I know that George Couros (@gcouros) and Karen Lirenman (@lirenmanlearns) have both tweeted and blogged on looking at the why of what we do. This week I have definitely done just that! I spent the week in my new Grade 6 classroom getting ready for the start of school on Tuesday. Starting a new grade has given me a great reason to step back and think about what I want to do and why I want to do it.
So here’s a look at my classroom over the course of the week, and the whys behind the decisions that I made:
1) This is my before shot. When I walked in the room on Monday morning, and saw the pile of furniture at the door, I knew that I needed to get the desks organized. I needed to see the big picture.
I decided to put the desks into three large groups. I need at least 30 desks, and I know that all of these big desks and chairs are going to take over the majority of the classroom. I believe in collaboration though, and I want to create the opportunity for students to talk and support each other. I need groups for this! While groups of 10 are large, if needed for specific activities, the groups can always be split apart.
2) I moved the guided reading table over into the back left-hand corner of the classroom, but slanted, so that it looks over the whole classroom. I want a quiet area to work with small groups of students, and moving away from both the door and the moveable wall to my teaching partner’s class next door, will help with this. That being said, I want to be able to see what all students are doing, and this area lets me have the quiet, but also the view of the entire room.
3) I created a bank of computers on the wall overlooking the library. I chose this area because my teaching partner has her bank of computers on this same wall in her adjoining room, so when we open up the moveable wall, students can easily collaborate together, even between the classrooms.
I also chose this location because this is where the Internet chord is located. Yes, you can sometimes get it moved, but it’s not an easy thing to do. It made sense to look at these details when figuring out where things were going.
4) I made a Word Work and reading area at the side of the room near the moveable wall. I chose this area because it was removed from the groups of desks, so I thought that it would be a quieter place for the students to work. I wanted to create a comfy area where students will want to go and learn. Even as an adult, I don’t like to spend my entire day sitting at a desk, and I’m guessing that students feel the same way. Having a variety of furniture that allows students to have some options in their learning space is something that I think is important. Once the students come into the classroom, they can make this area their own, and I’m sure that it will change with student input: something that I definitely want to happen.
5) At the front of the room, I organized the classroom library. All of the bins are labelled, and the books in each bin have the corresponding label. Yes, I got some chuckles from friends with some of my groupings, such as Books About People or Animals, but I kept these open-ended categories for two reasons:
- general categories allowed me to have fewer categories. I figured the less sorting options, the higher the chance that the books would be sorted correctly. Classroom organization is important to me, as it helps students take responsibility for the classroom. I hope that with this system, the books will still be sorted correctly at the end of the year.
- our first science unit is on Biodiversity, and classification is a large part of this unit. Michelle Fawcett (@michellefawcett), a fantastic Grade 5/6 teacher at a neighbouring school, shared some ways that she introduces this unit. Her suggestions helped me think that students could further classify the books, and then connect to further classifying animals and plants as well. Thanks for the inspiration, Michelle!
6) This final decision made me think the most: I put a Thinking Book on each student’s desk. It’s not the decision to use the Thinking Books that’s had me thinking so much, but it’s the decision to put the names on the books, and hence, assign the desks. Many people have questioned my decision to do this. They said that Grade 6 students are older, and they need to learn to pick a good place to sit. If they can’t choose a good spot, then explain that they will be moved.
I understand this rationale, but here is why I made the choice that I did:
- I know that if a student needs to move, it’s not going to be as easy as moving just one student. At least one more student is going to need to move to accommodate for this change, and this does not seem fair either.
- I know that students are going to have lots of opportunities to pick where to sit and whom to work with, so my decision to assign desks, does not mean that I am taking away all decision making in the classroom. I want students to have this independence. I am just trying a gradual release of responsibility model.
- Students have various academic and social needs, and pairing the students as I did, allows me to meet these different needs and ensure that all students meet with success. I am in a unique position here: this group of Grade 6′s is actually my first group of JK students at the school. Some of the students I taught in JK and SK. I have continued to interact with them throughout their school years. Other students I worked with through Reading Buddies and other school programs. I think there’s only three students in my class that I have not worked with at one point or another. So even when I created groups, I did so knowing the students well.
- Groupings are only temporary. I am happy to change groups around throughout the year, and I am even happy to let students choose their spots as the year goes on. I want to ensure that they can all make these good choices though. This takes time.
And so as I left the classroom today, here is what I saw:
a wonderful room that is ready for students to make it their own. I can’t wait until Tuesday.
How did you organize your classroom? Why did you make the decisions that you did? I would love to hear your thoughts!