Tag Archives: classroom set up

To Flex or Not to Flex:  I’ve Been Thinking about Flexible Seating

Being a new teacher at school this past year, I was the recipient of the “new English teacher classroom” that has been passed down for the last two years.  This classroom is located at the far end of the cafeteria, literally in the cafeteria, and came stacked with rows upon rows of forward facing desks, equally spaced in rows, all facing the front.  So industrial revolution-esqe. So not ideal for cultivating a welcoming environment where students to take ownership of their learning by interacting with one another to question and create meaning.

In the hopes of making my corner of the school more welcoming and conducive to English work, I slowly began to create flexible seating areas.  I built this up over the school year, finding more cozy chairs, lights, and touches of home to add, but I will confess: I don’t love my flexible seating classroom.

 

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Isn’t this how we want all students to read in a Book Club?!

 

Let me explain, as there are pros and cons to everything.

Positives:

  1. Students are pretty chill and calm in class (also see Issues #1).  Students are relaxed because the lights aren’t blazing overhead and the furniture creates a homey vibe.  Students enjoy a break from sitting in the rigid desks that are too small for some or built for right-handed writers.  They also have more space for their books, laptops, and notebooks.
  2. Students can settle into our reading time.  I’m not sure about you, but I don’t read for pleasure at home in a rigid desk, sitting straight up.  I read on the couch settled to my gently snoring dog, or I read in an armchair with my slightly overweight dog, or I read propped up on pillows in my bed with my dog who sprawls out to cover half the space.  While I can’t bring Bounder to work (I wish!), I can create the transference of reading atmosphere from school to home.
  3. Students have a choice over where they sit depending on how they’re feeling or what type of work we are doing.  I had a few students who changed seats every day, and some who stuck with the same place. Sometimes a student would move to a new seat halfway through the class, usually to a desk or table after reading time.  This makes seating charts completely unnecessary and beside the point (woo!). Students also exercise soft skills, like compromise and problem solving, when they negotiate their daily seating choice.
  4. I can easily circulate around the room, accessing each student without having to disturb their neighbors in the tight rows of desks littered with backpacks.  Students also have access to one another.

 

Issues:

  1. Students are pretty chill and calm in class (also see Positives #1).  Sometimes the siren song of the plush armchair is too much to resist, and even my most engaged students are sucked into a nap.
  2. Students cannot see all of their peer’s faces at one time.  I didn’t realize how much it would annoy me, but I realized that to me, eye contact equals engagement.  Sometimes, this led to group conversations versus whole class conversations, as one side comment turned into a table chat.  While there is less of a “front of the room” as students are not all facing the same direction, this can be an impediment to the building community at times.
  3. While student seating is flexible, room configuration is not. I only have one projector and whiteboard, so there is a distinctive front of my room, which all the chairs have a vantage point of.  I have a collection of regular desks, two large tables with, a small table with chairs, and a living room set up with larger chairs and a coffee table. There isn’t much flexibility for reorganizing the shape of the classroom to support instruction, aside from group work.  Moving the furniture into an inner-outer circle is near impossible, especially given the four minutes between preps or short precious 40 minutes I spend with students.
  4. Creating these flexible spaces costs money out of my budget.  In total, I think I spent a little over $200. I debated–$200 in books for my classroom or $200 to buy old furniture.  I debated, that is a lot of book money, but figured options for seating would help me cultivate a welcoming, comfortable classroom environment.
  5. Students are always jostling for the biggest, most plush chair, which I suppose cuts down on tardies, but also calls for a bit of regulation of the most coveted chair on campus by me.  This guy: 

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I learned a lot from this experiment and while room 104 has received a total facelift, there are some kinks to work out.  In the fall, I will set guidelines, not rules, to help form clear expectations for next year for how to navigate our space.  I will encourage students to select a new seat each week, so one group doesn’t always sit around the coffee table and students are mixing the voices they’re hearing.  I will also teach the importance of connection and looking at the speaker. Not doing so creates pods that are isolated versus cohesion as a full group.  I will continue to reserve the right to ask students to make a new or better choice in their seating, as well as use the sections of the classroom to a group and regroup as it best fits instruction.  I will also scour the local Goodwills for smaller tables and different chairs that are both more comfortable and flexible.

