Hey there! I'm here to link up with all the amazing bloggers who are currently participating in Kindergarten Smorgasboard's book study of Teaching with Intention by Debbie Miller. This week is all about Chapter 1 and is hosted by Primary Possibilities, Mrs. Plemons' Kindergarten, and Enchanted Kinder Garden.
Chapter 1 was all about your idea classroom, and the your is key. The first section of the book is about figuring out what your idea of teaching is so that you can later explore how to make intentional decisions to make that vision become a reality.
Our three hosts provided us with some great questions to get started envisioning what ideal looks like to us.
My ideal classroom would be open and inviting. It would be a space where students come in ready and eager to learn. It would a space that the students stay throughout the day, not wanting to leave. The classroom décor would be warm and friendly and colorful but relaxing. It would be a fun space that kids want to be in.
In my ideal classroom, I would have open seating to encourage discussion and collaboration. Tables would vary in height to accommodate those who like to stand, sit or use a comfy pillow. There would also be plenty of room on the floor for students to spread out as well, whether they want an independent space or a spot for a group. My ideal space would be filled with pillows, cushions, mats, and other sorts of – as my students call them now – special seats to help make students comfortable as they learn. It would have a reading table for me to use, when needed, for meeting with small groups or just for students to sit at.
Also, my ideal classroom would have tons of wall space. Space for anchor charts. Space for student work. Space for smiling faces to be posted on the walls. Space to display learning. Space to pose questions. Space to inspire. Space to remember.
In this room, I would have dedicated areas for the things students need – for organizational purposes mostly. There would be a space for writing materials, a library, a space for office materials. We’d have room for extra materials and for organizing the materials we do use. Students would be free to use these materials whenever they needed and would be free to move about the room with them as needed.
My classroom would sound different all throughout the day. It might be filled with quiet whispers as students discuss a book they are reading. It might be filled with excited chatter as students work together to solve a problem. It may sound like absolute silence as students concentrate fully on a special task or assessment. Overall, it would sound like the students are engaged in whatever they are doing, engaged in the learning.
In my ideal classroom, the teacher would serve mainly as a facilitator, but also as a model – demonstrating to students what a successful learner looks and sounds like. In this classroom, the teacher may sometimes be hard to find as she blends in with a group of students. She would move about the classroom, working with different students, sometimes one-on-one, other times in small groups, and at times whole group. These meetings would be short and to the point, allowing the students as much time as possible to dig into the learning on their own. The teacher would be taking notes as she meets with different students, noting their successes and their needs.
The students would be learning! They’d be focused on the story they’re reading, the task at hand, or developing the skill of the day. They’d know what they’re working on – based on their knowledge of the goals they have set with their teacher’s guidance. They’d be glued to their spot because they knew what they were discussing was important. Not because the teacher tells them so, but because they understand themselves that learning is crucial and knowledge is power. They’d be engaged in what they were doing, whether it was journaling their thinking as they read, discussing their thoughts with a group of students, or breaking down a math problem using their brains and the tools available to them. They’d know how to participate in student-led small group and whole group discussions.
They’d solve their own classroom problems – like broken pencils, powered-off computers, or seating issues – or know how to have a friend help rather than going to the teacher. They’d understand that the time a teacher spends with a student is sacred and not to be interrupted.
I’m not a new teacher, but in some ways I still feel like I am because I often feel like I have a long way to go in terms of reaching this ideal classroom. Looking back on the things I mentioned, I found five different areas that I feel I need to work on in order to get closer to what I’d like.
One – Seating Options
This includes both tables and chairs. My current room has desks that are arranged in table groups. They are all the same height. There isn’t a lot of option. I also have a reading table and a circle table. I’ve been meaning (for about a year) to adjust the height of the circle table to lower it, but it hasn’t happened yet. New goal for the summer. I also have a variety of seating in my classroom including traditional chairs, Hokki stools, pillows, beanbags, and crate seats, but between the various items I have (traditional chairs excluded) I don’t quite have enough for the amount of students who want to use them which seems to create arguments. Part of this is management, but part of this is that I need more seats.
Two – Space for Anchor Charts, Student Work, etc.
I am incredibly fortunate in that my classroom has A TON of storage space! So much. Perhaps too much. Of my four walls, wall #1 is filled entirely with student cubbies with teacher storage on top. There is about 3 feet of open wall above the storage that can only be accessed (awkwardly) by a ladder. Wall #2 is taken up by my bathroom, sink, more storage, a 6-foot white board and a 3-foot bulletin board. I’ve used that 9-foot space for my reading table so that I have space to write/model. Again, there are 3 feet of open wall near the ceiling. Wall #3 has one floor to ceiling bulletin board that is about 3 ½ feet wide. The rest of the wall is entirely storage. No wall space at all. Finally, wall #4 is made up almost entirely of a white board. The white board is probably 16 feet long with an interactive white board in the middle. On either side, there is another 3-foot bulletin board. Again, there are 3 feet of wall space near the ceiling.
I don’t like using the ceiling space because it is way too high for the students to see. I want to post their work in a space where they and others can look at it and be proud. Plus, as I mentioned, it is incredibly difficult and time consuming to get out a ladder and climb up there to change things out often. Any suggestions would be amazing!
Three – Room Arrangement
I actually like how my room is arranged. It pretty much is idea. I need to work a little bit on making a more dedicated space for writing materials, but other than that, it is good. The big issue is that next year, I will be going from 24 to 29 students which is going to require a major room overhaul if I don’t want to lose any of the room components that I currently have.
Four – Engagement/Focus
My school uses a scripted reading program which makes it difficult to fully engage the students. I don’t know the answer to this one. It’s like the million dollar question at our school. How do we use the required materials but get our students super engaged? If anyone has the answer, please fill me in!
Five - Shift of Control
I’m good at this some years, and it’s difficult other years. This year, I had many students who wanted to be self-sufficient, but because of that, they ran the class amok. It came back, in many ways, to the engagement issue. They knew they needed a sharp pencil, so they’d walk over and get one. Great! Except that it happened while I was in the middle of doing a mini-lesson. And for them, that seemed okay because they weren’t engaged, so it didn’t seem like it was a critical time. No matter how often I discussed appropriate times to do that sort of thing, there were just certain students that it never clicked with and it happened to be those who I had trouble getting engaged. I need to work on shifting the control from myself to the students in a way that they take ownership of the classroom and their learning.
I feel like a terrible teacher for having so many areas I need to work on. Ugh!
Although I want more, I do have a variety of seating options including tables and chairs. I also have the room mostly organized - or at least I did - so that there were different organizational areas around the room for different purposes and materials. All student materials are easily accessible and easy for students to find. The room is comfortable, relaxing and fun and the students love being in it. Students, at times and depending on the year, are encouraging to each other and have a base knowledge for how to work in groups or partners.
Ah! It feels like I have so many changes to make now. I'm excited to keep reading the book and hopefully make some good plans for next year that will help my students and I have a successful year.