By Tom White
This is the time of year when, like most teachers, I become an interior decorator. I move stuff around, decorate walls and try to make my classroom Just Right. And I think I’m about there. All I have left to do is put my students’ names on their desks. And plan for the first day. This is the thirtieth time I’ve been through this, and I follow three basic tenets:
1. Walls and bulletin boards are for student work or really important information. I don’t put up decorations. I leave plenty of room for my students’ writing and art. If you click this link you can see a 360 degree video of my (almost) completed room. You’ll see a vast green bulletin board in the back. By October that board will have about 80 student-created stories hanging on it. My fourth graders love reading their classmates’ work almost as much as they like having their work read by their classmates. That’s how writing should be; it should have a purpose and an audience.
2. Student desks should be placed in an arrangement that makes sense. For years I placed desks in groups of four with students facing each other. This was a great arrangement for those times in which I wanted them working in cooperative groups. But it was a terrible arrangement for those in which I didn’t. And when I did the math, I found out that I usually didn’t! For about 25% of the time I’m up at the front; leading a discussion, explaining something or showing something on the screen, and I want my kids looking toward the front. For about 30% of the time my students are working independently at their desks: reading, writing or doing math. It doesn’t matter which way they face, but it certainly doesn’t help to have another student facing them across the table. For about 20% of the time I have my kids work in pairs. Again, it doesn’t matter which way they face, but it helps to have only one conversation going on. Given this data, it makes sense for me to put my student desks in pairs arranged in three rows, with everyone facing the front. When I want them in groups on four, every other pair can easily turn around and face the pair behind them.
3. Less is better. I have less furniture, less boxes, less posters than any elementary teacher I know. A classroom should not be a repository for every teaching device ever sold or every educational idea written since 1982. I have been in classrooms that make me dizzy after two minutes. I once worked with a teacher whose room was so crowded the EPA filed a complaint. Seriously! Not me. If I don’t use something it’s gone. If it takes up space, it’s out. I keep things bare and simple.
Good luck getting your room ready and have a wonderful start to what I hope is a very productive year!