Wednesday, July 30, 2014

R.I.P. Teacher Desk

This week, I visited my classroom for a short bit to empty my desk so that the custodian can move it out of my room. I have been thinking about doing this for a while, but some helpful teachers on Twitter helped me successfully make the paradigm shift that was necessary.

As I started emptying the drawers, I began to panic a little. Where will I put all my supplies, files, and other materials that have always been in my desk? I quickly realized that communal supplies means I will add my markers, pens, etc. to the class supply. I have a few file containers/crates for the few files I still have. The past few years I have mostly used online resources and have minimal teacher files. The panic subsided and I became very excited for the change. It was a load off my back. I really don't need this monstrous, archaic piece of furniture.

I already have an area in the front of the room for my mini lesson chart pads and materials. I ordered these cool organizers that hang from the whiteboard tray, and I have a pencil pouch in one with my dry erase and chart markers. I also use these trays to organize assignments for the week. No need for a desk!

No desk means more room for students to work, which is the main reason I am doing this. Also, if I expect the students to be on board with not having their own desks, I should model that it isn't necessary. 

Teachers I have corresponded with on Twitter say they got rid of their desks and never looked back. They love it! First step for transforming my classroom is done.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

More Space for Our Space!

Every year, around this time, I begin the process of rethinking my classroom space. What worked for my class last year? What was challenging for my students? At the end of the school year, each student filled out a survey about how the year went. There were a few questions about the space itself and it was very enlightening.

First of all, they all loved the carpet remnants instead of one large carpet. These carpet remnants have finished edges and were collected from Building 19 or Ocean State Job Lot. My sister in law gave me a few as well. Students mentioned that they loved the chance to work anywhere around the room with them. My reasoning in getting these was to keep my space flexible. I see one large carpet as very limiting. This is probably because I do not have a designer’s eye at all. When it is time for mini lessons, the students grab the carpets and come to the SMARTBoard or easel pad in the front of the room. Students worked together multiple times a day to arrange these carpets around the room to facilitate their learning and they really took ownership of the space. This was not wasted time because the students were more focused once in these self-selected spots.

Another piece of feedback that showed up on many of the surveys was the fact that it still felt crowded in the room. Students wrote about their desks/chairs being too close to each other sometimes, and the fact that a few people during the year had bumped into the bookshelf that is in the back of the room. The placement of furniture had been a class decision, but we just had such limited space; there were still issues. Many also shared that they wished the library area was bigger.
The last important feedback I received regarding classroom space was that they loved being in one spot for mini lessons and then moving elsewhere in the room to do partner/group work or independent work. Kids know what they need and found they were more productive with a little movement within the learning block. Thank you, brain research!

So, what is my plan? Simply put, create more space for my space! Thanks to my students’ feedback and some very helpful educators on Twitter, I have some concrete steps to take this summer to create a better learning environment for my class:

1. I am going to get rid of my teacher desk. This will not only allow for more space, but it will model that we don’t need our own personal desk at school.

2. Bazinga! Kids will not have their own desks. We already have communal supplies. In addition, I have purchased bins for students’ journals, Math workbooks, etc. In the past, each homeroom student had their own desk and then the other two fifth grade classes came in for writing in my room. There were multiple complaints a week of missing supplies from kids’ desks. Not anymore. Kids have a three ring pencil pouch in their binder for the other two classes outside of my room. When they are in my room, I think they will use the communal supplies mostly. Along with not complaining about missing supplies, this plan will allow for desks to be moved around easily since they will be SO lightweight. The placement of desks will now be as flexible as the use of the carpet remnants. Side note: On the first day of school, fifth graders are nervous and want to know where they are sitting. Temporary name tag tents will be on the desks to ease the transition to this new kind of classroom environment.

3. Now my homeroom class will be able to work together to figure out how we can make the library area larger. This plan allows for students to have a big say in where things will go in the room to make their learning successful.

There are so many other space changes that will be made this year, and I will share them in this blog as they arise. I am still trying to figure out how to handle the materials that the other two classes bring in. Do they put their materials on the floor under the desk like last year? They will learn quickly to bring only what they need. There are issues that I haven’t even thought of yet, but I know my students will think of more creative solutions than I ever could. Wish us luck!!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Summer Day at the Scholastic Book Summit

Independent reading, book talks and book talk clubs, parent involvement and classroom libraries. All topics discussed  at the Scholastic Book Summit in Norwood, MA yesterday. I want to share my "action items" from this learning experience.

Classroom Library
I have used Scholastic Book Clubs to build my classroom library since I started teaching in 1991. In addition, the bonus points have earned three round book displays seen below on the table. The kids love turning and looking through the selection and many try to help organize it into genres (see little signs on sections). It never lasts! :-)

At this summit, especially in Mike Weaver's session, I saw the big picture of every classroom needing a vast classroom library of at least 1,500 books of different levels, genres, etc. Yes, the school library needs money budgeted to buy new books, but so does every classroom teacher. What can I do to help promote this important philosophy? I will start a discussion with my principal and share what Mike Weaver has done at his school. Talking with our library media specialist will also be a goal.

Book Talk Clubs
Since independent reading is so important, I want students reading for fun and loving the process. I save the reading responses and strategies teaching for guided reading. Once introduced to book talks each year, some students volunteer to hold a book talk for a book they truly love. 

I enthusiastically attended the book talk club session yesterday. Led by the energetic, creative Alice Ozmo, this session was priceless. 

My take away is that I want to hold a book talk club during my reading block instead of after school. All volunteer and very exciting with filming included!
My instinct is that more kids in class will join when they see what we are doing.

Students read their independent reading books; the focus is on choice! Then they write book talks and peer edit, etc. Getting filmed is the highlight. I have a drama background and a local t.v. station willing to loan me a camera and an iMac for editing! This should generate excitement for independent reading.

Parent Involvement

Research supports parents reading aloud to their children daily from birth to college. Even when a child can read independently, the time together to read aloud and have discussions is invaluable. I will share this information with parents early in the year and share articles and books in this area. Jim Trelease is always a great reference!

Anna Lee, from Scholastic, shared four important points:

1. Encourage read aloud at home, birth to college!

2. Make sure every child has a library card and knows how to get there!

3. Just right books!

4. Believe in the power of the parent!