What are the components of a highly functioning classroom? How does the placement of students within a classroom contribute to (or reduce) the learning of the collective? How has my understanding of classroom management changed? These are a few questions I was able to answer after readings and in class activities but before I jump into the answers let me explain how I discovered them!
For the past two weeks our focus has been on how to create a physical environment that is conducive to learning for students. The main concern is how to incorporate varying degrees of personality, academic and personal/physical struggles with the layout of a classroom. The goal is to construct an environment where students work as a cohesive unit with the least amount of interruption and the highest amount of security and safety as possible.
In Class Activity: I received a wake up call during week three when we were placed in groups of six and were told we would be modeling teachers who were meeting at the end of the year to determine how the students would be placed in the our grade level classrooms. Each of us were dealt cards that became symbolic representations of our students. We received the following sheet informing us what each card suite and number represented in terms of student demographics. Please see below:
After assessing each student and their attributes I quickly realized I would not be able to operate my classroom one dimensionally if I really wanted to be an effective educator. With so many different and sometimes competing needs of the twenty-five students I knew I would not be able to approach them all with the same practices. My classroom was pretty evenly divide by suite sets and gender. Five students had reading levels below third grade and eight were ELL but only two of those were not proficient in English. I also had three in need of strong emotional support, one with a learning disability, one with ADD/ADHD.
I heard sounds of frustration and relief as our class begun sorting through the students who made up their classroom and I sadly realized some students are poised to enter classrooms being labeled as “undesirable” or “problems” or “ideal”. That does not sit well with me as it inevitably leads to stereotypes and generalizations being made and possibly preventing the student(s) from receiving the most out of my classroom. I will have to make a conscientious effort to avoid labeling students. I want to view students who deviate from the preferred norm as opportunities rather then struggles.
Fast-forward to week four: Our class activity was to design our physical vision of our future classroom. We were given a list of required features that had to be placed in the classroom. The picture below shows my initial vision:
As you can see, I was able to include the features that were discussed in chapter two of Elementary Classroom Management (Weinstein and Romano, 2011, page 27). “All physical settings serve six basic functions: security and shelter, social contact, symbolic identification, task instrumentality, pleasure and growth,” (Weinstein and Romano, 2011, page 27). I made sure students were placed far away from distractors like the pencil sharpener and that entryways and passageways were easily accessible to avoid unnecessary conflicts and accidents. I also choose to arrange students in pods to encourage group activities and lessons. Honestly, I felt like we nailed our layout!
While I thought of the students in my design my greatest determinant of placement was on the above mentioned functions. Then we were thrown a curveball! We were instructed to arrange the students from last weeks activity into the layout we had just designed. So the students I had described earlier now had to be factored into my layout design. We were only allowed to make three adjustments to our initial design in order to accommodate our set of students. Below is my revised vision with my students labeled by suite and number.
My physical changes included moving the bookshelf to create a more cozy section of the classroom that was still accessible to my eye line but could help students “block out” the world to focus on reading. I thought this would be great for my ELL students who could be pulled back for mini lessons and reading circles. My most noticeable change was to the desk arrangements. For easier viewing, desk outlined in red indicated a red colored suite and those not outline reflect black colored suites. I tried to arrange students mixing gender evenly but placing similar academic levels near each other and ELL’s near those closest to each others academic level. I took one pod and separated them to provide students who need more attention or who prone to distracting others in the back to avoid these disturbances. However, by doing so I was technically labeling students so moving forward I will allow students to choose seats and I will rearrange on an as needed basis. My goal will be to create a safe, easily accessible environment where classroom boards and displays are equally shown to all students.
What I’ve learned overall: There is no layout that ensures a flawless classroom but it is my responsibility to try and accommodate all students and meet their needs to the best of my abilities. All of the preparation in the world does not guarantee a perfectly functioning classroom. I must be flexible and quick to accomodate changes in my student roster or changes that can unexpectedly come up throughout the year such as a broken leg or a new student.
Weinstein, C. & Romano, M. (2015). Managing classrooms to nurture students, build self-discipline, and promote learning. Elementary Classroom Management: Lessons from Research and Practice (Sixth ed., pp. 2-23). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.
Catch you next week!