That Voice In My Head

This is my fourteenth year teaching and my fourth year teaching Grade 1. I’ve spent many last weeks of August setting up classrooms, but I’ve never spent as much time deliberating over decisions as I did this year. Our Board’s Calm, Alert, and Learning Book Club really changed things for me. Around mid-way through the year last year, I read Stuart Shanker‘s book, and I had a completely different understanding of self-regulation.

When I thought of the ideas in his book and all of the wonderful ideas shared by the Reggio-inspired Kindergarten and Grade 1 teachers on Twitter, I envisioned something very different for Grade 1. Our classroom is currently like a self-regulation/inquiry zone that I’m sure will only further develop as the students add their own touch. Here is what I saw and thought thanks to my many online inspirations.

  • I saw the value in keeping the plain cork — the neutral tones — on the bulletin boards.
  • I saw the value in trying to keep as many neutral colours as possible in the classroom. Some of the furniture that I found was only available in certain colours, but I tried to have those colours “pop” against the more neutral shades.
  • I saw the value in blank boards — soon to be areas for showcasing student work and documentation of student learning.
  • I saw the value in creating zones in the classroom, with lots of space for movement and quiet areas for students that need it.
  • I saw the value in wicker and clear bins, and while most of the bins I could find were coloured buckets, I tried to carefully consider colour choices. As the year goes on, I hope to replace the plastic with the wicker and clear bin options.
  • I saw the value of bringing nature into the classroom to inspire wonder. While I’m worried about the life expectancy of my plants (I’m an even worse gardener than a parker), I’m going to try hard to keep them alive. One of the Grade 1 Science units is on living things, and I think that these plants could provide a full-year provocation for this unit.
  • I saw the value in loose parts. From rocks to buttons to gems, I tried to add clear containers of loose parts to the math and art areas to inspire creation, counting, sorting, patterning, and measurement. 
  • I saw the value in real-world math, even in Grade 1 — thanks to my previous vice principal, Kristi, for this — and these bins of books provide the first provocation for some sorting. 
  • I saw the value in adding books and writing materials all over the room to hopefully inspire reading and writing even when doing Math, Science, and The Arts. 
  • I saw the value in play. We have lots of open-ended blocks of time for students to explore literacy and math, and I’m hoping for lots of hands-on, small group learning that will have even our youngest learners thinking and sharing lots.

Yes, my provocations are and will continue to be largely connected to curriculum areas. Yes, I plan on having a word wall. Yes, I plan on doing guided reading. Yes, I plan on doing shared reading texts, and directly teaching decoding strategies that I know all of my students need. And while I have these plans, I’ve thought about what educators have shared on Twitter, and I’ve thought about how I may address these “plans” in a play/inquiry-based environment.

  • Some of these plans may just be for small groups of students and some may be for the whole class.
  • Sometimes the areas where I plan to work may change depending on student needs and classroom activities.
  • Sometimes the best laid plans are worth changing as my own learning evolves, and I have no doubt that this will happen this year.

This year’s classroom set-up though has shown me the value in life-long learning, and that sometimes, even when people aren’t there, they can still remain as voices in our head. What “voices” are in your head as you set-up your classroom? What impact have these voices had on your classroom design? Here’s to all of the wonderful “voices” that continue to make me better at what I do!


16 thoughts on “That Voice In My Head

  1. I’m so glad to read this today ! Thank you! I’ve been rethinking my classroom set up (fingers crossed to begin soon) and planning for the year with my grade 1/2 class. I am recently very much inspired by Reggio philosophies and teaching inquiry through play. I am thinking through many of the same things as you re guided reading and such.

    I’m looking forward to hearing more about your experiences.

    • Thanks for the comment, Lora! I’m sure that I’ll continue to make changes once I meet the students and they have their “voice” in the classroom. I love that you’re considering similar ideas for your 1/2 class. There is a group of Grade 1 teachers on Twitter — many of whom taught FDK last year — that are contemplating these changes. Maybe we can all share our ideas and learn from each other.

      I’d love to know how things go with you!

  2. Funny, as today iI was leaving the school walked across the hall and admired next door Gr 1 Room who also is all Reggio Philosophy. Love the set up of your room and the choice of space. Wishing you the best and looking forward to reading about your learning with the 1st Graders. I will share your video with my colleagues. The voices I hear from as I set up the Gr 5 & 6 classroom, fun, different and change as I hope to surprize the students with different team furniture set up.

    • Thanks for the comment, Rola, and for sharing the video! I love the fact that the Grade 1 teacher at your school is Reggio-inspired as well. Is he/she on Twitter? I’d love to see some classroom pictures. I’ve learned so much by looking at the photographs of other rooms. I hope that you share some pictures of your transformed space. We can learn a lot from each other by hearing the thinking behind the choices that we make.


