Pictures will come in part 2. Here, I’m going to be talking about the pedagogy I’ve been exploring as I’ve been setting up my classroom.
First, let me start by saying that we still have 2 solid weeks before school starts. The last time I had my classroom set up this early was the year that I got married (tomorrow’s our anniversary), and I didn’t want to worry about school stuff on our honeymoon.
Now let’s get into the down and dirty of classroom setup. I didn’t totally hate how I had things set up last year. I was planning on moving my guided reading station and my classroom library (in order to expand storage for both). My focus in terms of professional development is ELA, so expanding the physical footprint for ELA related spaces was a pretty natural step.
And then I read this. I was really challenged by this question: “What if we completely emptied our classrooms and created a new environment that felt inviting, comfortable, and highlighted all of the things we feel are key to student success?”
How much of my classroom setup is because I’ve always had it that way. Because “this is how we’ve always done it”. And that because just isn’t good enough for me.
So I imagined a space for my students. I thought about (and researched) what would help them learn. I took what’s worked in the past and I kept it. The stuff that didn’t work, I got rid of.
Things that worked in the past:
- Students working in pairs and/or groups of three: Very small groups allow for collaboration without needing a lot of management on my part to ensure the students don’t end up arguing over things.
- Students working on the ledge by the window: This is weird, but my students really loved working here, probably because of how the sun beat down on the backs, and were generally very productive here.
- Content Wall: This was created way too late in the school year, but was very helpful once it was up. You can learn more about it here.
- Graphic Organizers: Again, something discovered way too late in the school year, but helpful nonetheless. Here’s more information about them.
Things that didn’t work in the past:
- Large Groups of Students: This is really a personal preference of mine, or perhaps a weakness in classroom management, but I just can’t handle larger groups of kids (4+). Somehow, they always end up turning into arguments or other off-task behavior. Since I spend time with small groups whenever I’m not teaching whole group, I just don’t have time or ability to manage these better. Towards the end of last year, we developed a very strict policy of no more than 3 in a group, and it worked well.
- Anchor Charts: We created a lot of extremely helpful anchor charts last year, but then I had no real way to display them.
- Lack of Access to Manipulatives: Philosophically, I’ve always believed students should have access to manipulatives, but I’ve never been able to figure out how to manage this.
- Crowded Classroom: My students and I both do best when we have plenty of space to move. This is hugely important on those awful indoor recess days. But it’s also important so that students can freely move around the room throughout the day. But fitting 20+ student desks, two small group tables for me and an interventionist to work with students at, and a whole group carpet area into a classroom is no easy task.
And then I read what other people had to say. I read about how important standing can be on student attention. I read about how flexible classrooms can meet the needs of all learners.
And then I started planning. Here’s what I wanted in terms of groupings:
- Students working independently
- Students working in small groups (2 or 3)
- 2 teachers to pulling groups (up to 6 students) simultaneously
Here’s what I wanted in terms of spaces:
- Floor space
- Window space (remember that ledge from before?)
- Standing space
- More traditional desk/table space
- More relaxed seating options (couch, chair, beanbag, etc.)
So I started fitting my resources into this. I had desks and tables. I had the window space. I also have a wonderful classroom carpet. The standing space was a bit trickier, and absent a whole lot of money that I don’t have, I figured something out. I have a bookshelf that is right about the right size for my students to stand and work at. The last item on the list I considered to be optional. A great plus, if I couldn’t manage it, but we would all survive without it.
But one thing I had to let go of is a 1:1 student to desk ratio, because I just couldn’t have all these things and the space that I want. I want students to feel like they can move around the classroom without feeling like they have to stay at their desk.
My original plan was to get rid of all the desks and replace with tables. While I think this would have looked better when you walked in the room, it didn’t work for functional reasons. I had a plan to spread out the students on these tables and at the computer desks in my classroom come testing time, but then I found out they changed the requirements in our state for standardized testing, so the desks had to stay.
In the end, this worked better, because it let me create groups of a variety of size. 1 group large enough for our interventionist to pull a group of up to 6 students. And then a lot of smaller groups of 3 desks. This actually fits with the original design a lot better.
Some desks are not going to be used except for standardized testing. These got pushed up against the wall and will be used for storage, giving us more space in the classroom. In fact, it gave so much more space, that I became a bit more ambitious when it came to that last line item. I ended up pulling an old college rug down from the attic. Then my husband had an old coffee table that I made over with just a few cans of spray paint. And I thrifted a couch for the classroom.
So get ready… I’ve got just a few more details to get in place before I show you how it turned out. Get ready!