Monday, August 17, 2015

Before They Arrive

As soon as the calendar turns to August, we can't help but begin to shift into back to school gear.  In the blink of an eye our reading turns from pleasure to professional.  We walk through public spaces with an eye toward classroom design.  That favorite coffee shop has some spaces we'd like to recreate in our classroom.  The library's magnetic wall surely would have some uses for our students.  The book arrangements at the local book store might help us with our own libraries.

Before students arrive we work to create an inviting space for the first steps of our learning community.  We know arrangements might change as students share their learning preferences.  We know the books, tools, and spaces will grow as we discover more about our students and begin to take the first steps in learning together.  We know the room will grow, but we want it to be inviting in those first days of building our learning communities.

I always enjoy walking through classrooms before the year begins.  It is helpful for me to think about the ways other teachers consider using space, plan for tools, and start their libraries in the first days.  The way tables are arranged, the location of meeting areas, the selection of tools, and the books available all help me to think about those first days in our learning community.

Before students arrive I like to think about:
Meeting Area:  Where will we gather together as a community?  I want the space to be large enough for the group to meet and talk.  The space will host our discussions, read aloud, shared reading, shared writing, interactive writing, shared inquiry, connecting with other classrooms and so much more.  I have found it helpful to create visible boundaries to this space.  The space needs enough room for us to sit facing the same direction and to be able to make a circle.  For me, having technology, chart paper, writing tools, and other items needed for whole group instruction at my fingertips is essential in being able to quickly make instructional decisions that follow the groups conversation.  

Cozy Spaces:  Are there a variety of spaces for students to engage in learning?  In addition to the meeting area, I like to have spaces where students can gather in small groups, pairs, and as individuals.  These spaces need to work for literacy workshops, math explorations, science inquiries, and inside recess.  The more students can spread out around the room the more likely everyone is to be comfortable in learning.  Having a variety of types of seating can also be beneficial to students.

Classroom Library:  Do books surround the room?  I've always been someone who prefers my library to stretch around the room.  This helps during reader's workshop as students can move to a variety of spaces to read.  Additionally, moving books around the room can create physical reminders of ways to think about genres, characters, and themes of books.  I've always felt like a room full of books feels inviting and speaks to the importance of reading in our lives.

Books:  Are the books that are accessible to students a good match for the developmental stage of the readers coming into my classroom?  In elementary school a year of growth can be quite significant.  The books available to my students at the beginning of the year are very different from the books that will be on our shelves at the end of the school year.  I try to consider books I know students would have read the year before.  In addition to considering complexity of the text, I try to consider authors, topics, and genres students might already know.  I also try to consider the diversity of my collection, the range in genres, and the different levels of readers that will be coming into my classroom.

Tools:  Are the tools we'll need to get started accessible (or ready to be accessible)?  In the first days of school I am never really sure of the learning preferences of my students so I like to have a variety of types of paper, tools for writing, art supplies, and other materials available for students.  Additionally I try have a variety of tools ready for math explorations and science investigations.

Technology:  Is technology quickly accessible?  In the classroom I have to consider where technology will be located for use.  For me, this has meant making sure technology can be easily accessed during whole group lessons and class sharing opportunities.  It also means finding spaces for the technology that will be available to students.  This means considering the space for the technology and ease of plugging devices in for charging or sharing.

Digital Spaces:  How will we connect beyond our classroom?  More and more I consider the digital space we will live in as well.  I've found having a common space, what I like to a call a hub, for students to use to get to our digital spaces, for parents to access for information, and for other classroom to see our work to be helpful.  Sites like Twitter, Weebly, Symbaloo, Kidblog, Voicethread, and Shelfari are among the sites we will use to connect in our classroom.

Please share your considerations and questions you think about before students arrive.  Looking forward to another great year.

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