Teaching With Intention ~ Ch. 3 Environment

Being out of school means that I can start to seriously get into this book study.  This week's chapter was a favorite of mine - classroom environment and layout!

Right at the beginning, Debbie Miller states, "When things are going awry for teachers, things are probably not going so well for kids either!" Ain't that the truth! She suggests looking at your room and thinking about three things: (1) areas you like, (2) things you don't like, and (3) your vision for how you would like your room to look - both from your perspective and a student's perspective.
Your classroom layout needs to reflect things that you value as a teacher - and those things should be easily apparent when someone walks in your room.

One of the biggest things that is important to me is a central meeting area where we all fit comfortably.  My rug area is bordered by a wall and 2 shelving units - which not only gives definition to the space, but also gives students a comfortable place to rest their backs. (This picture is from before the beginning of school last year - just keeping it real!)

This is an area I love!  We spend a great deal of time here during the day, sharing ideas, reading books, discussing math strategies, etc.  We start the day with Morning Meeting and end the day with Closing Circle.  My SmartBoard is right there, as is my whiteboard.  The shelving units hold materials we use often, such as unifix cubes, namecards, markers, post its, etc.

Another part of the classroom Debbie talks about is the library - I love the idea of my WHOLE classroom looking like a library, not just one space.  I have books out everywhere, arranged and organized for different purposes.

This year I switched my student book organization from levels to genres and themes.  I was inspired by a quote from somewhere that talked about students needing to learn to choose their own books - no one goes into the library or on to Amazon and says, "Where are the books in the yellow boxes? Or the level 24 books?" This idea really resonated with me there is definitely evidence of it in my classroom.

The books on the black shelves are sorted by author, theme, series... etc.  I always make sure there are a variety of different "levels" in each box, if possible.  I also have books related to current themes (fall, landforms, etc.) on a wooden display and in colored book bins on the shelves.  Books we've shared together as a class (read alouds, mini lessons, etc.) are usually lined up on the ledge of the whiteboard.

Another belief that is important to me - that you see in my classroom layout - is allowing students choice about where they sit, and in the importance of collaboration.  I have 3 bigger tables that seat 6 each in the middle of my room.  Yes, we have assigned seats, but believe me, we're usually spread around the room. I have smaller tables, a couple desks, camp chairs . . .  choice is important and students feel comfortable working in different places depending on the task.  Collaborative discussions require groups to sit together, while independent work needs more privacy.

These three areas are definite "likes" in my room.  But I also needed to reflect on areas I do not like. My biggest issue is my lack of student work and anchor charts on the walls.  I could say that I do not have a ton of wall space, or that the fire marshal disapproves of covering the walls with student work... but in reality, I have to work with what I am given.  Debbie calls it getting into "acceptance mode."  So true!

So how can I change things? I have a bulletin board near our meeting area that right now holds our calendar, birthday names and a couple posters.  (I can't find a picture of this area itself, but you can sort of see it in the above picture on the right - see the blue fabric board?) I do not use this as my calendar area.  I have about 10 slides we do each morning on the SmartBoard that I use to review and practice calendar, math and LA skills.  I'm thinking about Debbie's quote: "Everything on the walls should be purposeful and authentic." I could move the calendar to another place in the room and use that space for anchor charts.  It's not big, but it's a start. And I really need to find one of those old metal chart stands - that way we can hang the current charts and put the older ones on the chart stand for students to refer to as needed. The white board that spans pretty much the entire back of my room could also be put to better use.

One of the final things I took away from this chapter was the idea that "Classroom environments are organic - they grow as we do."  I love that!  If we want students to feel invested in their learning, then they need to have a say in how things are organized.  I've always found that I never really know what each class needs until we've been together for a few weeks.  One year, collaborative space is a necessity... others year my kiddos crave having a space of their own... It takes time for us to get to know each other and how things will work in the classroom before we make the room ours for the year. And things will change as the year progresses!

This chapter has really gotten me to reflect on how everything in my classroom is set up.  I've realized that some things are where they are just because that's how they've always been! It's time to relook at my classroom layout and make sure each area, each space... is a reflection of my beliefs.  It's exciting!

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