manage instruction, behaviors, personal connections with students, recordkeeping, and the myriad of additional challenges in a busy educational environment, will themselves interact to create a dynamic ‘system’. Well chosen educational solutions will organize into a well run classroom.

A well-managed classroom whose students are academically engaged and well-behaved, is a predictable product of a teacher’s adoption of a set of basic research-based components of instruction and behavior management. As these components are put into place, they provide the instructor with increasing classroom order and control. A Self-Organizing Classroom has unique characteristics that serve as a basis to support and evoke self-organization, self-improvement, and the achievement of learning challenges. The students in these classrooms have high scores, reach high standards, and excel in their academic performance. Here’s how teachers can create a self-organizing classroom:

1. Rapid Feedback
Rapid and relevant feedback should be provided at many levels; for students, the interactions between learners and the environment, real-time feedback of learning and collaboration in progress, and the outcomes of learning. It enables the classroom participants to inspect and adapt quickly to differentiate their own learning. It does not wait for a test or a grade, it happens throughout the learning experience, and empowers learners to sense and respond to the feedback when it is relevant.

2. Pull
Teachers should encourage learners to have more say about their learning, pulling in challenges and activities at their own rate and at their own level. Although students may or may not develop their own goals, they should at a minimum be encouraged to have the structures and empowerment to pull the challenges and activities in at their own rate. By centering on the learners present and intrinsic motivation, the challenges ‘pull’ them in, versus being ‘pushed’ onto them as something to comply with in the classroom.

3. Self-Organizing
Self-organized learners work without direct supervision, released from the command and control style of instruction, to accomplish clear goals. Self-organization emerges within simple scaffolding structures, which is what this framework provides. Teachers should provide this framework, which has just enough rules to provide guardrails against chaos, while enough space to empower learners to choose and adapt their own learning path together.

4. Inviting Environment
Many teachers teach in cramped and overcrowded rooms, often without enough basic materials and certainly without the use of expensive equipment such as interactive whiteboards and LCD projectors. Despite these restrictions, effective secondary teachers can manage to create an environment where students focus on learning. For example, they can arrange desks to encourage collaboration as well as independent work, minimize traffic-flow problems, and make sure materials are readily available.

5. Pursuit of Knowledge
Active learning generates a much higher noise level than the silent classrooms of the past. Students are up and out of their seats while engaged in a variety of interesting activities that encourage thought and discovery. They do more talking than the teacher does on most days. A high achieving classroom is a place where no student sleeps or sits idly waiting for dismissal.

6. Responsibility for Learning
Students are encouraged to understand the importance of choosing good behavior and its lasting rewards over the short-term thrills of bad behavior. They take responsibility for their own learning and are not coerced into good behavior through threats of punishment. In an orderly class, self-directed students not only encourage each other, they also work with their teachers to achieve academic and behavioral goals that they have helped establish. Successful teachers employ a variety of strategies to promote responsible decision-making and create self-reliant students.

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