Category Archives: Learning spaces

Another year, another classroom.

And this one’s got a ton of bells and whistles, folks!

Boom. Airy and fresh.

Boom. Airy and fresh.

 

Sirius Black + Safe Space posters = winning view. I don’t know really what to do with that big clunky word art down by the filing cabinet on the floor. Doesn’t really go anywhere in this room. Hmm.

The thing about affluent schools is that the things are really shiny and nice. I am 4.7% magpie, so of course this stuff is appealing to me. My classroom in my new school is just… fabulous. There are so many things I am excited about, and yet, it’s the simpler things like having exterior windows for the first time EVER that really make it feel luxurious. Oh, and my school doesn’t block 8tracks. Life is good, man.

I have a bunch of fancy clickers and remotes, a barcode scanner for taking attendance, Apple TV, a shiny FM mic system, new furniture, and great keyboard (seriously, very important). It’s all very pretty.

The basic tenets of my classroom set-up remain the same: create collaboration-friendly, flexible learning spaces for my kids. Provide resources that stimulate and assist creativity and spontaneous moments of curiosity/discovery/whatever. Maintain a colourful and welcoming atmosphere full of stuff to read and things to provoke conversation. The belief system behind this new space is still the same, and yet, it manifests so differently when it has natural light and student tables (no desks, no desks!) behind it all.

(Note: If you want a more elaborate look inside my head when it comes to classroom physicality, you could hop over to my classroom tour from last year, at my old school!)

Student resource centre is still alive and well! Cabinets contain literacy-focused board games and my films. Hoping to grow that meagre collection of novels eventually! And yes, that is a District 12 salute foam finger immediately above a Hunger Games poster.

I flopped into my chair today and surveyed my two weeks’ worth of cleaning, arranging, organizing, and setting up, and lo and behold, I realised that in terms of the perfect classroom I always imagined in my head, I’m pretty much there. If there were anything I would add, it would be bookshelves full of books and a few more beanbags. But it’s close. Really close.

It will be interesting to see how thirty or more kids fit into the space, but I’m hopeful. While the tables don’t give as many configuration options as individual desks pushed together in whacky patterns, I think the size of the kids’ workspaces like this is pretty darn amazing. I’m interested in seeing about a fishbowl configuration down the line, too.

Amazingly, I think I finally have enough posters and prints up — the walls are well-covered! Last year, I had some sheets of cardstock-weight paper laminated and then they kind of got ignored, but this year I’m using them as posters and maybe also for other purposes as time goes on. For now, four of them have become book talk-like excerpt posters! I wrote, “An excerpt from ______________ by _______________” at the top of each one and included an excerpt that I think is thought-provoking and/or beautiful. My hope is to change the posters every couple weeks, but, you know. November happens. The four books I chose to open my year are The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Decoded by Jay-Z, and The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha.

Anyway, I gotta get back to my planning for tomorrow (First day of school, wooo!), but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy these little peeks into my new home away from home!

Zen Pencils’ offering of posters is on. point. Love the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by my door.

You can sort of see my excerpt DIY posters in this photo. More importantly, you can see my new favourite poster: The Thesaurus. Raaarrr!

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Ye olde workstation, complete with photos of my beloveds, a cheerful shelf, and some cute plants!

PLANTS! I CAN FINALLY HAVE PLANTS! YEAH, WINDOWS! 🙂

Catch you later!

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Filed under Classroom space, Learning spaces

A favourite way to read

In an ELA classroom, there is often so much on the plate, we don’t always give our kids enough time to read. I try to offer a mix of opportunities to read out loud, to be read to (by me), to read at home, and to read in class. I admit that in the past, I probably didn’t give my kids quite enough chances to read in class, but this year I’m trying to give them that time.

What I love about in-class reading blocks is that the kids get a chance to unwind a little and just be with a book. Some of my kids aren’t usually readers outside of the classroom and offering them this time is so important. And yeah, it’s not like reading blocks aren’t enjoyable for me, too. Having a reading block gives me a bit of time also to read my own book (Modeling! So important!), to do a bit of marking or answer emails, and so forth. But ultimately, the reading block is intended to serve the students.

Basically, my approach to reading blocks follows this basic premise: if we want our kids to learn that reading can be enjoyable, we should offer them opportunities (as well as tools and strategies) to enjoy their reading experience.

