Setting up a practical classroom

Finished my goal of setting up my classroom today.  Come on in.

I made a lot of overhauls in my room this year - new elements here and there, some updated materials.  It got me thinking about practicality in the classroom.  I've been playing the game for a few years now and wanted to share my perspective about putting together a practical classroom - both for its teacher and its students.

First stop, calendar.  My daily calendar routine is pretty simple - the date, the day of school, and the "big number" (see below.)  It's a quick way to get settled and focused first thing in the morning.  Calendar materials (numbers, markers) are kept in the pouch stapled to the board for quick access.  The plastic drawers serve many purposes - places for students to put finished and unfinished work, places for me to put graded work and more important documents like signed slips, etc.  Other drawers hold spare paper, math manipulatives, and socks to use a dry-erase board erasers.

I highly recommend drawers to hold student work - it won't get lost if it's shut in a specific place.  There's no need to worry about finding signed papers or finished student work on your desk.  

Here we have more storage for dry erase boards, manipulatives, academic games, among other things.  Those colorful, taped together file folders are my "privacy folders" - they're color-coded by table for easy passing out.  I also keep emergency sub plans and activities in my "sub tub" drawer.

This is the future home of my word wall.  You'll notice the subjects at the top.  I use the subject headers to color-code all the academic vocabulary that we cover in class (I'm a huge believer in academic vocabulary) for quick reference on the wall.  Student names will go up as well.

I'm lucky to have a lot of freedom in my school, so I painted all of my bulletin boards white a few years ago.  If you're allowed to, I highly recommend painting bulletin boards.  It's very freeing not to have to deal with the wear and tear of paper - and it wipes clean.  I chose white, since it will match everything, and it helps to make things pop out against it.  I painted my walls at the same time, and the large sections of white space help to tone down the fairly bold marigold/cornflower blue combination in my classroom.  

This may not be a popular opinion, but I am a huge believer in single-colored bulletin boards for your whole classroom, as well as choosing a single border.  More on that later.

If painting isn't an option for you, try fabric.  It doesn't fade, it won't rip or wrinkle the way paper does, and it holds up much better in the long run.  My hallway bulletin boards (see above) are covered with a stretchy jersey that I haven't changed in several years, and they still look fantastic.

Here's the aforementioned "big number" chart for calendar.  I randomly found this in my storage a while ago, and I absolutely love it.  I have no idea who made it, but it seems to fit this place value lesson off of Utah Education Network's website.  Every day, a student uses a post-it note to add a digit to the number, and reads it off for the class.  The number goes up to 100 decillion.  We typically complete 6 entire numbers in a year's time.  My classes have been very successful with place value, especially with reading larger numbers, and I credit this chart and the brief, daily practice it helps to provide.  I don't love it aesthetically and have been meaning to redo it, but daily place value practice is and will remain a staple in my classroom.

"My" corner with my filing cabinets and reference books, and my reading table.  The two bookshelves hold our in-class guided reading.  The stools came from Ikea and have been an awesome investment.  We have a very lovely view from the window seat, which kids can sit in on "their" day (more on that later.)

Another bulletin board - this one contains guided reading strategies (these posters are available for sale, along with my guided reading program, on TpT) and 6+1 traits of writing posters (available for free on my TpT store.)  All of the displays in my room are things that I reference a lot.  A general rule of thumb is only put up posters or displays in your classroom if you acknowledge and use them on a regular basis - everything else contributes to visual noise (more on that later.)

The classroom Twitter is just for fun - it's butcher paper that the students can write random messages, questions, surveys, or jokes on if they have free time.  I maintain a strict "if anything inappropriate is written on the Twitter then the entire thing comes down for a month" policy - it's only happened a few times.  The students are generally very respectful of it.

Numbered classroom cubbies, along with my class motto, some room to display student work, and the job chart.  I'm trying something new this year with the job chart - "person of the day."  I'm eliminating the weekly designated jobs I've used in the past so one student per day gets a little more power - that student leads calendar, passes everything out, gets to run the little errands, gets to make classroom decisions, gets to sit on the window seat, etc.  It's an experiment, so we'll see how it works out.  The job chart is covered with pockets with students names and cubby numbers.  It's important for students to have designated places in the classroom where they can access their own things easily.  I previously had the cubbies where my library now is, but I moved them because the space was too crowded and kids were getting in traffic jams when getting materials.  I had to sacrifice the wide open spaces for the library, but it's helped management and transitions in my room by a lot.

Rules are not yet posted (they'll go over the library,) because I do an activity where students give examples on the first day.  Our classroom rules are always "be hospitable, respectful and responsible" (a school-wide mantra,) so students will give their own examples and definitions in the speech bubbles and paste them onto the poster boards for display.

