The Noisy Classroom and your Classroom Management Philosophy

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In its simplest forms, one of the scariest things about a student-centered environment is that it is a noisy classroom…and that’s okay! We are taught when learning about classroom management philosophy that there is an expectation that students sit quietly and do work from “bell to bell”. Though I would agree that work from “bell to bell” (minus brain breaks) is still relevant, in a student-centered classroom where they are collaborating and exploring and getting EXCITED about what they are doing, it just isn’t realistic that this would be a quiet environment and there is much more noisy classroom management happening than first meets the eye.

This is a scary concept for a lot of teachers. There is a misconception that loud means lack of control and that your classroom management philosophy is shot. In many cases, that is certainly true. But in a truly student-centered environment, anyone who is curious about the noise and come to take a look for themselves to see all the action that is taking place in the classroom.

Two children laughing with caption "noisy classrooms are okay!"

Of course, make sure there is an understanding amongst your students if you have thin walls or can be a disturbance to other classes around you. A student-centered classroom isn’t an opportunity to be rude to your colleagues. But there are a variety of ways to make sure your students are keeping it at a dull roar (a noise meter, as a very simple example) while keeping your classroom management philosophy in tact.

Why a Noisy Classroom is Okay

I am not saying it is a free-for-all. The classroom activities need to be carefully crafted so that even though the students are up and moving and talking (sometimes loudly), there is a purpose to it. If you’re encouraging flexible seating and student choice, you need to expect that there is going to be sound.

You will have a loud classroom. You need to be okay with that.

To boot in my classroom, I always have music playing on top of it all. My room always looks like a party, which to some, might look like it “isn’t supposed to”. However, if they take a few minutes to come in and look around (I encourage the concept of #observeme), they would realize that the students are completing more engaging work with a deeper understanding than if they were sitting quietly…the noisy classroom just means they’re learning.

I had a colleague who was very interested in how I ran my “loud classroom” peek her head in one day when it sounded like all-out hysteria in there. I had a class of 30 and they were all loud…but they were good kids and worked hard…and fairly early on in the semester they bought into student-centered learning.  

Her question, with a smirk, was “Are any of them actually working?!”

I smiled and brought her around. They were making time capsules to represent events from the 1970s. I had her pass by each group and they explained to her what they were making. In detail, they showed her what the artifact was, why they decided to make it, and what it represented…and other than me asking them to explain what they were doing, they rattled off all that information without me prompting them to do so.

It’s chaos…but it’s organized chaos.

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Think of the world we live in. When the public school system was first created, it was an industrial model to train the students for the industrial world. Think of a traditional classroom and it resembles that of a factory. Everyone sits in a row, quietly does what they’re told, completes the same assignment in the same way at the same time. John Baker wrote a great article in the Huffington Post about this concept. I think the most relevant thing he says in the article is this:

Life in the industrial economy was typically viewed as a series of discrete segments: school, work and retirement. But this thinking is no longer viable as we have entered the era of lifelong learning. Facts taught in school today can be obsolete within a few years. Employees must constantly reinvent their skill sets in order to stay employable. Employers recognize they need to be increasingly self-sufficient in helping their employees keep their skill sets up-to-date.

Take a look at what Business Insider said would be the best jobs of the future back in 2014.  The industrial model of education simply would not benefit these types of jobs. They are almost all hands-on or critical thinking based.

Having an active student-centered learning environment and a loud classroom (that is encouraged with your classroom management philosophy) is the best way to prepare our students for the workforce, which is the sole purpose of education at every level.

Children completing "surgery", hands-on teaching

We are in a mad rush of change. I have mentioned it before, but to say it again, we are preparing our students currently for jobs that don’t exist yet.

Truly….think back just a few years ago. How many social media managers did you know? Uber drivers?

Things that are commonplace today simply did not exist a mere decade ago. Imagine what is to come in the decade ahead of us. This article from the Huffington Post, written by Craig and Marc Kielburger, sums it up so perfectly:

But consider this: just ten years ago, ‘social media manager’ or ‘mobile app developer’ would have seemed like imaginary job titles to most. With the accelerating pace of social and technological change, the World Economic Forum estimates that 65 percent of children today will end up in careers that don’t even exist yet.

65%?! This, even more, solidifies that the argument of “but we’ve always done it this way” is not only outdated but completely irrelevant. How can we continue doing what we’ve always done if the outcome needs to be completely different for 65% of the population we serve? 

We need to do things differently. Your classroom management philosophy must reflect this.

Our students need to be active, engaged, and we need to encourage a loud classroom that is full of action and engagement. We need to be certain they are gaining the soft skills that are necessary in the world that they are not necessarily getting naturally as generations past have.

Generation Z is a much different group in front of us than we have had before….we need to make sure we are giving them the best possible experiences to prepare them for the real world.

Reflecting Student Learning in Your Classroom Management Philosophy

As we all learned, there are three pieces to an accurate classroom management philosophy: students, teacher, and behavior. You need to determine what the responsibility is of each in order to create that plan. If you are going to teach your students how to be productively engaging, then your plan needs to reflect how that will work for each stakeholder partaking in a lesson.

The focus needs to be on building those relationships so the students feel safe in taking the risks and speaking out to participate effectively. They also need to know the boundaries of that risk-taking. While we want our students to indulge in the conversation and activities that we prepare for them, we also don’t want them to domineer the classroom environment or squash other student opportunities to partake.

It is important to take all of this into consideration. Classrooms that turn into a free-for-all when attempting a student-centered model do not have a defined classroom management philosophy in place: the teacher is just throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what will stick. When a defined plan is in place, students learn their roles and responsibilities to themselves and each other within the confines of the classroom environment and thus true learning can occur.

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