When I was in school, reading blocks were set up so that everyone was sitting in a desk, facing forward in rows, in complete silence. Because the way we were expected to read in school felt very regimented and forced, the act of reading—which I normally would freely choose to do for fun, even as a child—was now drudgery. Compare this reading experience to the kind I’d have when I was at home. When I was home, I would never sit in a chair at a table and read in silence. My favourite way to read involved grabbing a snack, putting my favourite cassette tape into my Walkman (!), and settling into one of my preferred reading positions.

My favourite reading position has always been laying down on my tummy — on a couch, bed, or even on the floor — with a cushion propped up under my chest. Second favourite: sitting with my right side body pressed against the arm of a chair or sofa, my right elbow propped up, and my right leg curled under me. Neither of these positions are easily offered by a regular student desk/chair. So, when I decided to start implementing reading blocks in my school schedule, I took all of this into account. Many of my kids — aged twelve through fourteen this time of year — are just being able to figure out how (and if) they like to read and how to be comfortable with a book. Some of them are like me: book lovers who seek out opportunities to read, but whose favourite way to read is not at a desk. For all of these reasons, I give my kids complete freedom within the classroom space during reading blocks and let them engage as organically as possible in their reading experience.

When I first moved into this classroom, I inherited a decrepit, wood-frame couch; while the frame eventually fell apart, I decided to keep the cushions. During reading blocks, some kids like to sit on them, others like to lay a cushion on the floor and sprawl out on their bellies or backs (exactly what I would do) or curl up in fetal position. Some kids like to stay upright in their usual seats. Some slouch in their chairs and put their feet up on a vacant chair next to them. I’ve seen students retreat to a pod of desks as a group just so they can read in the company of their friends. There are two girls in my grade nine class who curl up each in her own corner of the classroom to read in relative solitude. Others sit against the wall and some students even sit/lay under desks (and yes, I permit this). A few of my kids like to try out different locations/positions from block to block while others find their favourite space and predictably choose it time and time again.

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Three of my grade nine girls who grabbed cushions and got comfy. I kind of wanted to join them!

I allow my students to snack/drink and listen to music while they read, too, because like I said, I like to snack, drink, and listen to music when I read. I often will play soft music in the background while they read; my favourites include instrumental tracks from Disney films (“King of Pride Rock” from The Lion King, “Short Hair” from Mulan, and “Transformation” from Beauty and the Beast are fantastic), any softer tracks by Jesse Cook, John Williams, the Vitamin String Quartet, and other music that kind of “fits” this mold. I try to avoid upbeat songs or songs with lyrics during reading time because some kids have a hard time processing two streams of language simultaneously and my goal is for them to focus on their reading.

“You play music while they read? But what about kids who don’t want to listen to music?” you ask. Recently, I purchased a few cheap sets of ear plugs to give to students who prefer complete silence. They aren’t expensive, and I don’t mind giving them away (who wants to reuse someone else’s ear plugs anyway?). I provide these because I believe that kids who crave silence have just as much a right to read in an environment that is comfortable to them as the kids who crave music.

At literacy PDs, they’ll tell you that many young readers and non-readers come to dislike reading because they aren’t exposed to books that are relevant or interesting to them. While this is definitely true, I think that while we are on the hunt for great stuff for our kids to read, we should also be mindful of exposing them to reading experiences/contexts that are relevant, engaging, and comforting.

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Two boys sitting in the comfy chairs at my resource table.

Above all, my hope is that my students learn that a reading experience should be something they can choose for themselves, and that with a little freedom, they can discover their own favourite way to read, too. 🙂

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October 25, 2013 · 9:25 am

Welcome to my classroom

My classroom is humble.

It is an all-beige, boxy space. It has holey ceiling tiles, horrid fluorescent lighting, and a SmartBoard that only cooperates 35% of the time. It’s the warmest room in the building (the temperature hovers between 23ºC and 27ºC on any given day), and it is not well-ventilated—not the greatest combination when you think about the way junior high kids smell. If I could open a window to let the air circulate, I would, but my classroom is an interior classroom: no outside windows = no circulation or natural light, which isn’t ideal. Be that as it may, this room is cozy and fun, and let’s face it: it’s my haven five days a week.

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When I first moved into my room, I was immediately struck by how much furniture it contained: teacher desks/chairs; student desks/chairs; five tables of varying sizes and shapes; three study carrels; some soft chairs; a crude, wood-frame couch; two filing cabinets full of empty food packages and random papers; and a medium-sized bookshelf. The entire back wall was a built-in shelving/cupboard unit, albeit a musty-smelling one, and most of the shelves were full of odds and ends, boxes, and plastic bins that resembled those magazine holder thingies that people like. Needless to say, I did a lot of cleaning up and cleaning out. In the last year since I moved in, I have gotten rid of a bunch of stuff, moved a lot of other stuff around, and tried to make the space more conducive to learning/productivity—as little “dead space” as possible.