Aside from the lack of flexibility in the layout and money borrowed from my book budget, I believe creating a classroom with flexible seating was worth it for students. I adapted the “weird classroom in the cafeteria,” as one junior put it, into a space students feel welcome to breathe and relax a little during the day–there is something about being out of a desk and making a choice.  At the end of the day, if students are happy and like the setup, I can be satisfied with that.

Any flexible seating transition suggestions, guidelines, or ideas?  Please share them!

 

Maggie Lopez is enjoying summer vacation and hopes all of her teacher friends are doing the same.  You can find her on Twitter @meg_lopez0.

 

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We are Magnificently Confused and other names for book shelves

I have a lot of bookshelves and a lot of books. I have a relationship with my classroom

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some of my current shelves

library like many drivers have with their cars. I shine it up and keep it running smoothly. I love the new book smell.

Quite often someone asks about how I organize my library. Very carefully. When I know which shelves hold which books, I can more easily match books to readers. Shelf labels matter.

The labels on my shelves do a couple of things:  They help me know what holds what, but more importantly, these labels serve to pique curiosity and press readers to explore.

When you get to know a lot of books, you realize that most books may sit comfortably on several shelves, especially if we sort them by topic or theme and not just genre.  Sometimes I group the same copies of specific books together, and sometimes I break the sets a part to put on separate shelves.

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sports and war books need a taller shelf

When school returns in August, I will be in a new classroom. A different classroom. That means that my hundreds of books had to move down the stairs and down the hall. Now those boxes wait for when I have time. I’m going to need a lot of time.

I am thinking about how I want to organize my shelves in this new learning space — maybe two reading nooks instead of one, fewer books on the lowest shelves? more intriguing labels on more shelves with the hope of inviting more readers?

I’m thinking for sure on that last one:  changing up the category labels on the shelves. I could use your help here. I think it would be fun to be clever, but clever is hard for me.

So far, I’ve read through a ton of quotes on books and reading, and pulled phrases for shelf labels I think will work for most of the books in my library.

Here’s what I have so far:

Born into Chaos

Clapping for the Wrong Reasons

Burning Bridges

Gracefully Insane (or Close to It)

Black Sheep Own the World

You Cant Just Get Over It

Holding Close My Secrets

Making Myself into a Hero

Stop Reminding Me I Need a Life

Do You Kiss with Eyes Open or Closed?

You Just Can’t Get Over It

The Present Hides the Past

History is Herstory, too

History:  Echoes Heard & Unheard

The Edge of Possibility

Foul Play (and other sports stories)

A Likely Story

Detecto Mysterioso

It’s Going to Break Your Heart

Using My Life as a Lesson

We are Magnificently Confused

What labels would you add?

And the question of the hour:  What high-interest books would you put on these shelves?

 

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 4 (new prep in the fall). She loves talking books, daughters’ weddings (two this year), and grandbabies. She also loves facilitating PD for other teachers making the move into a workshop pedagogy because it keeps her focused on her own improvement. Amy adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all aim higher. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass. And she’d love it if you follow this blog!

Window Shopping and Writer’s Notebooks

IMG_2848While thumbing through a Pottery Barn catalog, I paused to appreciate a navy gallery wall. Inky prints, gold frames, and brass hardware framed an assortment of images, below them designer Ken Fulk wrote, “When creating a gallery wall, I like layering different objects…paintings and photographs together; it tells a wonderful story.” I looked at the images, trying to decipher the story these antlers, ivory boats, dogs, and pencil sketches communicated. To be honest, I have no idea what he was going for, but I ripped out the page anyway, taped it into my writer’s notebook and started writing around it: “What story would our own gallery walls tell?” “What is your story?”

These are the questions I want my students to answer, and bit-by-bit their stories unravel. But all too often the process of answering these questions through writing intimidates them. In turn, one of the first activities we did this year to establish classroom culture involved designing and decorating our writer’s notebook covers. In the past I had students create inspiration page collages on the inside of their notebooks, but these were hidden and personal. They didn’t distinguish one’s self or serve as a conversational piece between peers. These images, which could serve as gallery walls for my students, were tucked away.

Student notebooks ready for writing.

Student notebooks ready for writing.

