Beyond Ditching the Desks, 9 Creative Ways to Avoid The Cemetery Effect for All Classrooms
A few months ago while driving through back roads in Pennsylvania, I came across a carefully laid out cemetery. Each stone was equidistant from the other. Rows were impeccably aligned, all seemingly facing the same direction. The plot of land was a perfect rectangle. With the exception of some updated landscaping, the space remained seemingly untouched for a number of decades. My heart sunk when I thought about how this space - a cemetery - resembled the first classroom learning environment that I had created for my first class of fourth graders. No, the students weren’t zombies, nor were my thoughts morbid. The physical environment - the learning space - that I created early on as a teacher, would have looked almost identical to the cemetery if drawn on a map. Add some tennis balls to the bottom of the stones, a large, oversized, wooden teacher desk in the corner, an interactive white board and American flag on the front wall, and not only does one have the first classroom environment that I created; but an environment that resembles many of today’s classrooms. These classrooms are seemingly suffering from what I’ll coin, “The Cemetery Effect”. Spaces like the one in a country field in Pennsylvania are not the only thing that have remained virtually the same for decades or longer. Side-by-side images of classrooms from 1915 and ones from 2015 yield eerie similarities, even after 100-years of life changing research and innovation.
During the industrial era where students were essentially trained to work in factories, “career readiness” meant preparing for jobs where a worker would spend hours a day performing the same task, often even spending his/her entire career at the same company. The one-size-fits-all, sit and get instructional model where the ability to regurgitate was the key to success, was a sufficient paradigm for that world of work. But that world of work no longer exists in our nation. With such changes, the need to redesign our students’ learning environments becomes not simply an idea from the latest Pinterest board, but one of necessity. How can schools and classrooms transform from an industrial era model yielding teacher-centric environments with desks in rows and all students facing forward, to ones that are student-centered, personalized, and leverage the power of technology?
Lead Image Credit: Cemetery Effect Images: www.istockphoto.com (via subscription), altered