Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Minimize "Stuff" to Maximize the Learning Environment

It's that time again - BACK TO SCHOOL! I'm already a week behind on the blog...there is no busy like back to school busy, and no tired like back to school tired. :)

I thought I'd start the year with a tour of my classroom. I am never satisfied with how my room looks. Every single year, I change at least one thing. This year, however, I made some BIG changes. We are only four days in, but so far, I'm loving it!

Here is a "big picture" picture of most of my room.

Things I loved and kept the same from years past: 

1. The Leader Board - You can read about the Leader Board on my "The 4th Nine Weeks Slump" post.

2. The bathroom/water/locker check-out system - I can't believe I've never done a post on this! It's definitely one of my very favorite things in my room, and it tops the list on classroom management priorities.

All of the classrooms at CRIS have four large metal cabinets in the back of the room. They aren't super attractive, but they do provide a lot of storage - and a lot of space for decorating. A few years ago I realized I needed a new system for how my kids left the classroom. I was encountering so many problems - the kids who wanted to leave seventeen times in one block, the kids who would just walk up to me in the middle of my lesson to ask to go to the bathroom, the kid who left his homework in his locker every single day...the list goes on and on. After much brainstorming, I decided to put those cabinets to work as my bathroom management system.

This is what the cabinets look like:


There is one cabinet for each block. I separated each block into three sections.

1. The student names - I printed each student's name and had them laminated. I then hot glued a magnet to the back of each name.

2. The "I'm Out" section - When a student needs to leave the room, he/she finds his/her magnet and moves it to this section.

3. The "I'm Back" section - When a student returns from the restroom/locker/water, he/she moves his/her magnet to this section.

The rules I go over with the students are:

1. You may only leave the classroom one time per block. So, if you need to get your homework out of your locker, you better go to the bathroom while you're out! Once your name tag is moved into "I'm Back," you can't leave again.

2. Only one boy and one girl are allowed out of the room at one time. So, if Suzy Q's tag is in "I'm Out," then Brenda Jo has to wait until she gets back.

This process has been simple and absolutely seamless. I was almost surprised and a little wary of how well it worked when I first implemented it. So far, it hasn't failed me!

3. The Supply Cubby - When I taught elementary school, I had one of my friend's dad build me a shelving unit for all of my construction paper. When I moved to middle school, I didn't really need a home for construction paper, but I didn't want to lose the shelving unit. I decided to re-purpose it into a supply cubby system. I purchased some great tubs from the Dollar Tree and filled them each with some frequently used supplies (dry erase lap board, rag for erasing, Expo marker, ruler, scissors, glue, clipboard, etc.). When we are working on a project, I have students grab a tub (they are numbered, so students grab the bin that corresponds with their number). I don't waste time passing out materials, and students don't have to fuss with pulling everything out of their book bags.

4. Homework & Objectives Board - I teach two intervention classes and two honors classes, so I split the white board in the back of my room into two sections. On the left side, I include homework, reminders, daily focus questions, and weekly learning intentions for my intervention classes. On the right side, I include the same for my honors students. It's great to have a central location for all the "need to know" information for both sets of classes.

5. Anchor Charts - I love having a place to hang the anchor charts for each of my classes. You can check out how I made those on my "Polished Look" blog.

Things I changed for this year:

1. NO DESKS! - My biggest change for this year is that I got rid of all the desk in my room - including my teacher desk. It was a huge leap, but so far, I love it! (And the kids seem to love it too!)

Because I teach two intervention classes, I really needed a comfortable space for small group instruction. I knew that if I added a horseshoe table or something similar, I'd need to make space somewhere. The teacher desk had to go. Once it was out, I had so much more room. I scrounged up three trapezoid tables to create my own version of a horseshoe table. One of the tables serves as my "desk," and the other two provide plenty of room for small groups. It's perfect. I added a little fabric fringe, and it's really become a functional and welcoming space.

I also am a huge fan of alternative seating in the classroom. Last year I went half and half - I kept about 13 desks, and I used tables, floor seating, yoga balls, etc. for the other half of the seats. This year, I used my state teacher money to purchase six new tables (Thank you, Ikea!) for my room. I was able to get rid of all of the traditional desks, and I used stools and chairs that I had last year for table seats. I have gotten nothing but compliments from the kids so far, and the tables are PERFECT for group work. 

2. Minimize "stuff" to maximize the learning environment - I am a typical teacher hoarder. I keep everything; I accept every free book, ruler, pack of pencils, etc. anyone ever offers me. Last year, I was up to EIGHT full bookshelves of books. Maybe twenty percent of those books ever got picked off the shelf. So, I purged. I (along with my husband, Ian and my best friend, Lisa) spent several days getting rid of "stuff." We donated books, cleaned out file cabinets, and passed along supplies of which I had an abundance. If I couldn't remember the last time I used it, I got rid of it. My goal this year is to truly minimize in order to maximize the space and time we have for learning. 

Here is my new reading corner - about five bookshelves less than last year!

One of the things I love most about my profession is that it constantly changes. Each year I get a new classrooms of students with a unique set of needs. Every year is different; every day is different. I work in a school that encourages and embraces risk taking. My administrators love when we try something new - even when it doesn't quite work like we planned. I am so thankful to be here, and I know it's going to be a great year!

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