Saturday, August 8, 2015

Making the most of my classroom

This year, I am starting out at a new school after 5 1/2 years in a single school. This pre-planning week has been a whirlwind of information and names (which I'm going to get down, I swear). This week, also, has been very reflective for me on how I'm going to make this new classroom mine. It is very different from the classroom I had at my old school and I want it to reflect so much; not just what I'm teaching, but also who I am as a teacher, who they are as students, our school, and I still want it to be useful to them.

I spent a good deal of my summer looking at ways to make my room visually appealing and organised while keeping in the back of my mind my goals for making my room useful to my students, especially as I continue with my colleagues into the world of untextbooking. Here is what I've come up with:

My Game Station

  1. Game Station - This is a brand new idea I'm trying out this year. We all hear about things like remediation, differentiation, review, etc. I've spent years searching for a way to make all of these easier in my classroom. Since we are also trying out Standards Based Grading this year, I thought of this new way to do all these things, while still giving kids a choice.

    In the game station, I've included culture books in English, books in Latin, card games, a board game (although I want more), and vocabulary books. When we have "remediation days" (I'm playing with names....) students will choose to work on a standard, for which I've set up groups and activities or, if they and I are happy with their proficiency grades, they may choose an activity from the game station (more to come in an SBG post). My goal is to keep students focused and learning, and allow students to improve proficiency in the standards, while still allowing some freedom and options for those who are happy or who get done early. The game station might also be used on substitute days, or when a student finishes a test early.
  2. Student Supply Center - I've done this for years, but this year I'm expanding it a bit more. A few months ago, I came across this list, and it validated my thoughts on my supply center. I don't know what my kids walk into my room with. Some have lots of money, some participate in extra curriculars, some are failing half their classes, etc. I want to do what I can to make my classroom a safe place. Further, I want the focus in my room to be on Latin, not whether or not Johnny has a blank sheet of paper or Misty has a pencil.

    I don't tape big objects to my pencils or stamp my paper with "property of" stamps. My supplies are free and clear. They have signs that say "take one". They also have signs that say, "provide one if you can." I've done a student supply center for years and I've found that it is one of the easiest ways to foster a sense of community and good will. Just as there are kids who have no paper ever, there are kids who have an over abundance of paper. They will donate it if they can. Students leave pencils behind all the time. My students know that if they do that, the pencils and pens will go straight to the supply center for them or someone else to use. This year, I expanded the center to include a student stapler, a hole punch, and sticky notes. It has always had, and continues to have, paper, pencils, pens, highlighters, and index cards. 
    Student Supply Center

    I know this topic can be controversial to some people. Students need to learn to be prepared. Students will take advantage. Teachers don't have a lot of money to spend on this. These are all true to varying extents. Sometimes kids do take advantage; and sometimes, taking advantage is a cry for help. Just because Misty has taken a pencil every day this week, doesn't mean she is lazy or forgetful. It might mean that she really truly has none, or that she goes home and her little siblings need one. Students do need to learn responsibility. I try to model that through caring.
  3. Posters
  4. Motivational Posters - I chose these carefully this year. I didn't want them  to motivate kids so much in Latin, but to motivate them to enjoy life and be proud of themselves. poster envy has lots of great posters for around $8 each. The two I've purchased so far say two of my favourite things: "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid." AND "Life is about using the whole box of crayons." I think the things we choose to put up on our walls greatly influence our kids. I know that I, as a student, always looked around and see how a teacher decorated his/her walls. Was his/her focus on getting my to turn in homework and walk in with a smile, no matter what? Or, was his/her focus on helping me feel better about myself, be confident, and enjoy school?
  5. Bulletin Board - I was blessed this year with two bulletin boards. It does take up valuable wall space, so I decided to do as much as I could to make the most out of it. One board I dedicated to student work. I went a little pinterest crazy and painted clothespins to hang up and pin student work up because I hate having too many staples in a bulletin board. The other I divided into three sections, only one of which I'm focusing on in this post: first, a wall of victory, second, a Junior Classical League section, and third, a place for school news and announcements. 
    The orange is our wall of victory

    This will be my second year implementing a wall of victory. I had great success last year. The wall of victory is designed by me, but filled by students, and is a place for them to proclaim their victories. Last year I had everything from high test scores, first occurrences of Bs and As, finally understanding certain topics, sports victories, vacations, and even thank yous. Thank yous for supplies, food, and even for telling a kid his shoe was untied. These victories may be huge or they may be small. They may be school related or personal. I don't require names. What I've found from this is that it increases morale in the room tenfold and kids love reading about each other. I also get to know my kids more and, on some occasions, pull information from that to email parents or build stories in class.
  6. Word Wall - Unfortunately I do not have any pictures of this yet, but when I do, I plan to make a whole post on them. My word wall may be one of the most important visual features of my room this year. In the past, I've organised the word wall alphabetically, and by theme. This year, I'm doing it completely differently. I'm organising it by question word, but more on that in a later post. No matter how you organise your word wall, no matter what language you teach, no matter what subject you teacher, I encourage everyone to have a word wall. There were countless times as a student when I was writing on a test, or an essay and I couldn't recall a certain word. My teachers were, mostly forgiving if I got it slightly wrong, but my stress level sky rocketed when that happened and I am most certain that my test or my essay suffered for it. As a Latin teacher, my goal is to get kids communicating, not hung up on a word, so I have a word wall. I really do want a separate post on this, and since I don't have pictures yet, here are some ideas for a word wall and its organisation:
  • organise words by part of speech
  • colour code words by part of speech
  • organise words by unit, or lesson
  • have students write words on paper for posting, instead of you doing it
  • have students draw pictures to represent each word for posting
  • take words down that you are 100% sure all students know
  • update it daily/weekly
  • have a student update it for you
  • use the wall to create quick review lessons or activities

I am writing this post because I believe classroom organistation is important. I often joke that I got my organisation from my elementary school mother because I really do like things colour coded, symmetrical, and pretty, and I do tend to make Pinterest my best friend, technologically speaking. This year I've really tried to hone my skills and make my room truly useful, not just pretty. How do you organise your room? Go sit in a student's chair and see what is really visible from it. Are the things you want them to see actually easy to see and read? What message do you send your kids about your class by the things you choose do show?

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