A Day in an Innovative 4th Grade Classroom

This observation was part of the methodology section of the thesis Innovationism: A Digital Age Pedagogical Concept. The purpose was to identify the use of the four education philosophies of Essentialism, Perennialism, Progressivism and Reconstructionism which support the concept of Innovationism. Within this framework could be found the integrated use of such Pedagogical Methodologies as:

Personalized/Blended-based Learning


Mastery Learning

Growth Mindset

Inquiry-based Learning

Art Integration Teaching and Learning


And Teaching and Learning Platforms such as:

Collaborative-based Learning

Problem-based Learning

Blended-based Learning

Inquiry-based Learning


The second point of the Data Triangulation was based on an observation of a fourth grade elementary class. The class started at 8:30 in the morning and ended at 3:00 in the afternoon. There were 31 students in the class including: 14 African-Americans; 10 Latinos; 6 White; and 1 Asian. The genders were approximately equally divided.

The classroom contained 14 wheeled tables with two each pushed together in a wedge shape which made seven tables six of which were used at each end by the students. All the chairs had wheels on them which allowed the students to roll around to different station. This activity had the added benefit of causing a lot of the kinetic energy typically generated by this age group to be somewhat defused. The classroom furniture was subjective in nature as it allowed the students to move, or “wiggle,” in a personalized manner and not to be “confined” by the traditional individual one-person per desk lined up in rows facing the teacher in a “sage on the stage” format. The lighting was typical overhead florescent lighting with a full row of window on the west side of the classroom.

It was observed that the teacher reflected the ideas of Innovationism as she effectively combined objective and subjective pedagogical methodology and curriculum elements. Using an element of Essentialism she started the class by objectively telling the student what they would be learning that day and what was expected of them. She then showed the students a video about a football team comprised of incarcerated teenagers after which she guided them through an analysis using in tandem the objective Perennialist Socratic Method of discussion and the subjective philosophical tenants of Reconstructionism with a look at the video’s theme of social justice. This pedagogical methodology was philosophically both objective and subjective and reflected the Common Core goals of critical thinking and communication. This activity lasted twenty minutes.

The rest of the morning was used for English Learning Arts (ELA). The lesson was taken from an article that the student were assigned to read as home work. When queried about 6 to 8 had said they had read it. The teacher then posted a paragraph from the article on the large 4×6 foot television monitor that was hung near the ceiling in front of the classroom. The teacher told the researcher that this computer monitor replaced the older classroom whiteboard. The students were then divided up into groups of three and sat at the end of the tables. Although the groups were not fixed the researcher learned that the teacher tries to group the students by a range of abilities according to the subject matter. This structure is definitely Progressivism as “Progressivism argues that learning must be based on the fact that humans are social creatures and by nature learn best in real-life activities with other people (Vygotsky, 1978), but it also has elements of Perennialism as Adler (1982) writes, “They are academically rigorous, for both slow and fast learners, how much is to be learned is adjusted according to student ability” (p. 72) (See: Innovative Classroom Management: Peer-based Learning).

The student “leaders” were told to retrieve their 10×10 inch erasable whiteboards and felt-tip black markers. The students were then instructed to write a paragraph using key words from the article. The group leaders led the activity but by using this method all the students in the group took part even if they were slow learners or had attitude problems. This peer-based learning is also progressive and is reflected in Dewey’s (1920) remark, “Learners should learn to work with others because learning in isolation separates the mind from action and certain abilities and skills can only be learned in a group setting. Dewey felt that social and intellectual interaction dissolves the artificial barriers of race and class by encouraging communication between various social groups (Dewey, 1920, as cited in Ornstein & Hunkins, 2012).

During this observation the teacher experienced several discipline episodes with the students. It was obvious that she knew her students’ well as she didn’t have to say a word before the student being disciplined was walking to a corner of the classroom for a time out. Several times during the day the teacher would take the offending student to the hall for about a thirty-second lecture. It is interesting to note that one of the male students who has had continual disciplinary issues has a 4.0 grade average thus indicating that behavioral issues are not always linked to scholarship. The teacher had complete control of her classroom which was no small feat considering the constant motion of this age group. This interaction between teacher and student reflects Essentialism as:

Essentialists believe that teachers should instill traditional virtues such as respect for authority, fidelity to duty, consideration for others and practicality. It is the teacher’s responsibility to keep order in the classroom. Howick continues that the teacher must interpret essentials of the learning process, take the leadership position and set the tone of the classroom. These needs require an educator who is academically well-qualified with an appreciation for learning and development. The teacher must control the students with distributions of rewards and penalties (Howick, 1971) (see: Innovative Classroom Management).

In engaging the students in critical thinking about the zoo article the teacher was coming from a

Perennialist point of view because this philosophy holds that, as Ornstein and Hunkins (2012) write, “students must learn to recognize controversy and disagreement in literature because they reflect real disagreements between persons. Students must think about the disagreements and reach a reasoned, defensible conclusion.”

