Always A Purpose

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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚ 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!


18 thoughts on “Always A Purpose

  1. Hi Aviva!

    I absolutely loved this post, as you went through your thoughts about classroom organisation…I loved the video, as we can see how nicely you have arranged everything in the room – the things can also be moved and I like that! I love what you wrote above the pillows and on the classroom door.

    I so wish I could be in your class for a day – who knows, maybe some day I can come and see the great things you will be doing with the kids!

    Have a great new school year!

    Best wishes,

    • Thank you so much for the comment, Vicky! You’re so sweet. I’m thrilled that you loved the set-up so much, and I would love for you to see it in person one day.

      Wishing you a fantastic school year as well!

  2. I absolutely love your blog and your most recent posts on Inquiry. In fact, I have structured my classroom for gr 8 in a similar way with a huge carpet filled with pillows & a bean bag chair too to immerse one’s self in reading or collaborating. I am fortunate to have a huge classroom, having just left a puny portable! I’m looking forward to seeing how your lessons on inquiry work. I continue to find inspiration from other teachers! Enjoy your first day!

    • Thank you so much for the comment, Amy! Your classroom sounds amazing. Do you have any photographs? I hope that you’ll share how things go for you this year as well. It’s great to hear that this focus on inquiry is moving up from the younger grades into the older grades. I’m looking forward to a fantastic year!

      I hope that you have a wonderful school year as well!

  3. I don’t usually comment on my own posts, but my thinking is changing tonight. I just read Aaron Puley’s comment on Adele Stanfield’s blog, and I re-read Kristi’s comment as well – I’m struggling. I believe in my reasoning behind assigning spots, but if I really do want students to pick their own spots (both for full class lessons as well as for student work), then I need to scaffold this learning for them. I really like Adele’s Success Criteria idea, and I want to create this with my students as well.

    As we work on creating this Success Criteria, I think that I need to let the students know that I want them to always choose where they sit and how they learn best. At this time, I could tell them that if my seating arrangement doesn’t work for them, then they can change it. We can look at changes together, and the students can also look at arranging changes with their peers. Then we can continue to revisit the Success Criteria throughout the year to help students continually reflect on their choices. Could this be a compromise? Could it work?

    I need to think about this more, but I’d welcome any input that you have too! Thank you, Adele, Aaron, and Kristi, for helping me re-look at this seating dilemma again!


    • It’s great that you’re being so open-minded about your struggle. And I like that you’re struggling–it means you’re out of your comfort zone. This is where we really learn! My thinking is that you have to do what you think is best for you and your students–if that means a seating arrangement with flexibility, then that’s okay. Just consider your students’ needs and personalities, and it sounds like you already do. For me, the bigger picture is that we want students to learn how to make good choices so they can do it on their own. This may come in the form of how they present a culminating task or in the form of choosing their workspace. And, finally, maybe ask yourself this: what is the harm in trying it?
      Adele πŸ™‚

      • Thanks Adele! I really am struggling with this, and I think that I will move to this “full choice” of seating a lot quicker than I thought I would. Before I make this change, I need to address the needs of one of my students. You helped me with a few options in your reply to my comment on your blog post, and I think that I know now what I need to do. I’m going to work on this. I’m also going to use your Success Criteria idea because this will help all students make seating and working choices throughout the year. The truth is that the students are rarely ever all sitting at their desks anyway, so maybe I don’t need to be quite as concerned as I thought I did.

        Thanks again for the great dialogue!

  4. Providing students opportunities for voice and choice are encouraged throughout our education system…it is at the root of D.I., inquiry, self regulation, not to mention all over Growing Success principles. But it has never meant voice and choice without teacher support and direction. Letting students try things out is great – they will learn what works and doesn’t work for then…sometimes the hard way. But, teachers often know what will enhance learning and success and need to offer suggestions, direct teaching, and even set some hard rules. I think you will ultimately need a bit of both – particularly in this split grade class, there are times you’ll have to put parameters on seating arrangements. And when students repeatedly make bad choices you will have to step in and help them rethink that too. Providing everyone a voice includes you – the experienced, knowledgable educator in the room who often does know what is best for your students. As is true so often, finding the balance will be key. You and your students will figure it out!

    • Kristi and Adele, I really appreciate both of your comments, and it was actually reading them together, that I couldn’t help but think about Barnes’ ROLE REVERSAL again. Remember Adele when we both questioned saying that there are “no rules” in the class? I think that it comes down a little bit to this same problem again. It’s hard to say that because there do need to be some rules, and sometimes students need more support than others. All students are different too, so maybe this also comes down to a differentiated approach.

      While there are elements of inquiry that are new to me, giving students choice is something that I’ve done for a while now. Adele, your Success Criteria idea is not something that I’ve necessarily done with this choice, and this is a change that I want to make. Hopefully the use of this criteria will help students make good choices, but likely some students will need more support than others. So maybe this is such a hard decision for me to make because there isn’t an easy answer. I guess that I need to see how things go on Tuesday and then adjust accordingly. I’m definitely excited about the possibilities!


