My Perfect Classroom (by David Deubelbeiss)

boy-on-laptop“The problem with our profession is that there is too much teaching and not enough learning”.

I said this recently during a discussion and I think it is such an important point to understand about “teaching” a language – that we have to get away from delivery systems that are teacher directed and more towards models where students are self-paced, self-motivated and learning independently.  The future IS learning not teaching.

English Language Teaching has been progressing towards an understanding of this. CLT (communicative language teaching), PBI (project based instruction), TBI (task based instruction), collaborative learning and other approaches have made big inroads into traditional teaching models. But they’ve been baby steps. The emperor still believes he / she wears clothes and won’t “give up the ghost” and stop swinging the baton. It IS all and too much, about control.

I’m not going to belabor the point nor expound on my own beliefs about why  self directed learning  is the future of language instruction and learning (given the access to curriculum technology gives us). No. Let me be down to earth and simply describe my “perfect classroom”. This will give you an idea of what I mean by SDL – self directed learning and giving students increasing choice and independence over what and how they will learn.

My Perfect Classroom.

It looks like this.


The class starts without any teacher talk nor any teachn’ and preachn’.  Students walk into the classroom, sign in and head towards their assigned computer. They glance at the whiteboard for the assignment of the day.

The students work with a headset to produce language, finish projects, practice vocabulary word banks using quizzes/flashcards.  The activities are leveled and self-paced. Low level students work with the right content – higher level students can challenge themselves. They help each other through English only chat or directly in the class. They are the experts.

The teacher sits in the middle, coffee and tea at hand. With a ring of the bell – she calls for a group to come meet.  The teacher practices conversation with the students, using the target language and grammar for the week. She tests the students on the language they’ve been learning. He assesses their needs in a small group and gets valuable feedback about the activities. After 5-10 minutes, it is time for the next group.

The last 15 minutes of class, students get the choice to work on a variety of online activities. Games, songs, blogging, chatting, watching videos – all accessible as provided by the teacher.

The class doesn’t really end.  The teacher flicks the lights and the students log off and walk out of the class.  They can go online anytime and do the same activities and access the same content. The teacher can download a nice handy log with graphs of student progress and especially time spent on task/activity.

The teacher feels refreshed. He gets another cup of coffee. She skips into the staff room among her weary colleagues.


That’s my perfect classroom. However, it actually did happen and I actually did teach like that! It isn’t pie in the sky.  Moreover, it all worked like that described. The trouble-making boys became engrossed learners. The unmotivated high level students became engaged and ignited. I, the teacher, felt invigorated after a day teaching, not weighed down and kaput.  It was like Sugata Mitra recently quipped, “When the students are motivated, the learning just happens.”

But we all can do similar things and take steps towards getting to true self directed learning.  It isn’t so difficult and in fact it is what YOU as a teacher are doing right now, right this minute.

It can begin with the simple step of deciding it should be so…..

Let’s hear your stories and struggles to be a SDL teacher.  We can all learn from them.

Interested in SDL with your students? You might start with these excellent sites – Young Learners: Mingoville Teens/Adults: English Central (sign up as a teacher).   Flashcards: EFL Classroom 2.0 Quizlet sets


Note: This article by David Deubelbeiss originally appeared on Teaching Village, and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.

You may also like...

14 Responses

  1. Barbara says:

    What a lovely image you share, David! It reminds me a bit (with my low-tech background) of the learning centers I used to have. Students worked independently on several tasks while I worked with smaller groups. To observers, it looked like the teacher had very little to do with the wonderful class dynamic. However, I also remember the hours (and hours) of preparation that went into creating a classroom that “ran itself” 🙂

    Does using technology for the self-directed learning decrease your preparation time, or is it about the same (or more)?

    Thanks for providing such an excellent and attainable goal!

  2. Glad I saw this RT.

    I’ve been in similar classrooms, and it was always a pleasure to hear the ‘buzz’ of learning, and yet sit back and enjoy a sip of green tea.

    Always a devil’s advocate… but doesn’t it seem a bit lonely? Each little child off in their corner? 🙂

    @barbara I always found class preparation demanding when creating any lesson… but the thing is once you prepare and hone that lesson, it’s just sitting there in your pot of golden ideas!

  3. Some very interesting ideas on running a classroom here. A nice mix of self-study, group learning and social interaction – which should give students a good all-round skill-set to prepare them for later life.

  4. David says:

    Barb –

    I should have made the point that you also DON”T NEED TECHNOLOGY. Like you said and I’ve done in the past – station teaching is a great approach. Create activity stations (to sub for computers) , put Ss in groups and they rotate through the stations. Also, they track what they’ve practiced and rate (I used a smiley face system) on their tracking sheet. Teacher does the same thing, monitoring and small group conversation/assessment/interaction.

