Creating a New Space for Learners

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After I finished reading Edutopia’s recent article, Classroom Makeovers to Engage Learners, and have been chatting with teachers during these frantic “get our classrooms ready” moments, I thought that a blog posting in regard to creating a NEW space might be useful. Most teachers do not have thousands of dollars in grant money to redo a classroom, and there are many ways to accomplish a novel space without ‘many’ dollars. Rethinking design and routines from years past will propel you forward.

And why are we doing this? We are creating new environments for new kids. The days of industrial revolution fueled teacher driven instruction have passed. Today’s student must work, learn and play in an environment that is spontaneous, alive and collaborative. In past years the teacher was the driving force, now it is the students’ inquiry. This has been a major shift for me as I grew up entertaining, singing, acting….and the curtain has closed for most my frolics in the classroom (sage on the stage); however, my new coaching role has been a welcome surprise and I really like it!

Ironically, today, my principal sent a great quote, and I will share as well:

The appearance, organization, and structure of a classroom can invite learning with appealing colors, effective displays of student work, spaces for both solitary and collaborative work, easy access to materials and supplies, furniture arrangements that focus attention on peer input rather than largely or solely on the teacher, and visible cues to support quality work. Conversely, a classroom’s physical environment can diminish learning by being barren, drab, cramped, teacher-focused, distracting, or limiting (with seating arrangements that isolate students from one another). More significant than this physical climate, however, is the classroom’s more intangible emotional climate. Students learn best when they feel safe, respected, involved, challenged, and supported. Thus, a learning environment that invites each student to be a full participant in the classroom—with full support for the journey—is a necessity for robust differentiated instruction.

Off the top of my head, I’ll assert some items to consider, some changes that could create that “collaborative” and less teacher centered environment. Always knowing that YOUR innovation will not look like my innovation, hers or his!
Below is a simple table of some ideas that you might want to consider and reasons why. These are some ideas in which I have tried and LOVED and some ideas from other innovative classrooms of colleagues and friends.

Might you Consider? Why?
Move toward tables instead of single desks. Encourage Collaboration.
Eliminating desk tags. Students OWN the room, not only a desk.
Limit ‘before school’ teacher made decor. Let kids design spaces. Save space for anchor charts.
Provide color. If you cannot paint, use paper or fabric as ‘color’ areas throughout the room. Color themes are less cluttered.
Create open spaces. Kids like to move around, and group themselves. 4×4 flat pieces of wood for floor work, beanbags, large pillows, carpets.
Make things moveable. With more space, furniture can be moved easily for varied learning experiences.
Take some books home, consider not having as many books, and make the ones you keep in the room more special. Rotate them.Literacy rich, not literacy clutter Less is more, students usually will not filter through endless crates of books. Display books ‘out’ and kids will be enticed to look at them! Using slat, library, type board is optimal.
Lower white boards Kids will use them.
Move teacher desk out. Gives you more space. Room does not tend to have a “front”. Room is open, like a living room.
Consider virtual word walls. More space, and more differentiated
Raise a table. Some kids like to stand and work.
Limit homework Research shows that it is not needed. If parents want it, supply it. Make it optional.
Accept movement Kids learn and move at the same time.
Limit lecture Kids need to explore and have their hands on learning. They need to talk about it with peers.
Make graphics clear and concise. Think of the icons used for applications on an IPAD, less is more.
Use music. Current songs are great for transitions and let kids know without your always talking.
Survey kids. Find out what kids are interested in within a standard or topic.
Kids first, standards second. 21st Century Skill acquisition will naturally occur through rich projects and inquiry based explorations. They will connect to standards, trust.
Create a Maker’s Classroom. Have unique supplies available to encourage students’ showing learning in unique ways.
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2 thoughts on “Creating a New Space for Learners

  1. I would love to see some pictures of how you display your books! Also tell us more about the virtual word walls!

    1. Check out this Pinterest Borad: for ideas in regard to new uncluttered yet literacy rich classroom libraries.

      Virtual word wall: This means that students collect words in which they need to be learning and practicing on personal devices or google documents. Penultimate is a great application for the iPad as students can create books, and one can be the Wordwall Book. Love the individualized piece of this. Teachers and parent volunteers can check personal word walls, have kids respond and erase learned words, however you wish. Another option is a paper and pencil personal word wall, of course.

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