Thursday, 19 May 2016

Classroom Environments and Organisation

Back when I was at Massey High in my first two years of teaching, we were in Professional Learning Communities where we chose the learning area we wanted to focus on as a collective. The five of us English teachers decided we wanted to focus on seeing whether a change in classroom environment could affect student engagement and attention in class.

We planned a little about needing fabric to cover the bare walls and creating cool posters for our students to reference for their learning. Rushing off to Spotlight with my mentor and buddy teachers was easily one of my best memories as a first year teacher. Am definitely a fabric geek. Haha.

We found heaps of cool stuff there, including a roll of black fabric with shiny silver stars. I still have the remains in my back cupboard now.

So we worked in each others classrooms, helping each other fix and make better our environments we worked in each day. True collaboration and what I loved about my colleagues at MHS.

By the time we got to my class - we were knackered but we managed to get quite a bit done and created strips of the black and silver starred fabric for one part of my wall. Sometime later I created my 'Dreams are Free' wall letters. I still have these too, they're on top of a pile of resources which are constantly waiting to be put up around the room.

Under that phrase I got students to make shapes where the wrote their goals and hopes for their lives. Each class did that and stapled them on the wall - it was a beautiful way to create student ownership in the space. It helped to motivate them too with little help from myself.

In that room there was a lino floor. It was awesome for kids on a wet day to slide on.... lol but more importantly I loved the click of my high heels on it. I wear flats now... The lino floor was great because we could move the desks out of the way easily, change the environment for different modes of learning quickly and did heaps of debates, role playing from the novels we read and dramatic readings of poems students wrote.

I was hardly ever sitting at my desk. You could barely see my desk at the time... I was still figuring out my organisational system...

Which is my next focus.

As my fifth year of teaching concludes and I move into my sixth - it feels good to have finally controlled or lets say begun to tame the monster that is paper at high school.

On my desk after the day you might find piles of student work, a bit of rubbish or student texts to read. But it's a quick five minute tidy now as I finally have things organised - not just so that I'm the only one who can find anything... haha

On my desk lays my teachers planner, my laptop, stationary, timetable and a bowl for my keys. On the table beside mine sits the projector. I've resigned myself finally to the fact that it remains a stationary object and probably won't get put on the roof as my class is one of the classes that could be pulled down if the MOE declare we have too many buildings.

On my left is a 8 box bookcase laying on its side. On top sits two purple tray organisers (three really because I needed six trays) - that are labelled for each class and my HTG. In these trays go my student's unfinished work.

In the eight boxes of the bookcase sit students folders for portfolios or workbooks after marking. In one of the boxes I have teaching resources and another for my readings to do and learn about.

Behind me is the whiteboard and the back cupboard. It is an awesome space but needs an absolute overhaul. When I had to move from my previous class I moved everything out, made it absolutely tidy for the new person to move in and chucked the stuff from 1980... When I moved into my current class - it was an absolute mess. I couldn't put my stuff anywhere so I ended up smushing it in with everything else and even after a small tidy a couple months ago to fit the PI drums in and organise the beanbags - it is still a massive mess. I would love to use that space more effectively but I need a bit of time to sort it.

The bookshelf in the corner by the cupboard door is probably my favourite item in the class. I found it on Neighbourly last year - a neighbour was giving it away. It's beyond cool. Towers over me but has been organised in such a way that all of my students have a space for their assessments to be held, extra shelving for who knows what just yet and above on the top shelf sits photos and other knickknacks brought in to brighten the class up, engage students like the lightbox or the Class Dojo 'Mojo' toy.

Last but not least is the bookcase at the back of the class. I spent a solid hour yesterday, with the help of one of my students, fixing it up and resorting it so that it looked better. Much more organised and hopefully students might stop putting their rubbish in there... :( In the bookshelf are a lot of books, novels, poetry, autobiographies - things I've picked up over the year at book sales and when our school library does a run through any texts that they don't want or haven't been read in a while. They're all labeled for my class library and organised beautifully - at the moment.

The one thing I guess I haven't mentioned yet is that my class is bare at the moment - excepting some QR codes and the back wall noticeboard half covered in blackboard paint and the other side covered in black paper. One more Cambridge exam and then I can put some things back up. But not everything - because it's too much of a mission pulling everything down again for exams three times a year.

At MHS they used our classes for exams too so it's not that I'm not used to it - but at MHS I had the fabric on the walls so could just pull the fabric off and everything came down.

A man came into class the other day - and he had a measuring beam tool that he placed in two spots in class to gauge the space. I straight away thought it was for the routers - why I don't know. But he said he was there to do the composite. The carpet on the wall. Yay! Because then I can put things on the wall! And pull them down easily!! :)

I just need to make sure that they take the beautiful mural in class down first before they do any carpeting over it. :)

My students didn't really get why I was so excited about carpet on the wall. But it will seriously (hopefully) brighten the place up. Which it definitely needs.

The tables - I think I've written before about the tables in our class. They're the old metal frames with new tops on. They're the kind of desks I had in primary school. I tried making them marginally better last year by putting whiteboard film on them. Which the students actually really liked because we could learn in ways they hadn't been able to do so previously. Brainstorming, planning, writing, drawing etc etc etc.

I took it all off before end of year and Cambridge exams last year. I need to buy some more. It was a really cool tool and I have to thank Alyx Gillet for the idea. :)

The issue with the tables is that they're bulky and difficult to organise into groups. They don't smoothly move around the class either but are easy enough to lift and shift and pack away.

I have some awesome trapezoidal shaped tables though. Just need one or three more to make a proper shape. Or series of shaped tables. Then I could get rid of the tables. But then they're needed for the exams. Hmm.

That's where the beanbags come in though. Beautiful for students to find their own space, outside, inside, to do their work.

I need more student input to make the class better. More time to fix it up. More funds saved to go and do so. :) All in good time.