    Barb – I don’t think you can use prep time to compare models. Teachers will always prep more or less depending on their abilities/experience and many other factors – in both models. I even hesitate to say it takes more initial prep. You’d think so but I also think in a teacher directed classroom, the teacher should be preparing a lot – long term and short term. So I really think we should not use prep time to compare, it muddles the water…

    Brad – like Jeremy Harmer is so fond of saying – it is all HOW you do it, not the What. This can be as social as any learning model. And it doesn’t have to be just sdl. You can have other traditional classes scheduled. But I’m a big one for pushing the notion that we want our children to grow into creative, happy ADULTS. Adults is the key word. And if we put them in classrooms amongst 20-30 other kids – we are only teaching them to be kids/youth. That’s the main reason home schooled kids turn out so smart. It’s their socialization that matters, not what they learned/didn’t learn.

    I hope more schools begin this type of model and I’ll be promoting it as much as I can. Technology allows this to be much easier to set up and “do”.

    Appreciate all the comments! If anyone has had similar kinds of classes, would love to hear from them.

    • Great reply.

      I love the idea ‘not the what but the how’ and use a similar metaphor often, ‘not the gun, but the person behind it who is dangerous’.

      Interesting idea of aiming for ‘happy adults’ and how the homeschool effect impacts those learners.

      As always, a pleasure exploring education with you, David. Cheers

  5. Charo says:

    It look like my perfect classroom too, I wish I had such a computer lab at my school.
    Thank you for Mingovelle’s address.
    I’ll try this kind of class although my students will have to work in pairs.

    Thanks for this great article, David

  6. David says:


    Pairs work great – just got to be sensitive to who works with who or even have a rotating schedule.

    I think the key thing is the horseshoe shape of the lab and the table(s) for discussion/teaching in the middle.

    Mingoville is great but it does take get sluggish if your computers aren’t high performance. EnglishCentral on the other hand, works remarkably well all the time and that’s something I value about it.

    Thanks for dropping by!

  7. I really believe in SDL, and students taking ownership of their own learning. In this way students become much more effective learners and feel a greater responsibility over their progress.


  8. David says:

    Yes Jon it works but isn’t it so hard for most of us to “take our hands off the steering wheel”?

  9. what a great description!
    I’m partially there, still a lot of room for improvement.
    You can achieve the goal without having a lot of computers (we have one!). tracking systems, very clear activities and class rules are vital. Lots and lots of variety, material for many levels and support systems.
    Not easy but, as you say, worth striving for!
    Thanks for a post which is so relevant for me!

  10. David says:

    Hi Naomi,

    Glad you see the merits and worth of this model (and like anything, only if done well – as you note).

    I really believe in a “social” classroom for language but unfortunately we are confronted with many realities that aren’t truly addressed by those espousing a classroom full of students all speaking English, engaged, cooperating etc… This model solves these and increases student time on task and engagement. It puts learning first. And teachers can still give students quality “communication” time in the middle, in their small group. The problems with many of our current classrooms, I’d label as:

    1. multi level classrooms (how to differentiate)
    2. differing student interests/likes (how to find a middle ground and motivate all students with the topic)
    3. classroom environments not conducive to communication. Desks, no room, bad acoustics, etc…
    4. fractured class communities. Students take “subjects”, they don’t know each other well. Language classes often a low priority.
    5. Digital learners, demanding we use technology.
    6. Unmotivated students in language – classrooms divorced from reality/life.
    7. Use of books that get outdated the moment you use them
    8. inadequate teacher training, high teacher turnover with low levels of experience.

    I could go on. What I seek is a way to best use the time of the student. This blended independent learning with small group study is my attempt.


  1. February 25, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Aniya, Shelly S Terrell, Tamas Lorincz, ozsolmaz, Cambridge Univ Press and others. Cambridge Univ Press said: I love the class setting, a lot of potential! RT @davedodgson: My Perfect Classroom (by David Deubelbeiss) cc @barbsaka […]

  2. March 10, 2011

    […] When I teach curriculum development courses – I drill into my students the importance of having an “enacted curriculum”. Not one set in stone as the textbook pretends. One with a plan but a plan that you can alter and shift. It has to be so. If your students don’t know many basic verbs – you can’t march on through a unit on modals! But teachers do, believe me, they do…..  Let’s be honest and try to make the classroom an organic place where the teacher is contantly assessing student’s needs and adjusting for their levels and differing learning styles. One size won’t fit all.  These issues are in part why I’m such a big fan of SDL, self directed learning. […]

  3. November 16, 2011

    […] I originally published this in Barbara Sakamoto’s wonderful blog – Teaching Village. I revive it hear because I think its message is pertinent and important. […]