I don’t ever remembering despising school, but I can recall only a few times where I would say that I really felt at home. Oh, I learned to follow the rules, do my work, control my daydreaming in class, and get average grades on my report cards. But, in a sense—and I doubt that I’m alone in this—I kind of went through the motions of going to school. But there was one year that stands out as being particularly memorable; it was a year where I felt really excited about going to school, to the point where I was disappointed at the prospect of a sick day, a snowstorm or, at times, even a weekend.
In the middle of my grade 5 year, an addition to our elementary school was completed and most of us were moved into a brand new, fully carpeted, no-desks-just-tables, 1960′s style open concept classroom. (My friend and colleague Mike Harding has written about this idea at length over at voicEd.ca) There was something immediatly engaging about the environment. Perhaps it was the smell of new paint and carpet; maybe it was the sheer openness of the space. I don’t know what it was, but I was immediately drawn in and, truth be told, I felt like I was at home.
In using the intoversion/extroversion frame that we have pondering over the past few days, I can definitely point to the fact that the open-concept environment in which I was immersed for that year resonated with my need to find a space of my own when I needed it. I certainly wasn’t anti-social. In fact, I enjoyed the daily interaction, class discussions and, although I preferred to work on my own, I didn’t mind the occasional group project.
But I really shone when I was given the freedom to choose my own place and pace. There were tons of nooks and crannies to be found in that double classroom: bookshelves to hide behind, corners to explore, tables to curl up under and lots of carpet to lie on. For the times when we needed a little privacy, we had study carrels positioned around the room. Each had a filmstrip viewer, a cassette recorder and a set of headphones.
I do recall whole class lessons, but I also remember a great deal of time each day to do our own thing: reading kits, activity bins, microphones, record players, and even some really cool science equipment. I recall spending a whole week one time putting together a media program on hockey great Gordie Howe that featured a musical soundtrack, my own live “voice over” and a images shown using a Magnajector.
I loved to write and very much appreciated the opportunity to choose my own topics, find my own writing space and the ability to record my polished pieces.
My grade 5 classroom was certainly not an educational nirvana, but I do remember it offering me an environment in which I felt stimulated and energized. I don’t know if those responsible for the open-classroom concept had the introversion/extroversion spectrum in mind when they designed their approach but, in looking back, I can certainly say that it provided the balance that allowed some of us to thrive and feel at home.