The Ideal Classroom: Reflections on Differentiated Learning and Theories of Musically-informed Intelligence
The Ideal Classroom
Dr. Frederick Bernard Wood in his Willow Glen backyard with one of his favorite books and a pyramid. b. 12/17/1917, d. 2006
So what will your child or teen or senior be doing all day? Plenty. A typical day includes lots of opportunities for growth and exploration. Your little/loved one might spend time painting or reading, games and ? The child is allowed and encouraged to exercise the creative force of choice and freedom and positive feedback. Mentors let the children choose what they wish to learn and help them to learn many interesting tasks that are backward-designed to teach while leaving room for individual talents to emerge and lets children choose who they want to learn with as well.
I will imagine a classroom that would demonstrate behavioral principles.
I observe a classroom that has a differentiated aspect, in which each child is allowed to choose a group and area of interest and their views and learning modalities are appreciated and used in the classroom environment. The teacher greets each child as they arrive. If the child has spent over 15 minutes en route, either in a bus or a car, the teacher directs them to the "dance studio" workshop, where the music is "hopping" and the children are free-form dancing or etc.?
The child who has been out in the playground or has walked or ridden a bike to school may prefer a few minutes (5 or 10 at the most) to sit and meditate quietly or to participate in a slow Tai Chi presentation by a visiting older student or a peer who knows the forms. This is my idea of an ideal classroom "warmup for learning".
The most important thing to do is for the teacher to "check out" each child and see through observation and feedback if they are ready for the great adventure in learning that every day ought to offer in a truly differentiated classroom. There may be 1/2 hour taken up (I am assuming it is a lower grade where the student will stay with the same teacher all day.)
In a higher grade, the limited amount of time for each class may preclude this exercise for more than five or ten minutes of the total period. The teacher passes out papers with the "learning for the day" spelled out in black and white for the students to consult (if they can read) and may be announced through a "comic book style" for younger readers.
If the student is allowed to read this information as they "prep" for the day's learning, there will be a clear and defined goal set and, hopefully, reached that day. I do not use Presentation Punishment nor Removal Punishment, because I believe the student who misbehaves is a student in need of MORE ATTENTION, not less! However, instead of "time out", I prefer "letting the child meditate". This removes the onus of punishment, while encouraging the child to take the time out for their own benefit.
Each room or school ought to have such a meditation space provided for quiet and personal moments. In most private Christian or Catholic schools, the chapel or nearby church can be used. The teacher has learned through experience that this simple method prepares the child for a more focused learning environment to immediately follow the "get ready" time. Behavioral difficulties may be dealt with quickly and easily when student inclination and choice precede threats and negative attitudes.
The shaping of behavior is approached as though it is a great adventure on the part of both teacher and student. The teacher guides the child to knowledge without force, encouraging each step of the way and modeling an "inner voice" that has no judgment of failure but only the impetus for increasing knowledge already made attractive by self-motivated interest. Then the teacher announces the "Project(s) of the Day." Each student is allowed to input their ideas in a design process brainstorming session. Plans may be discussed for a "Cast Party" for each group's successful project completion, whether it be a play, a documentary, a dance or musical production, anything novel, interesting and attractive to the age group. The teacher ensures ahead of time, through backward design processes, that each Project completion will ensure that the child and their group have understood and "uncovered" as much information and factual knowledge as is required for the standards of their age group, while also ensuring that student choice and feedback are an integral part of the mix.
The teacher may have spent the first week of the year introducing or reviewing the principles and steps in the design process and may also have them posted (along with standards the child is expected to retain) in the classroom.
The students can design and implement their own personal
to provide feedback continuously within their group projects, modeled on their own input and updated at close of session or class to prepare for the next school day. The self-reinforcement is intrinsic because student choice is involved. The following scenario would be an extrinsic reinforcer in a way, because the reward may help the child choose positive behaviors that will result in reinforcement.
Five minutes before the end of the hour, the teacher holds a quick, informal, secret ballot to elect the next day's
"Project Leader" or
"Dance or Rap Therapist",
who will choose the morning music for the beginning PE of free-form dance or movement. These will be elected based on "best in class" for improvement that day in any area the children feel is important, be it attitude or behavioral improvement (it is up to them to vote or not vote or to choose any conditions of improvement, no matter how small.)
This is a procedure that gives positive reinforcement with a fixed schedule but variable input. It can be FR or VR (fixed or variable ratio), dependent on student input. It also results in long-term extinction of learned behavioral problems, as the student begins to want to participate in activities they enjoy.
The cues are built-in , as good behavior of any kind results in rewards that are novel and self-motivated. It also teaches discrimination and generalization, as the growing child begins to see and realize that their opinions are just as valuable to the teacher as their own, and begins to make an effort based on this positive feedback. This constant feedback reinforces positive and self-initiated discipline and helps a child with learned helplessness or poor attitudes of self-esteem
(or anger at a world that seems crazy
to a child who only wants [really!] to Love and Be Loved.)
The antecedent stimuli is the vote from the day before, an event that precedes the positive reinforcement that is the next day's reward for "a job well done"! When the teacher becomes a partner rather than a leader in the learning experience, we see benefits all around. Extinction of behavioral problems occurs as if by magic when each child feels valued and appreciated where they are at and also for the miracles they may become at any moment they reach that Sanctuary that occurs whenever someone knows they are loved unconditionally.
Although this is only an imaginary classroom, it is based on my observations of 30 years or more about how and why children learn. I have been actively working on two separate but related papers: One on New Sources of Energy and One on Sources of Creativity. In the systems science matrix I work with, these are part of the same process of inquiry that spans many disciplines. My process of inquiry has led me to observe that the how and why of development is more affected by novel input on a continuous basis from birth than anyone who has not shared the joys of motherhood might imagine!