In turn, this year I stocked my classroom with scrapbook paper, patterned tape, and stickers. I lined tables with butcher paper and allowed for the messy process of gluing and cutting and painting. Together, my class sat listening to music and chatting about TV shows, cars, sports, summer vacations, and the scary transition between middle and high school. While this artistry and expression is typically celebrated at the elementary level, I encounter few secondary teachers who value setting aside class time for these collages. Some of my colleagues use it as a homework assignment, but I love how blocking out one class period and allowing for exploration becomes an icebreaker in and of itself. After all, these interactions mirror the same writing process students will engage in as they begin filling their notebooks and sharing the stories of their images.

Today we’ll circle around the classroom, sharing our notebooks with each other and highlighting one meaningful aspect of our covers. This activity is low stakes and comfortable; they have a choice in how much or how little information they provide. Hopefully they’ll find that these collages are snapshots in time of who

we are, reminders of what we value, and visual hopes for who we’ll become. I know this because as we sit in a circle, I will share, for the first time, the cover I created in 8th grade when I was caught between childhood and adulthood, the cover from 11th grade when I thought I wanted to be a journalist, and the cover from my junior year of college when I left on a great adventure to study abroad in Ireland. In the end, we’ll take a great leap forward in beginning our process of sharing who we are through words and images.

My notebook covers through the ages: 8th grade (far left), 11th grade (middle), junior year of college (far right).

My notebook covers through the ages. 8th grade (far left), 11th grade (middle), junior year of college (far right).

An Authentic Connection: Literacy and Citizenship

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Room 369: The New Home of the Francis Gittens Lending Library

It is finally time for educators across the state of New York to head back to school. Here in the city, we have one day to organize, get our rooms situated, be professionally developed, catch up on the summer on-goings of our colleagues, and be ready to open our doors and welcome our new students full with promise – tomorrow.

So, as I let this ruminate; I find myself referring back to an article I was sent this summer to keep my mind whirling and my thinking on the edge.  Why are students falling off track?  According to this piece from Education Week the gap that separates students from achieving academic success is staggering.  This is not news.

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A moment of calm amongst the disorganization…

However, as I have had to arduously undergo this move of 3,000 books and their accompanied bookshelves (the entire Francis Gittens Lending Library) from room 382 to room 369; much has come to light.  I’m no stranger to believing that literacy is the key to access, opportunity, and self-worth; or that the Readers Writers Workshop is the venue in which to do so. Yet, this experience — this move, has taught me even more.

Literacy needs to be passed on.  It cannot remain only within our classrooms or the classrooms down the hall.  It must be infiltrated into the homes in which our students live; brought with them on public transportation where book covers are viewed by others; shared with siblings.  It must continually be invited and welcomed into places it does not often find an invitation.  That’s our job as educators.

I’ve been reflecting on this past year, and years prior, to recollect what I believe to be some of the most vital components of the educating that occurs within the Readers Writers Workshop – and I always come back to the same two elements: creating a love and thirst for knowledge through literature and fostering the creation of students’ voices through writing.  This was solidified when Daphtho (pictured above) matter-of-factly stated, “Ms. Bogdany, you don’t have to thank me for helping with the move.  It’s my way of thanking you for helping me receive my diploma.”

So when Daphtho and George (two recent graduates) offered to spend their time among the heat, lifting and moving and organizing and undoing and reorganizing and waiting (for me to make aesthetic decisions); they quietly schooled me.

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A moment’s pause amidst the move…

Through their actions they showed me that when we are relentless in supporting their thinking and ideas, when we foster them as individuals (not just students) they innately become the young men and women they are destined to become. They are willing to give back to their community (even if they are no longer going to be physically present). They understand what it means to feel safe to take risks, comfortable to allow vulnerability to surface, and the power of giving back.  And, are eager to pass it forward.

During the many hours of this move, there were quiet (if not silent) moments of understanding.  Albeit the towering stacks of boxes that needed unpacking, these young men stopped in their tracks as they found literature that spoke to them – and found themselves comfortable spaces in which to explore. Daphtho will be bringing literature home for his brother entering sixth grade as he works side-by-side with him on his literacy skills (knowing the importance of a strong foundation) and George decided on two pieces that were donated by a friend of mine from high school – ponderings and questions about taking the next steps in our lives.