  5. What great back and forth is going on here. I was thinking of you, Aviva, as I was setting up my room, as well as thinking of the video we both watched this summer. I wanted to have more movement through my room, but I also wanted to create specific areas on focus.

    I’ve never had desks in my room, because I’m a Core French teacher, and the approach I use suggests that during full-class instruction, the kids are in chairs, or even sitting on the floor – I have tables we pull out for group spaces, or students are welcome to pull their chairs up to one of many work surfaces in the room (I have a lot of long counters)….I’m on the hunt right now for high-school style chairs (with the desk on the arm) that could be easily grouped into chunks as work areas.

    I’ve largely left bulletin boards blank as well, to allow for some collaborative stuff…inspired very much by a friend, who’s got some interesting tasks for her 7/8’s that change every two weeks (song, quote, accomplishment, website, Youtube video etc) – allowing some real exploration and inquiry to take place.

    Will try and get some pictures up….on my new blog, which will debut soon, I hope.

    Working with the challenges of welcoming 6 different groups into my classroom each day, and how that changes what things look like.

    • Thanks for the comment, Lisa! I’d love to see some photographs when you have them ready. Please tweet me a link to your new blog as well — I’m excited to see it!

      I really like the idea of the common meeting area. I’m hoping to have students regroup their chairs into a large circle around the outskirts of the room (or even two smaller circles in between tables), so that we can have a real “inquiry circle” environment. We’ll see how things go!

      Isn’t it exciting to set-up a room and try something new? Have a great year!


  6. Hi Aviva,

    I’ve been following this discussion over the past few days as I’ve been setting up my own classroom. There has been a lot of great discussion and some great ideas popping up and being shared.

    As we know with our students “one size/approach” does not “fit” all.

    In light of that, I have made changes to how I organized my classroom this year and pushed myself to change how I structured things taking into consideration the needs of my learners. Sadly, I forgot to take pictures when I left today. However, I chose to focus on three things.

    1) I did decide to provide group, individual and pair seating arrangements. I’m curious to see how students make the choices for themselves, and then see how that compares to how they feel they learn best (i.e., independently, with others etc.). My seating plans/arrangements have never been static, but this does allow for much more flexibility and I think I like it.

    2) Clutter. I am notorious for clutter. This year, I managed to let go of three pieces of furniture for my classroom and my desk is nearly empty on top. A video I watched (thanks to Andrew Campbell for posting) has me setting a goal to have its surface turned into a white board by December. No, I’m not ready to give up my desk yet. Baby steps πŸ™‚

    3) Empty bulletin boards. I’m not sure that this was a conscious decision in retrospect. Often, I have boards labeled by subject/class/content etc. I like the idea of talking to the students about where we should post items and how they should be displayed. That sense of ownership appeals to me and usually appeals to the students in our school.


    • Thanks for chiming in on this discussion, Michelle! I love how you’re trying some new things this year, and I’m curious to hear how they go.

      1) Your diverse seating arrangements sound neat. How are you going to get students to choose seats? What happens if they make a bad choice? Will they always get to choose their own seat? I’m just trying to figure out logistics.

      2) Your desk plan sounds neat! I haven’t had a desk for over 10 years now. I’m terrible with piles of paper, so I avoid this by not having a desk. Small steps are good though.

      3) I love how you’re leaving the bulletin boards empty. It’s great when students can take ownership over this.

      I hope that you can post some pictures when you have them!


  7. Great post Aviva! What I love most is that you are designing your room with the varying needs of your students at the forefront. I also love that you are so flexible, and anticipate changes as the year unfolds and the needs and likes of your students become more evident and change. Bravo!

    Thinking about your locker/storage dilemma: One of my colleagues who has tables only (no desks) has a bin for each of his students in which to keep supplies. All of the bins are stored neatly on a shelf. Students can access the bins when needed. Works like a charm!

    I have noticed a great trend in classroom design at my school this fall (myself included): minimal and natural tones/material where possible and flexible spaces. Love where this year is headed!

    • Thanks for the comment, Val! I don’t think that I’ve ever had a year where I haven’t made some classroom design changes, but that’s all part of the fun. Students also add their own stamp on the classroom, and I think this is important too.

      Thanks for your bucket suggestion. I actually considered this, but my problem right now is a lack of shelf space. πŸ™‚ I do have some if some students need this option, and if more do, I may just need to reorganize the shelves. Buckets can work wonders!

      It’s great to hear how the teachers at your school have been re-considering classroom design. I’m curious to hear about the impact for kids.

      Have a fantastic year!

  8. Great video Aviva! I’m such a visual person so this really helped me to understand how you set your room up and how I might incorporate some of these ideas. Thanks so much for your willingness to share!

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