I always get really excited the week before school starts. It’s great to walk into a nice, clean classroom (thanks so much to our wonderful caretakers for this) and start fresh. I love moving furniture around, sorting through supplies, and helping to create a start to our fantastic environment for the year.
This summer, I did a lot of reading on inquiry and how it could work well in the classroom. I blogged about many of my thoughts here and here, and I took time since writing these blog posts to think about how I could help make inquiry work for my students. A special thank you to my amazing PLN that pushed my thinking thanks to their comments and questions on these posts, on posts of their own, and on Twitter. It was due to these questions and comments that I made the decisions that I did.
Here is a video tour of our Grade 5/6 class.
Now that you’ve seen what the room looks like, let me explain some of my decisions:
1) Sharing large desks. When I went into the school on Monday, I didn’t intend to do this, but sometimes the class environment itself pushes you in a way that you didn’t seriously consider before. As I brought my first load of materials up to our new classroom, I noticed that I had 15 desks in the middle of the floor. This concerned me because I have 27 students. 🙂 Then I thought of a comment that Mary K. Goindi left me on one of my blog posts this summer:
Maybe I didn’t need one desk for each student. I started playing around with designs. I loved how fewer desks meant more space. Students need space. They can then work alone or in groups, and work in an environment that works best for them: be it on a pillow in the middle of the floor, on the sofa, at a table alone, or at desks with others. The possibilities are endless!
Each student needs a spot to sit if I’m teaching a lesson, but I tend to spend more time facilitating small groups and working with individuals than teaching at the front anyway. With our new inquiry focus, I see this happening more and more. Even with sharing desks, students each have a spot to sit for these lessons, and they can then move themselves around for any work time.
2) I assigned spots for whole group lessons. You’ll see that there are sticky notes on each of the tables. I struggled with this decision, and even commented on Adele Stanfield‘s blog post, as she made a different choice. There are a couple of different reasons that I made this decision:
- I teach a split grade, and perception matters. Students want to sit with their age appropriate peers (in most cases). I wanted to ensure that this happened. By assigning spots, I could group the Grade 5’s with the Grade 5’s and the Grade 6’s with the Grade 6’s.
- I’m fortunate in that I’ve taught many of my students at least one year before, and some for three years already, so I know about their peer connections, their strengths, and their needs. As I said in the video, these desk assignments are only “temporary resting spots,” but I want to ensure that for full class lessons, students are sitting where they can listen and participate well. I helped with this … for now. Throughout the year, students will be learning more about how to make these good decisions for themselves, and then I expect that they will make all of their own seating options.
3) Students will not keep their supplies in the classroom. All of the students have lockers, and I actually went and took a photograph of one of the lockers today. On Tuesday, we’ll use this photograph and work together to figure out how students can store their notebooks and supplies in their locker (for easy access). This year is going to be all about collaboration and creative problem solving, and what better way to start than with a real class problem? We’re going to share all of the possibilities, and come up with different options that locker partners can work on together. In the spirit of differentiation, I do have some cupboard space and bucket options for students that struggle with organizing a locker. I’m okay with this other option too, as throughout the year, we can work together to gradually change from in-class storage to locker storage. We’ll meet this goal together!
4) Providing lots of alternative seating options. I think that learning should be fun, and for me, it’s hard to have fun sitting at a desk. Sometimes I want to sit on the floor and read a book, or work together on a project on the sofa, or pull up a chair and work on the computer. With less desks and more space, all of these options are now possible. Thanks to a generous classroom donation from Iris Duemm of a body pillow and a beanbag chair, we have even more seating options in the classroom! I hope that the students appreciate my sense of humour and the little note that I put above the collection of pillows: to please take “me” and find a comfortable spot to learn — Love, The Pillows. 🙂 I hope that the students do listen to the pillows though, and create this comfortable environment where they can work and learn together.
5) Leaving the bulletin boards blank. This classroom belongs to us, and I think that we should create it together. Thanks to my wonderful friend and fellow Grade 6 teacher, Gina Bucciacchio, the bulletin boards are covered (I don’t do heights :)), but that’s it. I want us to add content to these boards together, and figure out how best to display student work. Then we can all take ownership over the classroom.
6) Lots of colour-coding. I don’t know how well this came through in the video, but I really relied on colour-coding this year. Not only do the Grade 5’s and 6’s have different coloured notebooks, but question prompts, resources, classroom activities, and inquiry projects are all colour-coded, so that the Grade 5’s and 6’s can meet their own curriculum expectations and easily find the resources that they need to do so.
Is every decision that I made, the perfect one? Maybe or maybe not. But was there a purpose for each decision? Yes! Teaching is all about students, and I really tried to make my decisions around what’s best for the students. What do you think of my choices? What would you add? What would you change? What decisions did you make when designing your classroom? I would love to hear your thoughts!