Monday, January 16, 2012

Week 2, Question 1 - Chapter 3- Dave Harmon

Environment, Environment, Environment.

Well, let me first say, welcome to the book study. I know you've heard that already, but I haven't had the chance to say so in this particular book. Special welcomes go out to Delaware City Schools employees and Buckeye Valley Local Schools employees. As always, we hope you find this to be an interesting, convenient, and most importantly, valuable way of doing a book study.

Chapter 3 was about the classroom environment, something that is near and dear to me for a few reasons, those of you who know me well, know that my office is not the most organized place in the world, so this chapter served as a bit of a wake up call for me, and I hope (when I go in in the morning) will provide me with a kick in the butt to work on that...maybe some of your North Union Elementary folks can hold me to that... :-)
The second reason that this chapter hit home for me is probably the same that it did for some of you. I got to thinking about how I had organized my classrooms when I was teaching. Some of what Debbie Miller suggested in chapter 3, I'm sure I could have benefited from had I had someone take my hand the way she did with Katy when she was a first year teacher. What a blessing it would have been to have someone like that in your classroom to help you figure it out. It fits nicely with what we try to talk about somewhat regularly...use each other as resources, both for instructional content and delivery ideas, but also it may be nice just to ask someone, "Hey, do you think this is the best way to organize the physical space?" and other questions like that, all the while knowing that they aren't going to judge you. True effective coaching can't happen unless you are able to let go of the idea that you are being judged. The coach/friend/teacher next door/etc is only there to help you get better. That's it. Nothing more.

I wanted to point out a few things that seem very simple, but they sort of jumped out at me when I was reading. As is often the case, the best advice doesn't always have to be the most prolific. Sometimes simplicity is best, most accurate, and most applicable. Page 32 - Meeting spaces aren't necessarily only for primary classrooms. There is power in bringing the kids together to talk and discuss and share thinking. Page 33 - "Working independently doesn't always mean working in isolation." More and more, we are going to being asked to foster collaboration skills and problem solving within our students (21st century skills, anyone?). We have to give them places that they can do those things. Page 39 - Are the things on your walls "purposeful and authentic?" What do you see when you stand in your door way? Do you want to go in, or do you want to run and hide? If you want to go run and hide, What is one thing that you think you could change that would leave you feeling like your classroom is closer to the environment that you want it to be? What signals does you room send to you? What signals do you want it to send to the kids?
Final question/prompt/thought for the week:
Name some ways you've involved students in organization of the classroom (or ways/things you think you might like to try.) How does your classroom environment talk to those who enter it? What does it say about what you value and expect to happen in there? Give specific answers such as, "There are 3 beanbag chairs in the reading corner because I want the kids to _________"

Have a great week everyone.


  1. Name some ways you've involved students in organization of the classroom (or ways/things you think you might like to try.)
    I have not included my students in the process of organizing the classroom this year. I don’t know if I just assumed “they are in kindergarten, what will they organize”. After reading the chapter, I really see the value and importance of including the students. I love to have an organized classroom before the day/week/year starts. I think it will be hard to give up the reigns on this aspect of teaching. I will use some ideas that the book mentioned. For instance, having the students help with their own organization. It is making them more independent but also focusing on the classroom as a whole. I think I would also talk to the students about their ability to work in small groups (for desk arrangements). I know that for some students it is difficult to stay focused, and they know that too. I think including them on the arrangement process may help. Ultimately, you are the teacher and may have to say no to some ideas, but they may think of something entirely different. I want to get my students to help me organize our library to make it more efficient. Right now, they seem to just quickly put their book back on the shelf, without regard to its placement or such. I found a GREAT blog after I started teaching Kindergarten and the writer/teacher has a labeled room but it is mostly empty. After the students talk about glue and how to use it properly, glue is added into the classroom. (She continues to use this method throughout the year.) This helps the students be involved in the organization inadvertently. I hope to use this process in the future (especially in a kindergarten classroom) –Her Blog is: and could be used for many grade levels!--
    How does your classroom environment talk to those who enter it? What does it say about what you value and expect to happen in there? Give specific answers such as, "There are 3 beanbag chairs in the reading corner because I want the kids to _________"
    My classroom says many things to the people who enter it. Each student has an individual desk. This gives them a sense of independence and responsibility. The classroom has a meeting place. (With individual carpet squares for each child—for responsibility and independence) These carpet squares are used for buddy work or group work. I can group students around the room as well. My classroom has a work-table that small groups of students can work on art activities, guided reading or other work. There is a center-board that is organized for students to be able to read and with only two spots available, the students know the rules that only two students at a center. This allows the students to be independent in their choices and gives them the freedom to rotate between centers. The students each have a job. This gives them ownership of their classroom. Some books are leveled and labeled and some are not for free choice and exploration. There are many aspects that I have thought about in my classroom, but I know that there are many different things that I could add, change, move, remove, etc. I know that my classroom is going to be ever changing.