If you liked the prints on my door, you’d like the rest of the prints and posters I have throughout my room! I have invested a lot of money into quality art prints for my classroom, which I admit might be considered a frivolous way to spend one’s paycheque, but there are benefits that I think are worthwhile. For starters, I have the coolest classroom posters. That’s not a subjective statement, it is a fact. Secondly, and more importantly, attractive posters are a fantastic way of tricking kids into reading. I know this sounds trite, but if you actually read every single poster in my classroom from top to bottom, it might take you an hour or more. There are various posters with fun/random facts, I’ve got charts and graphs, typography-based prints, visual prints (usually referencing literature, though some were purchased because they are just plain awesome), and of course, posters from the Oatmeal grammar pack.

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A view of my posters from my desk. To orient you, you can see that the door to my classroom is on the far side of the right wall.

Here’s a sampling of some of my popular posters. If you like any of the prints below, click on the image; I linked each one to its online ordering page!

This print is so much fun. One of my previous students in grade 10 actually adopted the phrase, “By the beard of Zeus!” after reading it in this print.

I spot kids tracing their fingers along this whimsical map several times a week. Good thing I laminate all my prints!

This print is a hit with the lads. They find the part about chewing rocks “until some teeth fall out” particularly amusing.

A super cute print. The worms’ books include Harry Wormer and The Little Wormaid.

My favourite place to shop is Society6 (an affiliate of another of my favourite companies, Threadless) because there are SO MANY punny/lit-nerdy/game-nerdy/regular-nerdy prints to look at! Where else are you going to find a Harry Potter herbology reference guide or an Alice in Wonderland print of the Mad Hatter’s tea party? I’ve also scored some gems from Level Up Studios and Alison Rowan. One of the most popular posters in my room is this one from the Sheldon Comic Strip. Little do they know it, but when my students are reading that poster, they are also learning how to read a flow chart. One of my favourite things to do when I see a handful of kids congregating around a poster (and literally, I see kids standing around reading my posters every. single. day.) is to sidle up next to them and triumphantly declare that I have caught them in the act of reading for fun, which always amuses/surprises them. I buy new prints every year, and whenever I announce that I have new posters coming, the kids actually get excited to see them.

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As you can see, I prefer for my kids to sit in pods. Depending on the class, a pod may hold as few as three or as many as six students. I love having desks/tables configured in different sizes, angles, and “shapes” because I think it challenges kids’ perceptions of what a classroom should look like. I even have a wooden dinette set in my room (and the kids love sitting there because it’s homey). Sometimes, when I open class, I drag my stool to a back corner and greet them from there just so that they understand that “the front” doesn’t always have to be where the SmartBoard is, and that learning can happen even if you’re facing the back of the room. Sure, when we’re using the SmartBoard or if I’m doing some random etymology lesson on the whiteboards, some kids end up having to turn their chairs or what have you. But I think that kind of situation offers an opportunity for kids to problem-solve and figure out how to negotiate their learning space, which is a worthy skill in and of itself.

And in case you were wondering, yes, seating plans are indeed harder to make when your classroom is as randomly configured as mine is—even harder if you’re anal retentive about making a printed copy. Case in point:

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I blurred out all the names in editing, obviously. FOIPP.

Another note about seating plans: if there is a kid who is assigned to an EA, I always include a spot for that EA to sit in my seating plans. I hate when EAs end up pulling up a chair and sitting awkwardly at the edge of a kid’s desk, like they are an afterthought rather than in integral member of the classroom community. I don’t always have a seating plan, by the way. My only rule for free seating is that the front fills first. During reading blocks, I let my kids sit wherever they want. Some of them even sit and/or sprawl out on the floor, which is a little gross, but hey, I love reading while laying on my stomach, too.

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The “Cause of Death” poster is another student favourite. Each scenario depicted has a caption describing a way that Mario can die in any of his namesake video games: being eaten by a Piranha Plant, drowning, falling, being “Chomp”ed, etc. The print on the right is of a little Darth Vader frolicking with a Death Star balloon.

One piece of furniture that I could not do without is my resource table.

