The NEW year gifts you a second chance at hitting the RESTART button with your students. After holiday break, your students (and you!) come back refreshed and happy to see one another again. The New Year brings the hopes of a new beginning and purpose in your classroom.
Isn’t this a universal feeling amongst all teachers? We are motivated to make the changes necessary so we can forge ahead in our curriculum and make a difference!
I have always considered the month of January a “the magic month” because all your efforts in establishing classroom rules, community and procedures come to fruition, despite the constant break in your daily routine and the endless craftivities that the month of December brings. Come January, students AND teachers CRAVE restoring routine once again and are ready and raring to go!
We all know that our students will thrive with continued routine and high expectations for their achievement. Having both, brings a sense of security for you and your students. They will feel taken care of. And… some of our little honeys need this more than others and so that is why we strive to create a positive, loving and nurturing environment in our classroom, because after all, it is OUR home away from home!
Teachers return to school in January and SHAKE IT ALL UP with visions of new seating arrangements, new themes/incentives, new unit plans, and a new-anything to illicit engagement, growth and above all, trying to make a difference in our students’ young lives.
So here is my story as a first grade teacher. Yup, I’m guilty of changing it ALL up! On a whim, in fact! But, this is a success story: I am so glad I took the plunge! After teaching for nearly 20 years, I have learned to follow my gut instinct and now, my students are more focused, the social distractions are controlled, and I am able to manage center activities while meeting with FOUR guided reading groups daily! Woot! Did I mention this is a success story? TeeHee.
Let me begin by sharing the “before” picture of my classroom arrangement. At the start of the year all six tables were facing forward. My goal was to direct their attention to the front of the classroom where explicit instruction occurs. With a quick glance to their right or left; our Interactive Word Wall, anchor charts, classroom library, personal goals, etc were accessible for reference and use.
By December, our classroom procedures and routine were running smoothly. Flexible seating arrangements were available, seating assignments were in place, and center areas were recognizable. But our classroom felt small with the layout of the tables.
This classroom layout took up a great deal of space in our classroom. It served it’s purpose to start off the school year, but adjustments needed to be made so that we were more productive.
So, I took the plunge! The last week before Christmas break, I rearranged the six tables so they were back to back creating three groups. The children were highly engaged in holiday crafts/projects and without complaint they accepted the new classroom arrangement. There was a busy and happy hum buzzing in our classroom all week long.
It was the best time to “test things out”. They were in fact chatty, excitable, and more social due to the upcoming holiday and break. Why not bring them more joy and provide them with a new seating arrangement that brought them FACE TO FACE with their friends and encouraged eye contact and social interactions?
I embraced this change, for it was a cozy time of year with the holidays approaching. Yet, you must understand, I was “beta” testing this new seating arrangement and learning how this diverse group of students would adjust and interact. I must admit they did well.
And… our room felt twice as large! More spacious and inviting. My students had more room to navigate the classroom and visit each center to collect the materials they needed to complete their Daily 5. And since they loved their new seating arrangement, they returned quickly to their “home base group” to continue working.
If you have been following the blog, you know that I am continuously searching for the most efficient classroom management practices and tools to manage classroom behaviors, create efficiency, engagement and encourage growth. Aren’t we all? That is why I am sharing this story with you!
Over December Break, I had the chance to decompress, reflect and evaluate the new room arrangement. I contemplated if I should return the tables to their original configuration. Did I want to rock the boat? I had to weigh the pros and cons. And the pros won out!
But the cons still haunted me. Did I really want to encourage social interactions and eye contact during our Daily 5? Now that they were facing one another at the tables, they were certain to be off-task. Yet, the new layout was more conducive to flexible seating and offered more SPACE to navigate the classroom. However, the fear of constant distractions by their peers was a HUGE drawback. The mental handwringing nagged at me throughout holiday break!
So I reflected. I thought back to my own first grade classroom when I was six years old. I have such fond memories, despite the fact that Mrs. Bearfield told my parents on more than one occasion, that I was bossy! But I have come to terms with it. I am a mother and a teacher now, so that skill comes in handy these days! 😊
Did I mention that Mrs. Bearfield had the BEST classroom set up ever? Her classroom was divided into centers. Writing, Reading, Science, Social Studies, Math, and Guided Reading! And there were WALLS dividing her classroom into separate ROOMS! It was a HUGE classroom (or so I thought as a mere 6/7 year old).
It’s so amusing how your recollection of your primary school years is so skewed. Everything seemed so enormous. As a child I often wondered, how did Mrs. Bearfield know what I was doing in the little “rooms”? I could only see the top of HER head, how does she know if I was doing my work or playing with my friends? Well, she always knew! And I regret having to admit, she would often pop out of nowhere to remind me to stay on task and “worry about yourself”.
I decided to try my best to replicate the “home away from home” that Mrs. Bearfield created for her first grade classroom. A classroom with “rooms”. I do not have access to, or the funds to purchase room dividers that were present in her classroom. But I did get creative with furniture AND…
With table-top “dividers”! Check these babies out:
I purchased these tower cubes from Target for $20 each along with the cubby drawers to color-code the tables and suddenly from a 6/7 year old’s perspective there were “walls” in our classroom. I have politely obstructed their view and eliminated the urge to socialize when their focus should be on their Daily 5 activities.
Oh! I am not a scrooge! They have plenty of opportunities to interact throughout the day! Check out the Phonics, Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop pages on the blog for some ideas! I simply needed them to remain focused during our Daily 5 routines, so I can meet with my Guided Reading groups. It’s a win-win!
Besides, those tower cubes offer tons of opportunities to organize school supplies and keep them out of sight until needed. Aren’t they pretty to boot?
[SIDE NOTE: table arrangements are angled so they can still see the Smart Board during whole group lessons]
In closing, I am absolutely pleased with my investment. It has brought me peace of mind, a lot more quiet, organization, pride and above all: focused students!
With the start of a new year, every teacher and student are ready to start fresh. This is our NEW beginning. I hope by sharing my success story I have inspired you to brainstorm new “outside the box” teaching strategies to make the most of the rest of your school year! You got this!
Happy New Year, teacher friends!