So no, my urgency for, “Time is ticking” did not kick in.  But what did kick in was, “This is exactly what this time needs to be.  Us. Books.  Connection.  They are ready for their next steps.  How grateful I am to have borne witness to their growth and how wildly fortunate I am to know them as the citizens they have become.”    

What elements of the Readers Writers Workshop do you believe propels your students in becoming robust citizens?

 

Syllaboom or Syllabust

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Giant conversational Jenga for a first day ice breaker.

The air of an empty classroom vibrates with excitement the days before the first bell rings. Polished floors gleam, new composition notebooks sit stacked evenly, crisp bulletin boards stand brightly against cinderblock walls. The energy feeds over into the freshmen who see my classroom for the first time. This is one of the things I love most about this job—the cyclical process of reinvention, the ability to start fresh and new for both us as teachers and them as students.

I do not start my class with reading the syllabus for this exact reason—syllabi, oftentimes stuffy and long, don’t nurture the charge of possibility. Too often they stifle it. No matter how many times I condense, rewrite, and inject personality into them, between the required plagiarism description and the cell phone policy, I am afraid I come off as a jail warden.

Because of this, I wait until the second day of school to review the syllabus and instead fill my first day with low stakes, community-building activities. Last year I felt pressure to kick off the year with a summative assessment to assess the baseline writing skills of my students. I felt pressure to keep up with my colleagues, so I’d bumped up my plans and jumped straight in the first week. Instead of spending time fostering exploration and growth, I focused on individual final products, forgetting the organic process of building up an environment that praised the formative process.

I focused less on establishing their writer’s notebooks and more on ensuring students had three polished pieces within the first quarter. Number-wise it felt like a success—I could back my curriculum and process with hard numbers; my assessments aligned with many of my colleagues, but my classroom atmosphere lacked the supportive community we had worked so hard to establish the year before.

The classroom is ready for our first day of school!

The classroom is ready for our first day of school!

This year I’m returning to my “old” ways—focusing on the need for consistent quickwrites, notebook work, and small group and whole class sharing to promote trusting relationships among my students. Based on Carol Dweck’s research on the growth mindset, I’d rather give my students the time and space to make mistakes and struggle through their writing.  This year, our first day won’t involve immediately reviewing our new standards-based grading policy. It won’t require students to write their first paper by Friday. Instead, our first day will be full of giant conversational Jenga where students simply talk to one another. We’ll learn each other’s names in methods that DO NOT involve finding an adjective that rhymes with our first name. We’ll have workshop time to establish the individuality of our notebooks with collages of paint, pictures, tape, and stickers. We’ll share our favorite reads, listen to spoken word poetry like “What You Will Need in Class Today” by Matthew Foley, write, and speed date with books.

Instead of focusing on the rules, the assessments, the end, we’ll praise the process, the journey, the beginning.

Shelfie Saturday: Book List Bookmarks

shelfieThis year, I am convinced that the patron saint of libraries has arrived at EHS in the shape of a silver-haired spitfire. Kathy Vetter and her crew of library assistants have managed to shift the culture of our library from a stuffy prison in which students got kicked out all too often (for eating, sleeping, talking, breathing) into a warm, inviting space of relaxation. Surprisingly, this transformation and the allowing of food in the library have also ignited students’ interests in reading.

One of the library’s greatest programs for engaging readers has included setting up simple displays to attract students’ attention. While the displays aren’t flashy or ornate, they expose students to a wide variety of books. For example, in honor of June being LGBTQ month, the library set up a small table with a selection of LGBTQ literature. The selection included I Am Jazz, a book about a transgender child that recently sparked controversy in Maine (ourIMG_2153 neighbor) after an elementary school teacher read it to her class. In addition to the display, the library also provided copied articles about the I Am Jazz dispute to educate students. Talk about a teachable moment!

What I love most though is the increasedIMG_2154 availability of book list bookmarks. Throughout the year, the librarians have managed to set up an elaborate display of bookmarks including lists of Flume Award nominees, time travel titles, and novels in verse. Many bookmarks even include suggestions based off popular books; for example, one reads, “If you liked The Fault in Our Stars, you might like…”

As I reflect on my currently library, I look forward to aligning with the library and using their model within my own classroom. I currently use plate stands I bought from a craft store to display books on top of my bookshelves. I am planning to not only steal some book list bookmarks to provide to my students (who are always looking for bookmarks), but I am also going to use these bookmarks to help me develop my book displays

and even my classroom library shelves. In the meantime though, I will certainly count my blessings that such an angel of books not only appeared at EHS but changed the environment that surrounds one of our greatest school resources.

