When I first started teaching ages ago, like most of us, I set up my classroom the standard way. I had my nice neat rows all lined up perfectly so my students could view me and the front of the room where the whiteboard was. It was what I had learned, what I saw many others doing so I thought this was the way rooms were supposed to be set up. And I am sorry to say, this was how my room was set up for many years. I did make some small changes as time went on and I grew more confident – I set up desk groups, let students pick their own desks but for the most part it was still rows of desks.
Fast forward to now and my room is definitely much different. It took people who challenged my way of thinking – Erin Klein with her different posts on setting up a classroom environment that students felt comfortable in, Dana Ariss with her couches and beanbag chairs and many others who made me realize that it was okay to start rethinking my classroom environment. But at the end of the day, it was my kids, my students who made me realize it was time for a change.
I want you all to think about when you go to PD sessions where you have to sit for long periods of time and how uncomfortable you all get. Most of us would not make it if we had to sit for a whole day in a chair or desk without being able to get up and move, yet we forget we sometimes ask the same of our students. We all wiggle in our chairs, shift around and even take a ‘bathroom break’ just to get up. Guess what – our kids are actually the same. It was this thinking that made me bring in some changes into my room when I moved to my new school.
When I started in my new school last year, I decided it was time to rethink classroom space. So I started adding in things that I thought were important to have some different spaces in my classroom where students felt comfortable to do their work. One of the first spaces I set up was my reading corner. Here is where I have my classroom library, pillows for the kids to set and lay on while they are reading or if they are doing work, they can also use this space. I also have 2 Ikea chairs that the kids love sitting in while they read or do work.
Another popular spot are the tables I have – one large communal whiteboard table I use to work with the kids, but is also a great collaborative space where kids like to work together. Around it are hokki stools -the greatest invention. My kids call them “wobbly stools” but its great for those kids who need something to get those wiggles out. I like them way better than yoga balls because they are smaller and easier to contain, they don’t take up as much room but still have the same affect.
As well, there are two standing desks for those kids who just need to stand sometimes. Again this is a popular space because sometimes kids need to stand up and move around. And this gives them that opportunity. The newest addition is a low table for those that like to be low to the ground for those that like to be low to the ground when they work. It’s also become a popular collaborative space or space for my math groups.
My students have learned these last few weeks that these spaces are for them – they are to pick the space they need that speaks to than at that period in time. For some of them, it is their desk. They like having their own personal space to call their own and sometimes some will work there because they just need to have a space for them to work on their own. We have also learned we need to share the space so if two of us want it at the same time, they need to deal with that. For most of them, “rock, paper, scissors” has become their go-to for solving any problems that arise and I am good with that.
So for those people who are wondering if setting up your classroom differently is something to consider, I would definitely say yes. It’s been working in my room, my students are happy, comfortable but most importantly, they are learning to use the different spaces to work and use it well.