My classroom library, with its 5 billion books and enormous school mission statement display.  I admire teachers who organize their libraries into genres and reading levels - I don't know if I'll ever get to that point.  I hear it takes a lot of explicit instruction to manage.  Anyway, I usually have the kids neaten it up when it starts to look like a disaster (usually about every month.)  This is probably as tidy as it will look all year.

Religion display above library.  I'm in a Catholic school, so we're required to have one.  Also pictured is the other half of my calendar display.

Student chairs with communal pencil/scissor access and seat bags for easy access to art supplies, clip boards, etc.  It's a fast and easy way for kids to manage their own supplies.  I love having tables for three reasons - it's easier to arrange partner/group work, it's easier to hand out papers and supplies, and it forces students to put things away when they're finished.  I don't allow students to keep things on their desks other than what we're doing at the time, to avoid distractions and to keep kids engaged.  With tables, there's no place to hide distractions, like the inside of a desk.

We just got Reading Street so I put up the new alphabet.  Is there a reason that their materials are so huge?  Not crazy about how gendered/caucasian centered they are, either.

Above the alphabet are the inquiry based scientific method poster,  available for sale in my inquiry based science pack.  Looking forward to changing around science education this year.

Details from the board - my SWBAT ("students will be able to" - for lesson objectives.)  This was the brainchild of a colleague, Kate, who sadly moved out of state but left great ideas behind.  I keep the current academic vocabulary in the pocket chart for quick reference.  I love my name stick holder - one of my students, Alex, made me a magnetic version after I dropped and broke the coffee cup I previously used in front of the class.  Clever kid!  It's really worked well.  I typically draw names rather than call on students, to keep kids engaged and to make sure everyone's voice is heard throughout the day.

Final detail - hall passes.  As long as I'm not teaching a lesson, they can take it.  These are plastic dollar store frames.

Let's talk about visual noise...

I am a firm believer in creating an environment that benefits concentration by cutting down on "stuff" in the room - the visual noise.  Many classrooms are covered with posters, displays, and lots of colors and patterns.  They can be beautiful, but overwhelming.  AS you can seen above, all by borders are the same, as are all the bulletin board backgrounds.  I leave the same borders up all year as well - no swap outs for holidays, etc.  One, it saves me a ton of time, money and work, and two, the continuity prevents the classroom from being too busy to look at.  The only two things I really change in the classroom throughout the year are student work and some mild holiday stuff (mostly window clings - nothing big.)  Everything else is just things I use on a regular basis, like the science, reading and writing posters, and the academic vocabulary on the word wall.  By minimizing what's in your room to student work and regularly used resources, you're helping to create a "quiet" environment that isn't distracting or overwhelming.

There are many classrooms out there that are very, very beautiful, but very visually noisy.  That's not to say all beautiful, carefully decorated classrooms are - hey, you spend a huge portion of your life int he classroom, why not make it a pleasant looking environment?  Not all visually noisy classrooms are the super-decorated type, either.  Every been in a really cluttered classroom?  It's just as distracting as one that's Pinterested to an inch of its life.  Balance and minimalism are the key.  Keep these points in mind:

 The dearly departed Alexander McQueen, with Bjork in one of his creations.

The dearly departed Alexander McQueen, with Bjork in one of his creations.

Have you ever heard the expression "Don't dress in designer clothes, dress like the designer?" Meaning that most fashion designers are pretty tame dressers who tend to favor minimalist designs and complementary colors, despite what they're showing on the runway.  Think of your classroom like Lakeshore Learning - clean lines, well organized, accessible - whereas going on a Lakeshore shopping spree and covering your walls in everything they sell can create quick chaos.  Purpose in a classroom leads to an environment where learning is optimal, in my humble opinion.

Speaking of classroom excess, I don't keep cute rugs or pillows in my room, just because they tend to become pleasure dens for these vile creatures...

Comfy areas tend to lose their appeal after bagging them up for the umpteenth time after a lice outbreak.  Lice hasn't been a problem in my classroom (knock on wood) the last few years without carpets or pillows.

(If you do get a lice outbreak in your room, don't panic.  Put the soft stuff in trash bags for about a month - it takes lice about two weeks to gestate, so a month is just to make sure.  Anything that can be machine washed should be, in hot water.  It's hard to tell who has lice without the lice actually hatching, since nits are hard to recognize. They typically lay eggs behind the ears and against the neck.  Feel for slightly sticky, matted hair, with sand-like grit.)

Have fun setting up your classroom, and good luck with the school year!