My resource table is a space that is 100% devoted to student productivity. The document organizer, a gift from my best friend, is usually filled with handouts (though I don’t generate those as much as I used to), graphic organizers, resources, and blank looseleaf/white bond/graph paper just in case. On top of the organizer are yellow pencil cases filled with washable markers and felts, a clear box filled with pencil crayons, a grey bin containing staplers and three-hole punches, and of course, there is Kleenex. I keep 17″x22″ sheets of paper on the resource table in case kids are working on posters or need them for projects. The two soft chairs are there in case kids want to sit there during a reading block, or if another teacher has a kid who needs to write an exam in my room, or whatever.

Sometimes my EAs like to sit there so that they are near their assigned kid but not so close so as to be suffocating, especially if we are doing a task where the EA doesn’t need to be fully involved.

Underneath my resource table, I have some pretty bins that contain all the random shit that I like to keep close by but not visible: cleaning stuff, bulletin board borders/fabric, etc. I also have a rolling bin containing solar lamps that I picked up from Ikea. The lamps are great to bust out during a film study because you can put one at each pod and the kids can still see their work. They only hold a charge for about three hours of continuous use, so I occasionally have to roll the bin to the staff room and charge the lamps by the window over the weekend (Ah, if only I had outside windows!).

At the back of my room, I have a reference section containing thesauri, dictionaries, and ESL resources (picture dictionaries, handouts, and practice pages). Immediately next to this section are a set of shelves that I reserve for student portfolios, ongoing projects, etc. I moseyed down to the dollar store and picked up a bunch of bins, slapped together some labels, and the rest is history.

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Each green bin “belongs” to one of my core classes and is labelled accordingly; I have two classes of 7s on the left, two classes of 8s in the middle, and two classes of 9s on the right. Very convenient.  In the bins, each student (ideally) has a duotang that s/he will put assignments and projects into after I have returned them. The duotangs do not leave my classroom. Then, whenever kids want to reference their past work, they can, and it’s super handy when parents come to visit. I always like to “harvest” some of the outstanding portfolios at the end of the year to keep as student exemplars.

The blue bins are for assignment collection; there is one for each grade level. This prevents students from giving me the old standby excuse: “I gave my homework to the sub. S/he must have lost it! I swear I handed it in!” Instead, kids come to class and know immediately to put their homework into the blue bin and I empty the bins at the end of each day. I indicate this process to all of my subs in my day’s plans. And yes, I trust the kids not to filch or sabotage each other’s assignments.

The remaining cupboards mostly contain things like seasonal décor (my little Christmas tree, the Halloween garlands, etc.) and my old papers/exemplars from my old school. I don’t like to keep student stuff in the cupboards because the cupboards have an unappealing, vinegary/sour glue/old smell to them. 

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As for my work space, here it is, complete with that horrible TV/VCR get-up that was popular in the late 90s. Wish I could just rip that thing down. I strung up that lantern with the husband’s help this summer. I like it because it’s soothing and homey, but it also serves a practical purpose because I can see everything on my desk and do my work, even with the classroom lights off. It’s especially useful because during Film Studies, I often pause the film to discuss with the kids and I like for them to be able to see me. Also, towards the holidays, I like to give my kids a few days of free time to watch movies/relax a little bit, and then I can still do my marking while they enjoy a film.

You can also see that I’ve got a homework board behind my desk, and it’s seriously an act of God that I manage to keep it remotely up-to-date. I’m terrible at issuing reminders, but I’m really trying this year. I also have another WordPress site that is devoted to my classes and which includes a “Live Homework Board” page, and everyone at my school uses Remind101 (which is a great tool for people who, unlike me, are good at remembering to issue reminders). I mean, what ever happened to students paying attention when the teacher said, “Hey gang, this thing is due on Thursday,” and being accountable for that? I feel like just keeping on top of all the reminders I’m apparently “supposed” to give my kids is a fulltime job!

Behind my desk, I’ve got a nice little nook where I keep my classroom mascots, films, teaching resources, sub plans binder, staff handbook, tea, coffee, hairspray (you never know!), phone charger, candy, etc.  

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I also keep stuff like permanent markers, spare pencils, spare rulers, and my “annotation baskets” (which I put out on an as-needed basis with the kids; the baskets are filled with sticky notes, highlighters, index cards, etc.) behind my desk because while I’m more than happy to let students use them, I’d rather not just leave them all out on the resource table where they would assuredly go missing. By the way, my desk is never this tidy. I was prepping for a sub to come in the next morning. 🙂

Anyway… yeah! That’s my room! I was intending for this to be a brief tour, but it turned out to be far from it. In any case, if you stuck through this whole post, you deserve a medal.

Thanks for stopping by!

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October 3, 2013 · 7:28 pm