Controlled Chaos in the Classroom

Dec 19, 2023

There are times you might look into a classroom and think it's just pure chaos, but it's actually controlled chaos. Meaning, the teacher is striking that fine balance between order and spontaneity. It might be loud, a little messy, sometimes a bit hectic, but this is by design. The teacher knows that what is happening is leading to more engagement and deeper learning.


When I used to teach World War I with high school freshmen, I would show up to school dressed as a World War I captain and announce that for class that day, we would engage in trench warfare. We'd study diagrams of how trenches were set up and then put our desks sideways and hold a battle, throwing paper balls, of course. At times I would pause the battle and share some history; we'd have a Christmas Armistice where the battle would stop, and they would write letters home. 

Afterwards, we'd have a big discussion about it all, and students would write about the experience. The World War I day was unanimously one of the favorite days of the year.

The Purpose of Controlled Chaos 

If you were visiting my class the days we did trench warfare, you might think, "Oh, they were just having fun." Correct, they were having fun, and it was a little chaotic, but they were also learning, and we were forming a tighter classroom community, which, of course, led to deeper learning when we weren't having grand simulations.

The notion that a quiet classroom is an effective classroom is not always correct. In fact, sometimes it's just plain wrong. Sometimes learning is messy. Class discussions are loud. Student collaboration can be a little hectic. Teachers can be funny, and kids' laughter can be heard from the hallway.

Sometimes classrooms can be a little chaotic. 

Not always, but sometimes. And this doesn’t always reflect well on a teacher evaluation or from the perspective of a passerby in the hallway. But it does in the way students engage. The trick is finding balance between order and spontaneity.

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