Teaching With Intention - Chapter 1

"If I were to ask you to close your eyes and envision the perfect classroom scene, what would you see?" This is how the book, Teaching With Intention, by Debbie Miller begins. 

This reminded me of a question that used to always be asked in teacher interviews (maybe it still is?) - "What is your ideal classroom like?" As a new teacher some 20 years ago, I always had the most detailed ideas of how to answer this. Bright light, colorful posters and charts everywhere, students working around tables instead of desks, a carpeted area for us to meet together, a fully stocked classroom library... etc.

Within a few years of beginning my teaching career, I realized the real question should have been, "How will you take a small, dark corner classroom, with mismatched tables and chairs, old furniture and no budget and make it into your ideal room?"  You see, the answer to the "ideal classroom" question has nothing to do with how the classroom looks, and everything to do with how it FEELS and WORKS.  With the explosion of Pinterest, blogs and Teachers Pay Teachers (all tremendous resources!), it's easy to lose sight of the fact that while a classroom can look perfect, it doesn't mean that what happens in that room on a daily basis is ideal.

I am excited to join The Kindergarten Smorgasboard for what I now will be a fantastic book study this summer.  This book has been on my wishlist at Amazon for a while now, and I'm so glad I'm joining with everyone to share my thoughts - and hear everyone else's!

Can you believe over 600 bloggers have signed up to participate??!! I was planning on signing up at the start, but all that school stuff got in my way, so now I'll just link up each week. So now - on to chapter 1, hosted by  Stephany at Primary Possibilities, Jessica at Mrs. Plemons' Kindergarten and Keri at Enchanted Kinder Garden.

As soon as I read the first sentence of this book, I started scribbling my thoughts. Much of what I was thinking was in response to the question posed at the very beginning of chapter 1.

I admit. I have been teaching for a while... what seems like a loooong while, when you put a number to it. But every year I make changes in my classroom to help it get closer to my "ideal" vision. I want my classroom to be a place where students are engaged and focused all the time, where my kiddos take ownership of decisions, where everyone's opinion is valued and discussion is encouraged.  I am a big believer in tables, instead of desks... they encourage conversation and cooperation... and I want that conversation to be student-led.  A central meeting area (I have two!) is important.  Students need a place to come together as a group. 
Organization is also key! I love the saying "A place for everything and everything in its place." The only time things get messy and unkempt are when items do not have a home.  My own house may not be that organized, but you can bet my classroom is! I have found that thinking about classroom organization from a student point of view helps things run smoother. I make sure student materials are stored in easy to reach spots. Since I have tables and not desks, buckets and bins are around the room to hold what we need - and all are labeled for easy clean-up and storage.  This not only helps students put things away, but also allows them to find what they need more easily.

In my ideal classroom, students are engaged and are responsible for their learning.  Cooperative learning, group discussions, student choice and ownership would be key.  Students are working on curriculum with choices. My role as the teacher would be to guide students through their learning journey.  I have definitely gotten there is some ways.  I have some work to do in others.

If you walked into my classroom on any given day, the first thing you would notice is movement - and hum of activity. Students would be working all over the classroom, in areas that they chose as a good spot for this particular activity.  Some would be working in groups, some in partners and some independently.  Students might all be working on the same task, or different ones.  But everyone is usually engaged.  I work hard at the beginning of the year (and throughout the year!) to teach, model and encourage ways to have positive discussions.  Discussion stems are posted around the room and you can hear students using them as they speak.  My room is definitely not quiet - and you may not see me right away.  I am usually working with a group of student, or one single student, somewhere in the room - but I am always aware of what my other students are doing. There is a great deal of student choice in my room - activities, work spots, etc.
Organization is another area I've got covered! While I'm always looking for new ways to organize things, there is no doubt that when you walk into my room you see an organized classroom!

I have to be honest. The idea of giving up control and allowing students make major decisions about their learning is hard for me.  Don't get me wrong - I am proud to say that my style of teaching really encourages all the things I talked about in my ideal classroom, but I still have a ways to go in this area. My students definitely have choice and ownership in the process, but I'm hoping by the end of this book study I can let go a little bit more. I would really like to implement more of a workshop approach in my reading and/or writing.

I also struggle with having TOO much on display.  There are times when the walls and every available space are COVERED with evidence of our learning - anchor charts, posters, student work, etc.  And I worry that it is too much.  I need to find a happy place between visual overload and bare walls.

Needless to say, if chapter 1 already has me thinking so much about how I can improve my classroom, I can't wait to see what chapter 2 has in store! 

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