What Should Every Modern Classroom Have?
by Terry Heick
Every classroom is different—and that’s good because every student and teacher is, too.
But are there any common elements that most/all classrooms should share? And more specifically, in a modern classroom? Screens and data and artificial intelligence and robots and Skype and holograms? Do these belong in every classroom?
What ideas, practices, strategies, patterns, and technology belong in every classroom? Can we identify the kinds of ‘things’ every modern, high-performing classroom should have?
In the post linked above, we explored some of these ideas in the form of ‘characteristics.’ And there were more—32, in fact. This post is a bit simpler and briefer. Some items are better suited to specific grade levels, content areas, teaching styles—even certain times of the year.
Still, most can remarkably improve the learning of students and the overall climate of your classroom. So then, that’s the premise: What sorts of things belong in every modern classroom?
Here are some ideas for your ‘modern’ classroom.
15 Things Every Modern Classroom Should Have
1. An emphasis on ‘well-being’
Inherently, schools are a kind of institution and institutions (also inherently) center themselves.
Institutions are organizations with a purpose and mission pursued by its ‘parts’–policies, human resources (e.g., teachers), curriculum, and so on.
It is clear enough, then, that institutions can pursue what’s best for students and teachers. They can use strategies through available resources to promote but they are structured and designed to, as institutions, to exist and endure.
On the other hand would be some centerless reality–a ‘thing’–designed from people outward. Something with people in the middle a series of concentric circles moving aware from that center like ripples. This sounds impossibly abstract (and likely is) but the point is that some thing created (inherently) separate from the people its created to serve can only come close to achieving that purpose.
I know this is word salad, so I’ll try to be more concise: Schools aren’t (and can’t be) people and what they ‘do’ will rarely be what’s best for people.
One response is, as far as we are able, to create learning environments whose intent is to serve students and teachers–to promote their well-being via Social-Emotional Learning strategies, examples of student-centered teaching, that also makes room for what every teacher needs.
2. The need for students to think critically
The gist here is not just ‘teaching students to think critically’ but creating lessons, activities, assessments, projects, and related ‘things’ that can’t function if students don’t think critically.
See also What Does ‘Critical Thinking’ Mean?
Imagine a large boat/ship with 20 rowers on each side, paddles in water. Imagine if that ship doesn’t move unless every person rows. And for your classroom? Imagine a lesson that won’t work if every student doesn’t somehow demonstrate critical thinking.
That seems like something that should happen in every classroom.
Imagine a great classroom that doesn’t have this.
Ideally, this starts with students but also extends to parents. Communities, local organizations, job markets, and global initiatives. Credibility–that the classroom and its curriculum and content and assessments and teaching and transfer from the classroom to beyond the classroom–is ‘believed in’ and trusted by students and parents.
And teachers, too.
Every modern classroom should have endless opportunities immediately visible and credible to all learners. Some examples?
Opportunities to solve local problems via project-based learning ideas
Opportunities to improve grades on past assignments
Opportunities to test themselves against a chosen peer group, standard, or national benchmark
Opportunities to reinvent themselves
Opportunities to read, write, think, and create ‘things’ that resonate with and are capable of improving them as human beings
Opportunities to see what they’re capable of and grow
I’ll write more on this idea soon in a separate post.
Genius in the way learning is personalized for students.
Genius in the way content is framed.
Genius in the way students are engaged, encouraged, and cared for.
Genius in the ideas shared by students.
Genius in the way students use their gifts to create something from nothing.
Genius in the timing of interactions between students, curriculum, assessment, and instruction.
There should be genius in every classroom–if for no other reason than genius in every student, their genius should change something.
Compelling opportunities and ideas shouldn’t just ‘exist’ in every classroom but serve an authentic and forceful role in the teaching and learning process. This might look like a mix of compelling models, content, curricula, and artifacts from the ‘real world’ and experts there, as well as students, but it could also come from:
Place-based learning native to students
Art and literature
Light, space, and other elements of classroom design
Books and apps
Inspiration can come from anywhere, and that’s part of great teaching: figuring out the best, most consistent, compelling, and functional sources of inspiration for your classroom.
7. ‘Learning sounds’
What does learning sound like?
Does it sound like questions? Uncertainty? Discussion, laughter, play, and joy? Whatever it sounds like–whatever the audible indicators of learning are, it should (often) be heard if learning is happening.
8. Learning tools and materials that adapt to student ability and growth
Finally, some technology.
Student-centeredness can’t exist without learning tools, curricula, curriculum, learning models, technology, and other ‘gears of learning’ that can adapt to how students change. Strategies to accomplish this include:
Better learning feedback
More accurate student data
Adaptive learning algorithms
9. A clear and compelling relationship to the world outside of the classroom
Having an exquisitely run and intellectually high-performing classroom focused on academics is possible, but it won’t change lives, communities, or futures. Every great classroom should have a clear, ongoing, real-time, and student-authenticated relationship with the world outside that classroom.
Among other strategies (and more technology), this can be achieved through:
Publishing ideas, work, writing, etc.
Sharing specific accomplishments and achievements in closed and open communities
Peer-to-peer and school-to-school collaboration
Augmented and virtual reality
10. Divergence & Diversity
Creative thinking. Creative expression. Diversity of ideas, people, goals, ideas, strategies, technology, etc.
These things belong in every classroom.
If failure isn’t happening, this likely means student projects, activities, assessments, and so on aren’t differentiated, personalized, or otherwise within the ‘Zone of Proximal Development’ that is theorized to yield student growth.
Call it failing forward, a growth mindset, or common sense. Whatever you call it, it should happen.
12. Visible progress and growth
Clear progress and growth should be immediately obvious–to whatever degree, metric, or quantity available–for all students in ways that make sense and resonate to those students.
There are many ways this can be accomplished, including:
Published (in closed or open communities) student artifacts/portfolios
Gamification (here are some examples of gamification)
Grading systems that are credible and ‘make sense’ and are authentic and useful to those being graded
Working backward from what they can do rather than what they can’t
A culture of ‘can’ (growth mindset)
13. Data that actually helps teachers teach and students learn.
For example, this could’ve been categorized somewhere above–learning tools that adapt to student growth. And it’s not the most elegant or creative entry on the list.
But in the modern era of education reform, it’s hard to imagine a great classroom without great data- great data packaged in ways that make teaching easier.
14. Good ideas
Whether students are learning from good ideas or creating them independently, what we call a ‘good idea’ often refers to a new, interesting, or creative thought: a new way to solve an old problem or an interesting perspective.
And classrooms should be full of them.
15. A priority on great questions
This has been true since the time of Socrates, and I can’t imagine this ever-changing–at least until some point when culture is so sufficiently altered from its current form that none of this will make sense.
Learning doesn’t absolutely require great questions, curiosity, grappling with uncertainty, inquiry, and other ‘higher-level thinking’ activities. Still, suppose we want students to learn to ask great questions, cultivate their curiosity, grapple with uncertainty, and sustain their own inquiry. In that case, it makes sense that a modern classroom should not only ‘have’ these things but also use them as central tenets of the learning process.
In the context of learning, questions are more important than answers.
12 Things Every Classroom Should Have