Saturday, May 26, 2012

The child-centered classroom vs. the child-friendly classroom

I’ve been spending a little more time in schools lately, and have formed a few more impressions of child-centered classrooms--particularly of those in which students sit in pods facing one another rather than the teacher. I’ve written earlier about how seating students in pods makes it hard for them--particularly those facing away from the teacher--to focus on the teacher or any material that is being presented to them in the front of the classroom. I’ve also written about how pods can be arenas for the sort of subtle bullying that is particularly difficult for teachers to detect and discourage. And I’ve also written about how when students often opt to arrange themselves in rows rather than pods.

What I’ve noticed most recently is how much more disruptive behavior results when students are facing one another rather than forward. In particular, the temptation to talk to, mouth words at, exchange glances with, and otherwise interact with the peers you’re sitting next to and across from, even when the teacher requests your attention, is extremely high. This not only disrupts learning; it can also lead to a lot more angry yelling by the more frustrated teachers--some of whom would perhaps prefer to arrange the desks differently, if only their principals would allow it.

When armchair education experts conflate child-centered with child-friendly, they’re failing to apply a child-centered approach to their thinking. In particular, they’re failing to imagine what it’s like to sit facing the side or the back of your classroom opposite classmates who distract or bother you all day long, “guided” by a teacher who yells much more frequently that he or she might have in the teacher-centered alternative that no longer appeals to the experts.

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