  2. Are the things on your walls "purposeful and authentic?" What do you see when you stand in your door way? Do you want to go in, or do you want to run and hide?

    When I was setting up my room I made sure there were posters about reading to cover the walls. As I got into the year, those poster have have started to come down. My room is full of anchor charts created by and with my students. Now, I feel my room is "more" purposeful and authentic. But, as we create new anchor chart I wonder, what should I take down and where should I put the new anchor chart? I do not have much wall space and I want to hang up as much as I can. But, I do not want to overwhelm my students. Sometime I wonder if they are using the anchor charts. I sometimes forget to regularly refer to an anchor chart. Then I think that if I am not referring to the anchor chart, maybe it is time to take it down.

    Name some ways you've involved students in organization of the classroom (or ways/things you think you might like to try.) How does your classroom environment talk to those who enter it? What does it say about what you value and expect to happen in there? Give specific answers such as, "There are 3 beanbag chairs in the reading corner because I want the kids to _________"

    I set up the room in the beginning of the year. I had no choice where I could put my table or the computers. Since my room is small I knew I wanted at least a meeting area and a reading area. I organized the books by level, genre, etc. However, we have rearranged our desks, using student input. When I add books to the library I ask the students to put them in the proper place. Each student has their own desk, but the groups are put into groups. I want to stress each student as an independent learner, but they also collaborate with peers. Also, we have community supply bins.

  3. Well again I find myself thinking about this in two different ways. When I think of my classroom last year I think it was very purposeful and authentic. I had anchor charts and student work everywhere. My boards were blank at the beginning of the year and we built them together. On the other hand when I think of my little office that I am in now, I think quite the opposite. My room now is inviting, but the only things on the wall that are purposeful are a few models for letter formation that I use with my reading recovery kiddos. The rest is still blank because well I just don't know what to put up there... This chapter has really made me think about how I can change my "office space" into one that is more purposeful and authentic.

    Based on how I answered the last question we can determine that I have not involved students in the organization of my office at all, but hopefully that will soon change. I have however done many things with the help of students in the classroom. One area that feel student input is very powerful is in the Classroom Library. I always have the students sort and organize the classroom library as a group. I recommend it to all of you. I put all my books into tubs at the beginning of the year and then pull them out one by one and we make a huge mess, but slowly the mess becomes an organized collection. The kids number them and then create labels for baskets. It is a great way to say to the kids that these books are "ours". I found that they took much better care of the library and had an easier time finding things because they at least had a clue about what was there. If your interested in more information Tony Stead talks about it in one of his books.(That is where I got the idea to try it) Also I have learned some tricks that make it go more smoothly. Just let me know.

  4. We just completed MAPS testing in my room so right now it looks a little more cluttered and less student centered than usual. The main attraction in my room for both my young students and older tutoring students is the red wagon with stuffed animals especially the crocodile head. I wish I knew for sure if it was real or not because I have had that question asked by hundreds of kids. The second attraction is the treasure box, although it may not be the outside they like nearly as much as what is inside. I also have plastic Adirondack chairs that the kids love even though they rarely get a chance to use them because of our time constraints, now that I think about it if I find three more we could use them more.
    I can’t say I have student charts etc displayed, but there are some of those in the hall. I guess that might say I want others to see their work more than them-better make a change. I have charts with long and short vowels, chunks, blends and digraphs. These charts are purposeful and my students often go over to them and show me something that matches what they are reading, but they are not authentic. It occurs to me that those could be student made charts. Thirty minutes a day cramps what I can do with my students, but I know I can make improvements to make my room our room.
    Alyson, I am jealous of your reading recovery training! Feel free to share anything that can be adapted to small group always looking for new strategies.

  5. I had a little confirmation of my thought that it was my room not really our room. Today one of my 1st grade students(boy) said, "I love coming to your room."

