I walked into a dimly lit room, only the light of a SMARTBoard and the afternoon sun coming in a set of windows at the end of the long, narrow classroom. Students sat rigidly at their new chairs and tables, which were mostly empty. Most looked ahead at the SMART board as the teacher reviewed questions they will use to interview other teachers next week. The students were mostly attentive, with a number fidgeting with the table or a bracelet or markers in the bin at the middle of the table and a few turning to a neighbor to whisper something.
Soon the teacher switched the activity to a video. This was a 5th grade Spanish class and students were improving their pronunciation of the alphabet. I was disappointed that she didn't turn the lights on and get the kids moving. But soon, the video was playing a song and the students were jumping in with a call and response. It seemed to give them life. At the beginning, a few students participated right away while others sat back to figure out what happened. The video repeated itself and got faster which seemed to be an open invitation for more audience interaction. The class became more excited and engaged until, during the third rendition, everyone was having fun and singing along (including me).
The lights turned on, and the energy in the room remained. Students stayed in their seats and were asked to think of Spanish words they already knew with specific/unique letters. About half the students participated while others fidgeted quietly, without causing real distraction. After identifying a few words for each letter (maybe 4-5 minutes total) the students played Hangman as a class. Students remained in their seats and raised hands to say a letter. (Unfortunately, I had to leave at this point.)
The design of the room makes it difficult to have desks/tables and a meeting space for students. Students were given tasks that ranged from simple to interesting to engaging. The teacher moved quickly from one activity to the next and most students seemed to follow along, but there was no time given to individual reflection or even partner sharing.
I wonder what would have happened had students been given the opportunity to share something with a partner, or play a game with the table, as opposed to doing everything in the whole group? I wonder if there was a way to allow some students to sit on the floor or stand while others sat at tables/chairs?