Growing Readers

Autumn in my New Hampshire school district.

Autumn in my New Hampshire school district.

In New England, where I teach, time is measured by temperature. New Englanders cherish Indian summers (the bout of warmth before fall settles in); we sense the bite of autumn, and can smell an oncoming snow. We are a community of seasons, and ultimately these changes dictate the course and development of our year. In turn, to show the development of my classes’ reading progress throughout the year, I drew my inspiration from what New England is famous for—its foliage. To visually represent my classes reading progress within the reading workshop, I developed a reading tree.

The concept of the tree is simple: for every book read, students received a leaf. On the leaf they wrote their initials, the book they read, and the author. They would then staple the leaf to their class’ branch. In turn, students had a visual representation of their individual progress (because they put their initials on the leaves) as well as their class’ progress. They would look to the tree to see what books were the most popular/appeared on the tree most often.

The bare tree before students arrived.

The bare tree before students arrived.

The reading tree exhibits student work and promotes individual success. In addition, it also reinforces teamwork since students look to see how their class is doing as a whole. Furthermore, the tree inspires friendly competition between classes. When I first introduce the tree, I tell students that the class with the most books read wins an ice cream party at the end of the year. This year, due to increased federal health regulations on snacks during the school day, my rules have changed. Instead, students will be able to drop two of their lowest reading scores. Unlike last year, I will tally the total books per class every quarter instead of at the end of the year to determine each quarter’s winner.

Construction for the tree is relatively simple and can be used from year to year.

Materials:

  • One concrete form tube sawed in half. I purchased mine from Home Depot and they sawed it in half for me
  • Two cans of brown spray paint. I used a textured spray paint similar to Rust-oleum’s multicolored textured spray paint, but you can use any type
  • A ream of brown paper—the same type you use to cover bulletin boards
  • A staple gun and staples.
  • Four packs of different colored paper for the leaves.
  • Brown or black duct tape
  • Bulletin board

Process:

  1. Spray paint the concrete form tube with the two cans of brown spray paint. This will serve as your trunk.
  2. Pull large sections of the paper of the ream and begin twisting the paper. As you twist the paper, begin stapling it to the concrete tube using the staple gun. Continue ripping off multiple pieces of paper from the ream, twist and intertwine them as you go along. This will make your trunk look three-dimensional and more realistic. Leave long ends on the bottom. Twist these to a point to create the roots of the tree.
  3. Before you get to the top of the trunk, fashion what looks like a strap. I did this by taking a piece of the brown paper and folding it to make a 2’ X 6” rectangle to wrap around the top of the trunk and affix to the wall. I reinforced the back of the piece of paper with brown duct tape. I then put this strap around the front of the trunk where the bulletin board first meets the concrete tube. I stapled the strap to the tree then the excess ends of the strap to the bulletin board to ensure that the tree wouldn’t fall over once it was complete.
  4. Finally, I continued twisting individual brown pieces of paper and then layering them by twisting multiple pieces together to create a thicker branch. Make sure to create a branch for each of your classes that will be participating.
  5. As you create the larger branches, staple them to the bulletin board. Because the paper is pliable, it is easily to manipulate to look more like a tree. Add smaller branches by twisting additional paper scraps.
  6. Cut out small leaves and store them in a jar or bag to give out to students as they finish their books. I usually have a volunteer cut them out for me so that I have a bulk amount for each quarter.
  7. Get excited to watch your tree (and readers) blossom!
    The reading tree full of leaves at the end of last year.

    The reading tree full of leaves at the end of last year.

While the tree may look complex, it does not take an extraneous amount of time to complete or teach to students. Last year, I allowed my classes to pick which branch they would like to use. Furthermore, I color coded the leaves based on the quarter. Each quarter, I would let my students pick the new leaf color. Green was the first quarter, red was second, orange was third, and yellow was fourth. Just as fall foliage shows the change of seasons in New England, the changing leaves showed my students their development and growth as readers throughout the year.

 

 

 

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