  6. Are the things on your walls "purposeful and authentic?"
    Because I teach music to 6 different grade levels, my room must be organized differently than a regular classroom. This is the first year I’ve tried a “universal” theme across grade levels, that theme being a multicultural one. The students fly to a different continent and country every week, so I have cardboard cutouts of the continents hung around the room. When the students enter, they hear music and must move to the continent from which they think it comes. I have hung flags from different countries to which we’ve been, as well as a Chinese pagoda underneath which the gigantic sound system sits. 4th grade is currently preparing for their “Hits of the Decades” program, so big cutouts of 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, etc. are hung around the room, and when those students enter to music playing, they move to the decade from which they think the “hit” comes. I would like to hang more student-focused pieces around the room, like PICTURES of classes singing, performing, dancing, playing instruments, etc. I always hang pictures students give me as a gift, but music doesn’t produce a lot of written tests or assessments on paper.
    What is one thing that you think you could change that would leave you feeling like your classroom is closer to the environment that you want it to be?
    This is an easy answer: IT WOULD BE WARMER!!!! It is TOO cold in my room, probably because of the high ceilings. I would also like to create a cozier meeting space. For story/information time. We usually gather at whatever continent we’re visiting that week, but the “boundaries” are not clear, so students tend to “wander,” and it can be distracting.
    How does your classroom environment talk to those who enter it? What does it say about what you value and expect to happen in there?
    When people enter my classroom, I hope they can tell I value a balanced education with room for creativity, “reading, writing, arithmetic,” art, dance & movement, and a global experience.

  7. Are the things on your walls "purposeful and authentic?" What do you see when you stand in your door way?
    When I was in my previous classroom the year started with educational and welcome posters on the walls. Once the year got underway, my room became more about my students. On the walls were anchor charts that the students made and their work was on display. The room I'm in currently is for small intervention reading groups, so I mostly have anchor charts about reading strategies on the walls.
    Name some ways you've involved students in organization of the classroom (or ways/things you think you might like to try.)
    I loved involving my kindergarten students in the organization of my classroom. When all of the students brought in their school supplies on the first day of school, it was all discarded in big cardboard boxes. Then, I would provide tubs, containers, and labels and we would go about sorting the supplies and labeling everything. They absolutely loved to help! Sometimes I would have to guide them a little along the way and have discussions about where the best place to keep something would be. It can feel a little chaotic and I freaked out a little the first time I did it. Eventually we started finding good places for things and the room started to feel more organized. I think it gave them a sense of ownership, that this was their place to learn and grow.
    I agree with Bethany about what I would change in my room, it's too cold! I would much rather have a warmer space where the children and I are comfortable.

  8. Are the things on your walls "purposeful and authentic?" What do you see when you stand in your door way? Do you want to go in, or do you want to run and hide?

    "Purposeful and authentic" well sure, to some degree, and to some students. Teaching in a classroom that serves students in six different grades makes it difficult to make sure everything is purposeful to everyone. I try to address the needs of the very diverse group within my room. I do have some "pre-made" posters with messages or quotes, but these get used often as guidelines for my students. For example, my favorite one is one the kids repeat often "Be Yourself, an original is always worth more than a copy". I also have posters and charts that have been made such as my ever famous "No Stick People". In my room there is really only one bulletin board that students really pay much attention to due to the design of the room. On that board we have expectations of projects, examples, and themes that the whole group is working with. When it comes to display space, I have to say my room is pretty crummy. I do not have much space at all. Part of this is because of classroom design with location of windows and the concern of natural light fading student work. Natural light is something I am not giving up as it is essential to a clear mind. Another factor is dealing with walls. My walls experience a dramatic temperature fluctuation throughout the day making it near impossible to get things to stick. If I could change somethings about my room to allow for more display space I would start with the actual organization of space. My cabinets (drilled to the walls) and sinks (plumbing) would be allocated in different ways. I would have a larger space for art critic and meeting space. Mostly, I would have more appropriate storage. Now I am lucky to have a lot of cabinets, but if you opened those doors you would find I have rigged up ways to squeeze more than intended into them. I keep projects for around 700 students all year, so storage is always an issue for me. Now I know my organizational style is not for everyone, in fact, it is not for most. I am a stacker, and will put things down just about anywhere. However, when it comes to my instructional supplies and the work space the kids are in, I know where everything is and do the kids. When it comes to putting the kids in charge of organizing supplies, I struggle with this a bit as I have 30 different classes and we all have to be on the same page. The students are responsible for their daily supplies which I prepare ahead of time for them. The fourth and fifth grade students are self sufficient with almost all of their supplies. I love to think about do I want to run or hide from classroom. It totally depends on the time of year. My least favorite times of year for my classroom are August and May or June. It is just too empty. I like seeing the student work in progress filling the drying the rack or the paint bottles on the sink counter tops. I like having multiple grade levels of work spread around the room for other students to see what we are working on in the other classes. I have had both students and other teachers comment that they love walking into the art room because it feels "creative" or "colorful". Those are things I am proud of. At my first art teaching job, I taught in an old locker room… GROSS! I never wanted to be in that room and when I had something I could do outside the room I would go in the hall and sit on the floor to work. At least now I am happy to sit, well normally stand, and work in my room. I also hope people see the art connections my classroom. The math, science, history, spanish, language arts that is taking place in student learning.

