If you as someone not in the field of education walked past a classroom that seemed noisy and chaotic, would you think learning was taking place? Or would you prefer to see students sitting quietly in rows of desks listening to the teacher presenting the lesson? It’s a question I asked myself often during my teaching career.
I worried that the teacher next door would hear my noisy classroom and judge me to be inept or poor at classroom discipline. I worried that an administrator would drop in and judge a chaotic atmosphere to be a classroom out of control. Where did these notions come from?
They came from my own experience as a high school student and a student teacher. In high school I remember a couple of chaotic classrooms where I learned very little. Never mind that one of my most loosely constructed classes–journalism–was the one that gave me the foundation to become a writer.
As a student teacher I was taught by my supervising teacher that noisy classes were out-of-control classes, and he encouraged me to use the paddle on noisy students. So I began my teaching career using corporal punishment on students who talked without permission, even in science lab! I cringe to think of those poor ninth graders who had to endure my lack of experience and common sense. I can’t believe I never heard from upset parents, but back in those days parents upheld the actions of public school teachers and administrators without much questioning.
I have learned much in my thirty years as an educator. I am happy to endorse today’s widely held belief that a noisy classroom can be a learning classroom. With proper supervision, excited and inquisitive students can learn through exploration and discussion. The key words are “proper supervision,” though.
Students left to their own devices and not held accountable for what happens in the classroom will most likely become distracted and soon will be off task. There is a fine line between well-controlled chaos and utter chaos, and that is where an artful teacher comes in, one who knows her students and when to redirect and refocus.
Can a chaotic, noisy classroom be a learning classroom? Absolutely.