I came across some great tips from a new book Catching Readers Before They Fall by Katie Keier and Pat Johnson about setting up your classroom and evaluating it later.
Here are some tips to think about as you create a beautiful space where readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists and learners will thrive.
- Tape off a wide, open space big enough for each member of your class to have plenty of personal space standing or sitting. (blue painter’s tape with wide packing tape put over it works well) This space has multiple purposes: whole group meeting area, meeting with guided reading groups or writing groups, Legos, blocks, puzzles, puppet shows, storytelling, indoor recess, literature circles, science experiments, drama, dance, or stretching out to read/write.
- Set up an easel in the whole group meeting area for shared reading with big books, poetry charts, morning messages, chart paper for community writing projects – making sure you have a container nearby with everything you may need (markers, correction tape, white board, highlighting tape, current books you are using for reading/writing workshop, etc…)
- Decide what other spaces you need (writing supply table, classroom library, science inquiry station, painting, quiet work areas, and so on.) Create these around your wide-open space, making sure every space has a purpose.
- Set up only the tables and desks you need in specific areas and have them serve multiple purposes (writing table, visual arts table, science table, coffee table (low or high) in library, and a few random tables if you have space.) Vary the level and shape of the tables. If you only have desks, put them together to form clusters – you can take the legs off of desks to create a low work space.
- Don’t worry about having a desk or specific table space for each child. Encourage children to work in a variety of places in the classroom, depending on what they are working on. Some children work better on the floor while others prefer a desk space. However, you need to have a space for each child to keep his or her things (dishpans, baskets, file boxes on shelf or windowsill, cubbies, stackable bins, etc.)
- Have enough clipboards available for each child – or use the back of dry-erase boards. (Home Depot will cut shower board for you to use as individual dry-erase boards – they often do it for free if you tell them you are a teacher)
- Put out pillows or stuffed animals to lay/sit on.
- Place books all over the classroom in bins or tubs – don’t limit your books to the classroom library.
- Remove your teacher desk. Use a table as a workspace, but share it with the kids and don’t let it pile up or become exclusively your space.
- Keep your classroom space beautiful and organized – don’t waste precious space with “stuff.”
- Reflect on the various spaces with your kids; if an area isn’t working, change it!
- Label everything and keep all of it within reach of the kids; teach them how to use all the supplies appropriately. Make sure they are held accountable for keeping supplies neat and taking care of their classroom.
- Use documentation and photographs on the walls to chart the children’s learning.
- Pair quality artwork with children’s art.
- Be willing to start the year with blank walls, the room will transform quickly as the children take ownership of their space and their learning.
After the first few weeks of school, we suggest you consider the following questions:
- Walk around your room – does every space have a purpose? Talk about this with the kids. Are they able to explain the purpose of each space and use it effectively?
- Does your environment help or hinder what you and your students want to do? Some years most of my kids like to work on the floor with clipboards – some years most like tables or desks. I adapt to what my class needs that year.
- Do your walls tell the story of children’s learning journeys? Consider charting your year of learning through shared writing monthly, photographs of children at work, photocopies of book covers, etc. – all of this sparks conversation and tracks your year together.
- Do the children have ownership of all that is displayed – do they know WHY it is on the walls? Does it reflect their learning? Are your anchor charts created with the class – and able to be added to or changed as new learning occurs?
- Do you have children’s work and photographs displayed? Artwork, family photos, field trip photos, self-portraits, photos from recess or reading workshop, and more – all of these add a sense of community to your space.
- Do your available resources encourage curiosity, creativity and communication?
- Is your personal space uncluttered? (get rid of things you do not use or love; find ways to organize things that constantly look untidy; file away things that are not being used.)
- Is there an area that isn’t working as well as it can? If so, plan to discuss it with the children and come up with solutions.