What does a modern classroom look like?

A hallmark of the modern classroom is that it reflects its students. So, no two classrooms are exactly the same. But modern classrooms do share common features. Understanding these features is important for two reasons: they help you visualize what modern learning looks like with students day to day, and they help you develop a roadmap to shift learning in your school or district.

There are dozens of resources about classroom practices look like. Many are excellent, but it can be overwhelming to try and make sense of them all. So, here they are boiled down to make them as simple and accessible as possible. The chart below describes classroom features in the categories of culture, structure, and pedagogy.

Culture Learning The culture is very much centered on learning. Everyone understands errors are part of learning. Students and adults are not afraid to take risks. Reflection is a common practice. Learning is celebrated.

Students have deep relationships with their teachers and peers. Students’ identities are known, respected, and celebrated.


Students and teachers work together to set goals and monitor learning. Learning is social, collaborative, and community-connected.

Structure Clear learning targets

Every student in the class understands the learning target they are working on and knows what it looks like to be proficient.

Strategic grouping

Students work in multiple configurations: independently, small groups, and as a whole. Groupings are homo- or heterogeneous depending on the task and student needs. Tracking is avoided.

Purposeful use of time

Time supports learning. Students can access more time when they need it and move forward when they are ready. Careful attention is paid to each student’s pace and progress. When students lag, more attention is paid to helping them reflect on the building blocks of learning, habits of success, and providing more instructional support.

Pedagogy Agency Students are coached in the building blocks of learning and have opportunity to practice making decisions about their learning. Sometimes this is called ‘voice and choice’. They pursue learning that has personal meaning and have some control over their learning.
Higher order thinking

Students engage with essential knowledge and build essential skills. They develop habits of rigorous thinking and work. Each student is engaged at a level of challenge appropriate to them.

Multiple modalities Students have a variety of options for accessing, engaging, and expressing learning. They can access a variety of resources to meet their needs, including but not limited to technology.
Assessment for learning

Students get regular feedback on their learning from teachers, from peers, and through self-reflection. Students and teachers use this data on an ongoing basis to adapt what they do and improve.

Questions to Consider

  • In what ways do classrooms in your school or district reflect these features? How did you get here? How can you build on these strengths?
  • In what ways do classrooms in your school or district differ from these features? Why might differences exist? What might it look like to change?
  • How do culture, structure, and pedagogy fit together? What connections do you see between the individual features of a modern classroom?
  • Select a feature from each category. Think about the identities, assets, and needs of your students. What might these features look like in practice in your school or district?
  • What new knowledge and skill will teachers need to begin making these shifts? What new skills will students need? Families?


Videos are very helpful to understand different aspects of modern learning. As you watch them, think about which of the six features of modern classrooms are being highlighted. Also think about when and how they are using technology to support learning.