Our Transforming Classroom

Last Friday, Doug Peterson featured Peter Cameron‘s “Transformed Classroom” in his This Week In Ontario Edublogs post. Peter’s initial blog post and Doug’s post highlighting it, led to the creation of an #ourlearningspace challenge. Doug recently tagged me to participate in the challenge. How could I resist?! For the past couple of days, I’ve been determined to videotape our classroom space when I arrive in the morning, but somehow, I never quite make it to this item on my To Do List. This evening I was doing some thinking, and I thought that being a bit of an “educational troublemaker,” maybe I could break the rules just a tad. You see, possibly my greatest learning from our transformed classroom is that it’s constantly transforming

Just before school started this year, my teaching partner, Paula, and I recorded this video tour of our classroom space.

There are still elements of our room that have stayed the same, but with the help of the students, many other elements have changed.

    • Our Lego table remained as one, until fewer students took an interest in Lego. Many more students demonstrated an interest in creating, so often this larger table is used for various creation options. Covering it in brown paper allows students to draw and write right on the table. Students have already created the landscapes for Toronto and New York City. Their prior knowledge about these locations is amazing! We realized that pulling the table slightly out from the wall allows more students to gather around it, and this often becomes a quiet, popular area for them to work. Sometimes we add a small chair or little bench near this table to hold various supplies, such as recyclable items for building.

    • We still have the lamp near the bigger table and another lamp over in dramatic play. The use of the lamps plus the natural light from outside allow us to turn on fewer overhead lights. The brightness from the lights can be dysregulating for some students (and adults). These brighter and darker areas in the classroom also become great micro-environments that can meet different needs of different students at different times of the day.
    • The snack table remained. We rarely sit down to eat as a full class. Students eat when they’re hungry. They’re responsible for eating twice a day: once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Paula is incredible at keeping track of this eating — with the help of the students — and reminding those students that need it, that they have to eat. Most students are great at this now and can listen to their bodies: determining when they need to take a break and eat. Not only is this area great for self-regulation, but usually eating is a quieter option. With 33 students in the class, having six students almost always sitting down to eat, usually brings down the classroom noise level. This benefits all learners: educators and children.

    • The sand table is not always a sand table, but the table itself, remained. Sensory play can be a great self-regulation option for many students, and we find that at different times of the day, children flock to this area. Many children seem to like water the most and soapy water is their favourite. Water beads are another popular option, and the addition of some scoops and pails, allow for great math connections. Loose parts added to a sensory bin often results in math talk as well. We frequently talk to the students about what they want in this area, and sometimes they even co-create the space with us (e.g., a few students decided to add paint with shaving cream to create art in the sensory bin — they not only put out the supplies, but instructed students on how to use them and supported students with their use).

  • The bead table is not always for beads, but beads always make an appearance in the classroom. Our students have recently taken to the use of iron beads, and while these little beads may be the bane of my existence — the big mess on the floor always stresses me out — they are an incredibly popular option that help many students self-regulate. The oral language and math skills that come out of these beads continue to amaze me. Students regularly create incredible works of art with just some small beads. I’m learning to breathe through the mess. 🙂 

  • We still have an easel, but it’s changed locations slightly. The easel is now closer to the Book Nook area. We found that painting was very calming for many students, and having this painting option in a quiet area seems to work for students that need this quiet to think and create. We also add a little piece of paper towel to the easel. Students learned that Van Gogh used to wipe his brush, and the colours naturally blended into each other. Now they “paint like Van Gogh,” and we get a lot less water on the floor. Sometimes we use water colours at the creative table and this provides a slightly different painting option. 
  • The Book Nook area is in the same space, but many components changed. We noticed that no matter how we used the light table many students did not use it when in this location. We moved it into our dramatic play area, and now students tend to bring more items over to it and use it in conjunction with the items in the dramatic play space. The pillows that we both love became very problematic. They take up a lot of space between the Book Nook area and the carpet, and when all of our students gather together, they become more troublesome than useful. We put away many pillows, and we tend to bring them out with the students when needed. Children often take the cushions off of the sofa and the chair to act as pillows when they want them. Sometimes things that look pretty are not always successful. We also added some “adult colouring books” and some larger puzzles to this space. These options are great for self-regulation for many students, and it’s wonderful to see students self-selecting them as needed.

    • Our carpet area is more open now. The pillows and the bench made the area look cozy, but there was not enough space for all students to comfortably join our morning meetings. We’ve recently moved the bigger bench off the carpet and along one of the edges. Our V.I.P.s (Very Important People), sit here each day, and they enjoy this special seating.
    • Dramatic play continues to evolve. It started as a house, turned into a restaurant with the help of the students, and is now slowly becoming a recycling centre, based on the children’s current interest in the environment. We figured out that we had way too many items in this area to start the year, so we reduced the amount, and the materials seem to be used more purposefully. 

    • Our drawing and writing table became a lot bigger. By moving the light table into the dramatic play area, we could move the half table from dramatic play and connect it with the smaller writing table. We shifted the shelf a bit, and now we have a full table in this space. Students are so interested in drawing and writing, and this table is often over-full. The children showed us that they needed a bigger writing space, and they helped us move the furniture around to make that happen. 

  • The shelves stayed the same. We don’t have many shelves in the room, but the ones that we have, continue to hold similar items in a similar space (some building materials changed and we added some extra art supplies too). Not only do these shelves help make materials accessible to students, but they also act as small barriers that define spaces in the room. Along with lighting, this also helps in creating the micro-environments that we mentioned earlier. 

You’ll notice that while we have technology in the classroom — including a SMART Board and iPads — they’re not necessarily an important part of our learning environment. (I never thought that I’d say this before and I’m actually struggling with writing it down.) The technology though is used primarily to capture learning (through documentation done in conjunction with the students) or inspire learning (e.g., a video provocation). Our youngest learners definitely seem to benefit from the face-to-face interactions and problem solving skills that happen without a screen. This doesn’t mean that we don’t use technology with them (e.g., we use it to further investigate areas of interest), but we’re very purposeful about when, why, and how much of it we use, and this can vary according to the child, the day, and his/her needs. 

The Reggio Approach often talks about “the environment as the third teacher“: creating a space that’s truly responsive to the needs and interests of the students. Maybe one day I’ll manage to record our classroom, but I have no doubt that it will continue to “transform” from there. What about your room? I hope that you’ll share your transformations. I think that we can learn a lot from each other.


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