I’ve been thinking about what my classroom should look like since long before I knew where I was going to be teaching in September. Helping teachers rethink learning environments was part of my previous role, so I’ve done loads of learning about this area. But reading and viewing and listening to others talking about how their learning environment works isn’t the same as doing it yourself!
So far, I’ve done a lot of thinking about what I want to happen in the space. What do I want teaching and learning to look like? What do I want students doing? Whose space is it, anyways? Based on all of this mulling I’ve landed on a few priorities.
I want my students to talk more than I do
Thinking about my own teaching past, I know that this needs to be front and centre. I need to talk less. I need my students to speak and listen to each other. So the first, non-negotiable thing I need to do is deliberately remove the “front” of the classroom. My hope is that by making “whole group instruction” less convenient it will be difficult for me to fall into the trap of teacher-stands-at-front-and-talks. This is the single biggest deliberate change I want to make, so everything else stems from that.
I want my students to collaborate with each other
As far as physical environment goes, this one is easy. I have tables rather than desks in my room, so students are automatically sitting in groups. While helping kids effectively collaborate certainly isn’t easy, at least the barrier of getting them to sit together in a way that allows for collaboration has been removed.
I want my students to be comfortable
Flexible seating is all the rage. While I’m not sure I need my classroom design to be based on a coffee house, I certainly don’t want my students to be uncomfortable while they work. Right now, the furniture that I have doesn’t lend itself well to varying heights, so I’m having to make do with what I have. I’m bringing in a couple of directors chairs to see how students like those, and I have some cushy rugs for students to pull out to make sitting on the floor more comfortable. I figure that once I have kids in my room we can work together to figure out what seating options they would like to investigate. For now, “flexible” for me just means that students are free to move around the space and sit wherever or however works best for their learning.
I want my students to create
Having students create – in lots of different ways – is really important to me. I have lots of supplies and will embed lots of activities for physical “making” of things, and students will have access to those materials in the cupboards that line an entire wall of my room. But media creation is also really important to me, and I want a visual signal that our classroom is a space where that happens. I’ve decided to hang a green screen on one wall, and this will be where a couple of Director’s chairs and our iPad stand will live. While green-screening won’t be how we create all of (or even the majority of) our media, I like the visible reminder and the easy access to this tool. It will, of course, be hung on hooks so we can remove it when we want to do something else with that space or use the green screen in another part of the room or building.
I want my students to read
Reading is incredibly important to me as an educator. When students come to middle school, many of them don’t identify themselves as a reader. My hope is to change that during the school year. While I know that “they haven’t found the right book yet” isn’t the entire answer (thanks Pernille Ripp for your thoughtful post about that idea), I do think it’s step one. So I’m working on building a classroom library to give students the best possible shot at falling in love with reading. So my 1:1 iPad classroom with Spheros and Cubelets and Dash and Dot robots will also have books everywhere, and students will be given lots of time to engage in reading.
My classroom has lots of great qualities. I have a giant whiteboard and a SmartBoard. I have a wall of cupboards that provide lots of storage so the room doesn’t look cluttered. I have a sink! I have a wall of windows that looks out onto the tree-filled front lawn of the school. I’m at an end of the hallway that leads to the gym and two outside exits, so there’s lots of space for my students to spread out into those alternate spaces without being disruptive to other classes.
There are a few not-so-great things. Those green chalkboards are non-magnetic. There are only two (each about two feet wide) bulletin boards that are accessible without a ladder. I’m trying to figure out how I can add a bulletin board overtop of one of the green chalkboard sections without “altering the fabric of the building”. If you have ideas, please throw them out there!
The Design (in progress)
Starting in the top left corner, there is a built-in glass-doored cabinet. Right now I have all my teacher books stored in there. Moving right across that wall in yellow is the tiny bulletin board (I’ll probably cover that with rolled cork so it’s neutral but still useable). Then the white board. Next is the green screen/filming area. Obviously students will be able to move the iPad stand to other places, but it can “live” there when not in use. And then you see another tiny bulletin board by the door. The long grey box on the right side is cupboards and a countertop. You’ll see in orange it says “Collabo. Monitor”. I am going to have an unused computer screen set up with a connector for iPad so students can share their work with a small group or collaborate about a media project more easily. If it works, I’ll likely add a second one. In a perfect world, these would be on the tables, but power supply makes that an issue. I figure students can either stand, pull up chairs, or move a table to that spot. The bottom wall is windows. The grey box in the centre is our heating unit. The two yellow rectangles are book shelves (I need a couple more of these!) I’m hoping to have a carpet here but I need to check in with my Principal to make sure that’s ok before I spend the money. The blue rectangle in that corner is just a small table. I’m leaving it there for a couple reasons. First, I need a place for the classroom sound system and to place a laptop when it’s connected to the SmartBoard. I figured I can also display books there. And kids could bring pillows/carpets under the table to sit on if they’d like to sit in a little cave. Then of course I have the SmartBoard and all the non-magnetic chalkboard space. In the diagram the tables are labelled with the number of students that I think could comfortably work there. I have a few more spots than my current class list of 27 students. Obviously the tables can be moved around as needed, but they have to start somewhere!
What I Like
I like that students will always be sitting in groups and looking at other students by default. Some students will always have their back to the whiteboard or the SmartBoard. In other words, moving to whole group instruction requires a change in position. It is not the default. I’m hoping that this little cue helps me to keep my goal of not being the one doing all the talking.
I’m able to get into the room next week to start setting up. I suspect it’ll change dramatically once I see everything in the space, but I wanted to put my initial ideas down somewhere so I can see how they evolve over time.
That’s it for now. If anyone out there is actually reading this, feel free to question and challenge – it’s a work in progress!