The teacher then told the students to put their whiteboards away and get out their history folders. All of the student’s individual folders are kept under the work tables under the windows. One couldn’t get more Essentialist than by starting a count down from twenty every time the students are instructed to do an activity that requires physical movement. At this point the teacher told the students that it was time for a break and she put on a Rap dance video that showed people dancing around the world. Even this activity has roots in Reconstructionism because as Garter (1987); Hill (1989); and Nixon (1991) all found:

Contemporary Reconstructionist educators tend to be more in tune to global issues as part of the world social order. Reconstruction curriculum favors a “world” curriculum with emphasis on truth, brotherhood and social justice. It is opposed to narrow or parochial curriculum that deals only with local and community ideas and ideals. It insists upon multicultural education and it must include the actual facts of historical and contemporary life. Reconstructionists want teaching to be internationally oriented and humanitarian in their outlook (Garter, 1987; Hill, 1989; Nixon, 1991, as cited in Ornstein & Huskins, 2012, p. 45).

After switching group members the teacher had the students, in a subjective peer collaboration activity, paste the cut zoo article paragraphs in the order they should appear based on the information given in each paragraph. Again, Dewey (1916) would see this activity as progressive when he stated, “Students are encouraged to interact with one another and develop social virtues such as cooperation and tolerance for different points of view.”  In order to review this work the teacher put a completed text under the camera tube on her desk so the students could see the finished product on the T. V. monitor.

It was now 10:30 and the teacher moved on to a California history lesson. She showed a paragraph about people on the East coast buying tickets and taking a ship voyage to the 1850s California goal fields. After getting out a template map of North and South America from their history folders the students were instructed to draw an image of the paragraph narrative that was posted on the T. V. monitor. This activity reflects a component of Innovationism as the students were learning by integrating a literature lesson and a history lesson as illustrated in an art format. This pedagogical methodology is definitely a Progressivism tenant as Dewey and other progressivists held that the curriculum should be interdisciplinary and teachers should guide students in problem solving exercises and scientific projects. As Dewey (1916) writes:

Teachers should not be confined to focusing on one discrete discipline at a time but should introduce lessons that combine several different subjects. Dewey saw the teacher as the “leader of group activities” and allowed students to analyze and interpret data and to draw their own conclusions. Teachers should plan lessons that arouse curiosity and push students towards higher order thinking and knowledge construction. Teachers should not only emphasize drill and practice, but should expose learners to activities that relate to the real life situations of students, emphasizing learning by doing.

At 12:00 the students came back from their lunch break to start their math lessons. She started them off sing a rhyming tune to recite their multiplication tables. The students liked this activity and all join in. This is potentially an Innovationism tenant of learning because it was active entertainment, which in this case was music. The teacher then gave them a one page drill and practice multiplication table questionnaire. This was the only summative drill aspect observed by the researcher. As Adler (1982) noted (Essentialism’s) main focus is on achievement test scores as a means of evaluating progress.

The main math exercise was on fractions. The teacher drew two “cakes” on the erasable whiteboard. The student had to figure the total units needed if one cake was eaten by the teacher’s brother and one third of the remaining cake was eaten by the teacher. The student had to figure what percentage of the remaining cake would be needed to feed eight more people equal portions of cake. As the students drew the two cakes and divided the remaining two-thirds of a cake into eight pieces the teacher walked around the class room and, using her iPhone as a camera, she live-imaged a student’s whiteboard that had done the assignment correctly onto the T. V. monitor for all students to look at and emulate. This lesson pedagogy methodology used subjective Progressivism by utilizing the familiar symbol of a cake which, as a comfort food, relaxes people and makes the mind more susceptible to stimuli.

At 2:00 the teacher and students adjourned to the school gym for a school assembly. The purposed of the assembly was to honor students for their scholarship. Of the thirty-one students in the class twelve received awards for scholarship and merit. As noted above this activity of rewards is favored by the Essentialist and is grounded in the Essentialism support theory of Behaviorism (Skinner, 1968).

Every student in the class had their own Chromebook which they were allowed to take home at night. The one evidence of the Chromebook use by the researcher was when the students were given about twenty minute to work on an on-going essay project. As the teacher was stating that some days the class spends much of the day learning on their Chromebook, a student would show her their work on their Chromebook and the teacher would offer short comments either positively or negatively. A more in-depth observation of student use of Chromebooks is recommended in any future research.

The signs and art work posted on the classroom walls were divided between objective and subjective symbolism. The subjective symbolism consisted mainly of positive self-image messages. The teacher’s workstation was busy but neat, filled with personal photographs, multi-colored figurines and various teaching aids. The objective symbols related mostly to current lessons and student advancements, accomplishments and standings regarding learning activities. The classroom icons reflected the idea of Innovationism as the images showed a balance between the objective goals of Essentialism and the personal growth and self-esteem goals of Progressivism. Perennialism was reflected in the number of words each student has read since the beginning of the school year. The researcher saw no obvious links to Reconstructionism posted in the classroom as this particular education philosophy is found mostly in lessons on history and sociology.

In conclusion, this researcher recognized that the class structure showed elements of balance and blending reflecting all four education philosophies depending on the lesson or activity at hand. The students responded well to the inviting and secure environment created by the teacher. Technology in the classroom was very advanced and skillfully used by the teacher to motivate and engage the students. The researcher saw no evidence of student smartphones or other mobile devises. Elements of the Common Core Standards were the most evident pedagogical methodology employed by the teacher. Other than a reference to cause and effect in a literature analogy there was no evidence of the use of the scientific method of teaching and learning that is a tenant of Innovationism. This, however, may only be due to the fact that no science lessons were presented on the day of the observation. No textbooks were observed as the curriculum for all lessons was a combination of individual essays, graphs, worksheets and templets.