Changing the Classroom Environment

Posted on December 28, 2011. Filed under: educational, Kindergarten, personal, reflection, teaching and learning | Tags: , , , |

As I grow as a teacher, I am learning what I like and what I don’t, what works and what doesn’t. One thing that I have always valued is the classroom environment. I care what it looks like, how things are organized and how the children work and play throughout the classroom environment.

When I taught kindergarten last year, I switched up the environment and the learning centers about once a month.

This was a nice change every month, but it was a lot of work moving furniture and replacing the old with the new every month. I learned some very valuable things when I was doing this. I learned that with the young grades, as much as possible, you want them facing away from the door. When they are facing the door, I find that they get way more distracted with what’s going on in the hall, or if an adult comes into the classroom, I have lost their attention. Understanding this has led me to use my classroom furniture wisely. I now try and enclose the carpet area so the children have stuff behind them and around them if possible. I leave a small bookshelf or area where I can see the door just in case I need to make eye contact with an adult in the room without disrupting my lesson. This has worked, and parents have dropped off lunches or brought a warmer jacket for their kid, without the students even turning around.

Now that I am teaching grade one and two, I had to decide how I was going to structure my classroom, and in turn, my teaching. I decided that for the first half of the year I was going to teach from the carpet, and have tables where the children could go do their work.

I really do love this approach because I find that children are way more likely to be engaged when they don’t have pencils, erasers, paper or desks in front of them to distract them while I am teaching. Heck, I remember myself, the keener, playing in my desk some days with scissors, or drawing faces on my eraser. I wanted to eliminate the possibility of unneeded distraction, and have all the children’s hands and eyes in my sight.

When my carpet lesson is over, their bodies get a break as they walk to the tables to do their work;

I find this one thing very important as that walking time is a much needed brain break for some of my students. The teaching from the carpet approach also worked well for the grade ones coming right out of Kindergarten. They would be used to carpet teaching, and definitely not be used to a desk. Having the two work areas was very successful because with the split grade I often needed one group to go work at the tables, while I did a hands on activity with the other grade. Because the furniture encloses the carpet,

the carpet students were not distracted by the quiet talking at the tables, and vice versa. To me, this sure beats having desks in rows where the teacher is trying to teach math to one grade while the other grade is expected to work independently on their work. When I was growing up, my struggle with this approach was that when I was supposed to be working independently, I was listening to the teacher teach the other grade their lesson.
On the other hand, I struggle with the notion that in half a year, I will be passing these students off to the next teacher who will most likely have desks in rows. Am I debilitating them from being able to concentrate and learn from a teacher who teaches from the front of the room while the students sit in desks for the entire day? Will my students be able to sit in a desk for the majority of the day and take in everything they are supposed to? As much as I don’t really “believe” in desks, I also know that as a teacher, my job is to teach, but also prepare my students to learn; so I have decided to switch my classroom around at Christmas and I have reversed where the carpet and the tables were. I used to have the carpet in front of the smart board, and that’s where I did all my teaching. I now have moved the tables in front of the smartboard, and come January, I am going to try to spend some of my time teaching while the students are sitting at tables facing the smartboard. I hope this prepares them a little bit more for the learning styles they will face later on, while still not giving up the way I teach best.
The poor teachers that will have my students next year are already going to hate me, because while my students are at their tables, I don’t really care if they talk. I want them collaborating, and learning how to work together while also working on their own. This has already caused some problems for specialist teachers who come into my room. Their expectation is that the children will sit quietly at their tables and do their work. This is rarely my expectation, and so there is a little bit of a disconnect there. Either way, I want to prepare my students to learn. That means that while they are in my classroom, they will be learning through collaboration, they will be taught concepts on the carpet, and they will be practicing those concepts together at the tables. I hope and pray that I am not screwing them over for the next year, and that their new way of thinking and learning will go with them as they continue on in their grade levels.

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5 Responses to “Changing the Classroom Environment”

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Fabulous post. You’re right on so many levels about collaboration and classroom environment.

This year I made the switch with junior high math from rows and columns to collaborative groups. What a difference! My students collaborate to grade and correct their papers — I don’t let them ask me for help unless the problem stumps the whole group. My students collaborate on certain quizzes and on in-class activities based on lesson content. It’s been a marvelous year so far and my students are achieving much more than they did with last year’s “sage on the stage” approach.

Don’t worry about next year’s teachers. If they come to you with questions or criticism, tell them that you believe in inspiring collaboration and team-oriented problem-solving skills. Toss them a copy of a Bob Marzano methods book or refer them to a web site about best practices, because you’re doing it correctly and your colleagues need to emulate you. When they say that they need order and discipline to teach, agree with them, because you’ve got order and discipline in your room, too. Obviously, don’t get into arguments with them — but don’t change. You’re doing what the kids need.

It’s not your job to get your students ready to go back in the box when you’ve done such a beautiful job of getting them out!

I really enjoyed your post. Keep sharing!

http://mikepoliquin.com

I liked reading this Danielle. It is interesting how everyone has a different approach to teaching – yet we all have the same goals. I am with you in terms of kids talking. I have my kids sit in pairs or pods all year. Or like a weird U shape thing that seems to work for my classroom. As you move into the older grades, having a learning spot would be difficult just because of room.
I think it’s so important for kids to learn to work together.
You’re right about the distraction of the door though! Oh the joys.
Don’t say the teachers of the kids next year will hate you. You are doing an incredible job teaching your students and raising up little leaders. Well done Mrs. Maley!!!!

I don’t think you are ‘screwing them up’ at all!
I think you are teaching them to be flexible and also allowing them to work together and learn from one another. Being flexible is key in all they we go, you are helping them in more ways then you will realize right now. That’s my belief anyway!
I also teach grade two and do the majority of my concept teaching at my carpet/smart board area and then from there we move to our tables to collaborate and further our knowledge of the concept. Having them talk and problem solve together is such an important skill!

Thanks for sharing, it’s nice to hear from others going through the same learning process as myself!

Danielle, I subbed in your room earlier this year and found that your structure was awesome! The kids were super engaged and I am also a teacher who doesn’t mind hearing the chatter of collaboration! They will be exposed to a number of teaching styles over the years and while it might be different for them in future years, they are lucky to be exposed to your style now!

[…] are back into the swing of things! We have a new set up in our classroom, and the kids are […]


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