  9. Purposeful/authentic?: Most of what is on my wall is meant to be helpful to my students, but as Beth Ann said, if you don't refer to it regularly, it may not be as helpful as intended. Looking around my room, there are some store-bought resources that could be replaced because we do not use them or have found better alternatives. I have only one bulletin board, which is used as a word wall, but as I was reading an earlier book, I realized that may not be optimally placed, so I ended up adding a section to the student literacy binders with all the words instead. Most of what is on my walls has been created as we are learning. And as they fall down, we pull them out as needed.
    Classroom environment: I have a kidney table and two groups of desks. One group of desks is used by an MH student and his aide, but we very rarely use the other desks except when we're testing. We're almost always at the table. I've always wanted to have a space where we can sit on the floor to work, but I've not yet figured out an arrangement that allows for that. Perhaps I should get student input! I should also get student input on where things go and label those areas because things tend to be left wherever they fall with no regard to where they actually belong. Unfortunately, my books are not in baskets like I would like, but it is a goal of mine for them to be by the end of the year. Since I have my students for such a short amount of time and I feel like I have so much ground to help them make up, I guess I didn't feel like I had the time to spare on involving them in the physical environment. Reading this book is reminding me that it may be time well-spent because we can be more productive if we are all more comfortable in the room. My room is not a place that I want to be, but this book is giving me lots of great ideas to try to make it more inviting. Like Debbie said, I want the room to be "ours" not just mine.

  10. I really hope that if you stood outside my door you don't want to run and hide! However, I don't think that it is extremely inviting, either. In order to change this, I am planning to paint my classroom over the summer and to create a cozy environment with comfy seats and maybe some inviting areas with better lighting. I probably want to run screaming in the other direction more than anyone else because of the organization issues going on in my room.
    Here are some things that I think work well in my room. I have my individual student desks set up in groups of 4 because I like the collaboration it allows for group work. I would really like to have tables but am struggling with the issue of where to put all the "stuff". I have a table situated in the library area to allow for more group work while other students are working individually. This area is most often occupies the revising area for writer's workshop.
    I have a lot of different ideas for how I'm going to improve my room within the next year!

  11. Purposeful/Authentic: I feel like it's getting more and more to that point, but I honestly don't have a ton of things on the walls. I teach all of 4th grade L.A. and haven't figured out the best way to have student-created anchor charts. What I've been doing so far is working on a concept with each class, collecting their ideas, then creating the chart myself with the information they came up with. I guess this is fairly authentic, but I'd rather there be more student-made charts.

    Do I want go enter or run and hide?: Right now I'd rather hide! Cinder block walls in off-white, tile floors, sparse posters/charts hanging because they won't stay on the walls. It's not yet the warm, inviting environment that I had imagined my classroom would be. I want to have more "comfy" seating for the kids to use while reading, and lamps to create a more home-like atmosphere than the fluorescents are capable of creating.

    Organization: I didn't really have the kids help me organize. I got started after the school year began so I feel like I hit the ground running and haven't slowed down. I would like for them to help me organize/reorganize the classroom library and create a better system for supplies.

    And I agree with Allyson and Debbie about wanting the class to be "ours." I talk about that during class. "This is our class," or "These are our books." Some of the kids catch that and refer to it that way, too, but others still don't.