    • Thanks for the comment, Sue! Hopefully there’s a YouTube video on plant care. This sounds like a great first inquiry, and it even ties to the Grade 1 Science unit on living things. If I taught the students plant care, I’d worry about the life span of the plants. 🙂

      Have a great first week back!

  3. I really love the video! I think this is great to share with parents and students before school starts to help with some of the nerves that may come with starting grade one. I have not heard of Reggio prior to reading your blog post and now I doing a little research on my own. I am interested to see how the year and your room progresses. Hopefully you share more pictures to keep us updated.
    Looks great. I still love the wicker chairs!

    • Thanks for the comment, Maria! If you’re interested in learning more about Reggio, I would definitely check out the #ReggioPLC on Twitter. They share lots of wonderful ideas that have gotten me thinking. I certainly plan on sharing how the room evolves once the students come and add their own “voice” to it. I’d love to hear about the thinking behind your room choices. It’s great when we can all share and learn together!


      P.S. I still love the wicker chairs too. I can’t wait to hear what the students think!

  4. Great post, Aviva. It is great to be able to tease out the voices in your head and write them down. It’s an excellent way to process your thoughts allowing you to truly embrace what you’re feeling. Though I teach older grades, your focus on allowing all parts of the classroom to facilitate your students’ self-expression resonates with me. It causes me to ask: what does that look like in high school? Really appreciate your “welcome video” as well. Great visual way to get your students to see how they can fit into the community. 

    • Thanks for the comment, Sean! It’s funny that you should mention teaching older grades, as last year I taught Grade 5 and considered many of the same thoughts when planning. The work in classroom definitely looked different than I would expect it to look this year, but the philosophy was still the same. I’d love to hear more about what you choose to do and why. It’s great to hear the thinking behind the choices that we make.


  5. Hi Aviva,

    I really enjoyed your classroom tour. I know that your students are in for a wonderful year!

    Have you shared this video with parents? Will they be watching it with their children before the first day back next week?

    I can tell how much thought you have put into your plans for the year and I so look forward to following your journey.

    I continue to spend time thinking about learning spaces and I loved your perspective on why you’ve set up the room the way you have. I was especially interested in the move away from coloured baskets and bins to those that are clear or wicker. I’m also inspired by your Wonder Window and your idea to have books all over the place in your classroom.

    The voices in my head while setting up my classroom are similar to yours in many ways. I tried to keep things fairly simple this year. Lots of blank space on the walls for students to personalize the room. We start the year with “Flair” and students bring in an item to leave in the classroom that represents them and helps them feel like they’re home when they’re here. I do love bright colours and a non-institutional feel, so I put cheap plastic table cloths on the tables. I did this last year too and they were destroyed fairly quickly, but I think it’s still a fun, welcoming way to start the year. It kind of looks like a party!

    • Thanks for your comment, Shauna! I actually put the video on our class blog and emailed the link to parents so that they can watch it with their child before school starts. I don’t know if everyone will have a chance to do so, but I’m hoping that most people will, and then this will help alleviate some “new class jitters.” I’ve made similar videos before and they’ve worked out well. I’m curious to hear what the students and parents think of this one this year.

      Thanks for sharing some of the thinking behind the choices you made in your classroom. I find it very interesting to hear why people make the choices that they do, and how these choices change once the students arrive. Maybe we can all blog about some of these changes once the school year starts. Have a great year!


  6. Great post, Aviva! I appreciate the summary of aspects of the classroom to see value in. I decided to leave one of my four bulletin boards blank to start the year, for the precise reason you mention – to be able to fill it with student work and contributions to class life. It’s driving me nuts to have a blank wall, but I know it will be filled soon enough. I have a couple of spider plants too… I’m not sure they’re growing, but at least they’re still green!!

    I’ve kept my classroom (high school science lab) similar to last year’s set up, since it worked pretty well. Perhaps the biggest influence on my classroom from this past year has been the trend toward group learning (I clustered tables together and eliminated rows & columns) BUT remembering to keep quiet, non-group spaces aside for introverted students or those who prefer to work alone or in a more quiet setting. Best of luck as you start the new year – your classroom looks great!

    • Thanks for the comment and for explaining more about your classroom set-up! It’s interesting to hear how things work in high school. I’d love to know if you change anything once the students arrive and why.

      Have a great start to the school year as well, Heather!

  7. Hi Aviva,
    I love how you are documenting your learning and how you are making changes to reflect this. I also appreciate how you are aware that despite new practices or new ideas, you will also continue those practices that you feel will be effective to the learning of your students. I hear all of the voices that you listen to and are learning from through social media. I have those in my head too, from #geniushour to #sbgchat to #pbl chats, there are so many amazing educators out there! We have so much to teach each other. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks for the comment, Elisa! You’re right: there are definitely a lot of great voices out there. I think the key is seeing our students, being aware of their needs, & looking at what we can do to best support them. How are the “voices in your head” impacting on your teaching practices? I’d love to hear more!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *