The Highly Structured, Loosely Organized Learning Environment
When technology enters your classroom in the form of one device per student, the game changes completely. Not only do you have to figure out how you’ll integrate the devices into your lessons, you’ll have to rediscover how to manage your classroom. There are different classroom management strategies for the subject you teach, the grade level you teach, or the type of technology you have in your classroom.
My favorite 1:1 classroom management tool is to create a highly structured, loosely organized learning environment.
Let’s break it down: highly structured – tools such as a timer; loosely organized: allowing kids to organize their own ideas and their own thoughts within a structure that the teacher sets up. Often times, units and classrooms are set up opposite – highly organized and loosely structured. This is where I see a lot of teachers struggle when they are using technology in their classrooms, and trying to create authentic, purposeful learning experiences.
When you introduce technology into your classroom, you need more structure, not less. However, you need less organization because the access to content is so wide, that trying to organize it into an activity is almost impossible. When we say in education we want “student-directed learning” what we really mean is we want students to organize their own learning within the structure we set for them. Student-directed or personalized-learning are both examples of highly-structured, loosely organized learning environments.
Creating highly structured, loosely organized learning environments
So, how do we create highly structured learning environments within our classrooms, and allow students to have a free reign of the organization of that information within the learning environment itself? We put the structures in place that allow kids to use their devices to go out on the internet and create the organization of that learning for themselves. But that can only happen if the structures are in place to allow kids to move through that organization of information at a pace that is right for them.
Think about how much time you allow students to use their devices. When I hear teachers talk about students being off task with tech in the classroom, my first concern is that the pace of learning is not fast enough. When I’m in front of a class of students, I rarely have students that are off doing something else, because there is no time for it. It’s fast-paced – to be fast-paced, you also need to have things timed out. My favorite thing to use in the classroom is a timer. When I say you have 5 minutes to research, I give them 5 minutes. Not 20. Then we move on to the next task. What students are doing in those 5 minutes is creating their organization of the content by finding and researching the information that they need in order for the content to make sense to them.
The highly structured, loosely organized learning environment also includes learning both on and off the device. One of the things I love, especially with Chromebooks, is that they turn on and off in 7 seconds. Having students shut their computers, get their hands off the keyboard, and turn their focus to something we are doing physically in the classroom (because we are social beings and it’s good to have kids socialize), then having them open that Chromebook back up and be back ready to go in 7 seconds, is a game changer.
Not everyone has Chromebooks, so you can have students bring their screens to 45 degrees, or flip the iPad over, but there is a structure in place to allow kids to refocus on the classroom and then get back into their devices. The worst thing you can do as an educator is to try to talk over an open screen with hands on the keyboard.
For a more detailed look into the highly structured, loosely organized learning environment, including details of a lesson I used in a 6th-grade classroom, listen to Shifting Our Schools Episode 42: Highly Structured, Loosely Organized here.
Learn more about managing device distraction in the 1:1 classroom! Download the free resource 7 Ways to Minimize Distractions in the Connected Classroom. This infographic gives you 7 strategies to minimize distractions in the 1:1 classroom and is a preview to The 1:1 Teacher Microcredential, an academic-year-long online mentorship program that includes 24 weeks of course content learning that will strengthen your classroom management skills to keep the focus on the learning in a technology-rich classroom. Registration for the next cohort begins July 23rd. Learn more here.