Camp-fire Circle-Time and Orderly Disorder

A week of lessons has rushed past since I blogged about the reconfiguring of my classroom. I have deemed it a ’21st Century Learning Space’ as a bit of a joke at my own expense. (Some real ones can be found here.) It’s really just an ordinary classroom with desks in non-traditional arrangement and a rug on the floor!

My room is a little different to most I see daily because I have considered the impact that physical space has upon intellectual and emotional space. This is not to say I haven’t ever designed my classroom to maximise learning – I have been known to do this frequently and have been an advocate for groups/bunches that allow students to work together, especially with the introduction of 1-1 in our school. For me the current design is different because it drew on the mythic notions of the campfire, watering hole and cave (see earlier post here.) This philosophical underpinning gave me a metalanguage with which to speak to my students about ‘why’ the room is configured in this new way. This ‘language of myth’ actually works as a cue for my students. Yes, they think that it’s pretty lame to start with – but once you get them thinking about WHY these three types of learning are relevant to their world, they kinda get it. Plus, kids like it when you show enthusiasm for their learning – they love it when teachers throw caution (or is that fear?) to the wind and take a very visible risk. I guess I’m one to not worry too much about looking silly! I can now be heard saying to me students, ‘Alright – lets have a chat around the campfire and then you’ll spend some time in your caves.’

I currently teach four different English classes each week – Yr 7, 8, 10 and 12.  The reshaping of my room has pushed me into reshaping my pedagogy – a most desirable outcome. I am more conscious of the types of learning that are implicit in the activities I create and the outcomes I expect to meet. Circle-time has proved a hit with Year 10 – we’ve been sitting crossed-legged on the ‘camp-fire’ carpet sharing stories about our hopes and dreams post-HSC and confessing our true feelings about summative assessment and 21st century literacy skills. Year 8 have been reading in their caves twice per lesson (5 mins at beginning, 5 mins at the end) as well as playing spelling cames around the camp-fire.

Year 12 has been the most exciting! I have explained to them my refusal to spend 10 months prying open their mouths, shovelling content that has been made palatable by teacher and then asking them to say ‘ahh’ as regurgitated content is forced out and lands onto 3 page lined booklets. No, not me. (Yes, poor kids!) Instead, I’m designing each week of lessons around our mythic spaces. P1 = campfire stories (teacher-centred), P2 = cavetime (students independently work through a Blooms matrix), p3 = wateringhole chats (small group activities; outdoor activities; student presentations) and P4 = campfire (fishbowl; Socratic circles; circle-time). So far our discussions about the poetry of Dickinson and the thoughts of de Botton on ‘status anxiety’ have been lively and most of all, fun! 

Of course there are risks to be taken in this approach to classroom design. There can be a great deal of noise as the students move furniture (where necessary) and as they move themselves into the appropriate ‘space’. But the fear of noise in a classroom is simply a veiled fear of that which is natural and normal.

My goal for the coming week is to use a data projector to project the lesson plan on the board. This strategy I wasinspired by my prac student and will help orient students with the lesson’s expectations and prepare them for the transitions between cave/camp-fire/wateringhole. Not ALL spaces will be utilized in each lesson. Ultimately students, familiarised with the notion of ‘mythic spaces’ to enhance learning outcomes, will self-select the appropriate ‘space’ to meet a task. It is this which is my ultimate goal – to encourage self-direction and an appreciation of the influence that physical space can have on intellectual/emotional space.

So, how is your classroom arranged and why have you selected this design?

6 thoughts on “Camp-fire Circle-Time and Orderly Disorder

  1. I’m so glad you’re enjoying your new space. Sometimes in Business Studies I use a Boardroom set-up. I give an agenda to the students, a chairperson is nominated and then they discuss how they are going to work through the points (syllabus dot-points and potential ways of learning). Sometimes it is more in the style of The Apprentice. Other times it is called a round-table discussion. It is a class of mostly boys of whom many play sport regularly (and think about it constantly). They know how to be team players. They love having ownership of their learning.

    • Thanks Shany! Yep – am loving it but know it’s because I am in the head-space of working it for my students’ needs, just like you do! Although, an added bonus of my change is that the teacher who shares my room has also found herself having the kids seated on the rug in a circle and discussing the coming lesson BEFORE they move off into their groups/individual seats.
      I used to do the boardroom situation with my Ext 1 class – they loved it!

  2. Sounds like a fantastic idea. Sadly I teach in a NSW highschol, that although only 7 years old, has insufficient classrooms. I’m a History teacher and have classes in 9 different rooms – making it impossible to change the layout to suit my needs. In fact we only have 3 dedicated HSIE rooms for a school of 700 students and 6.5 HSIE staff!

    • I can absolutely appreciate the frustration this would cause! If you are interested in the idea of the campfire/wateringhole/cave you could use these as metaphors for the learning that will occur throughout the lesson. I find it seems to ‘make sense’ with the kids. After a discussion about why each different learning style is important and has its own unique benefits, you could use the labels as cues for your students despitenot having the physical space to accomodate? Are you allowed to move the furniture in these rooms? Perhaps dedicate 5 minutes of ‘teaching time’ to students rearranging the space and at end of lesson moving it back? I know it can be chaotic, but a bit of dialogue about learning can’t hurt – kids like to know that you’re thinking about them and their needs, that it’s not just about the teacher’s ‘performance’ at the front!
      Thanks for you comment :0)

  3. Hi Bianca, I am nudging toward the end of a four year slog at uni doing BA/BT secondary at Ourimbah campus with Troy Martin as our English method lecturer (since March). Just thought I’d drop you a line to say that a colleague and I were inspired by your 2010 engaging spaces/campfire blog and consequently delved into research to deliver a presentation on learning spaces that was derivative of the mythical notions of campfire, watering hole and caves. I have always believed storytelling /narrative has an integral part to play in human communication (I’m a drama geek) and how the environment feeds, enhances or de-stabilises learning. I couldn’t agree more with you about the “performance” of the teacher; it’s not a platform for recital. If I come across barriers when introducing this notion during my initial years at teaching then I plan to use the mantra “Spaces are themselves agents for change, Changed space will change practice”.
    Thanks again for the inspiration, oh and probably to Troy as well for making the connection with his timely blog for us- about time a lecturer walked the walk at uni about ICT integration.

    • Thanks for your kind words Carla 🙂 I have been lucky enough to see your presentation slides – wow!! It’s a bit of a shock to see some uni-level research backing up something I’m doing in my class!
      Good luck with your teaching career 🙂

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