Posted by: Kathy Cassidy | August 12, 2010

Room Two and the Forty Designs

One of the wonderful things about teaching is that you get a fresh start every year.  New students.  New crayons. A chance to start over.

With that new start, I always think about how I want things in my classroom to be better than they were the year before.  What to get rid of, and what to bring into my classroom occupy a significant part of my summer thinking.

This year is no different.  About a year and a half ago, I got rid of the desks in my classroom to make way for tables.  I like it far better.  Other physical changes this year include:

  • a Smartboard that is actually mounted at a height that is appropriate for my students –This will mean many more opportunities for the students to use it independently.  It is also on one side of the classroom instead of the middle, so that using it will not distract everyone else in the room.
  • a couch (well, a love seat)–I have wanted a cozy place for students to curl up to read or work for a long time.
  • a coffee table–Some children can concentrate so much better when they can sit on their knees instead of uncomfortable chairs.
  • a new area carpet– Students love to be able to work on the floor.

As part of my annual re-do, I have been reading and thinking about the design of my classroom and that the design not only reflects my thinking about learning, but can affect that learning as well.  Other, more learned people than me, have talked about the importance of design, and their ideas are always in the back of my mind.  Functionality has to balance with appearance.  Two books by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser have also helped me think about my classroom setup.

As part of my process, I have been making a mental list of the things that I value, as these are the things that I want my classroom to reflect.

  1. I want students to be as independent as possible (given that they are five and six years old).
  2. I want them to learn how to take responsibility for their own learning.
  3. I want to provide a classroom that is a comfortable setting for different learning styles.
  4. I want them to learn from each other and from people outside of our classroom and to realize that this is how we all learn.

There are other things that are flitting around in my mind, but that is a starting place. With these ideas in mind, I have created a paper model of my classroom, and have been moving things around trying to make everything work the way I want it to.  (My classroom is still being cleaned, so I can’t actually move the real things.) So far I have tried about thirty-nine variations and am still not satisfied.

I guess design number forty is coming up.

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Responses

  1. It is quite a process to go through. Last year I took away the desks and put in tables and chairs. It gave the students far more room to move around and work on the floor or in other places in the room. The students work as a community to keep the room clean. No dirty or messy desks to clean each week and everyone can find things. It worked great.

    This year, I wanted to make some changes as well. I’d liked a lot of things about what I had done last year but knew I had some “hot spots” in the room. I created a design just like you and moved it around at least 40 times but it didn’t feel right. When I went to move furniture and rugs it didn’t have the same flow as last years arrangement. So, I made a list of what worked and what didn’t work. When I was finished with the list I knew the areas I needed to fix and concentrate on.

    I’m excited because I’ve also put a couch in my room. I got the frame at IKEA for $34. For the cushions I’m using my old mattress pad from our bed. I’ve cut the memory foam to fit and just have to make the covers for the back and bottom. The kids will be so excited to use it to read and work on.

    Another design tool I focused in on was my boarders. I’d had different boarders on my bulletin boards. I changed them out and put all of the same boarder around the bulletin boards. It’s not so busy and brings a unified look to the room. I’m discovering, less is more.

    Good luck with your room arrangement Kathy. It’s a fun process to work through.

    • Thanks for your comment, April. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who is grappling with this. The unified border idea is on my list of things to do this year as well. The difficulty is that the list is longer than the time before school starts.

    • Hello, my name is May Krasovich and I attend the University of South Alabama. I am in Dr. Stranges EDM310 class. Too be honest, I have never given too much thought on how to decorate a 1st grade classroom. That is until I read your post “Room Two and the Forty Designs.” I agree that the design of a room can change the way a child will learn. Making a room comfortable and fun to be in will make children more willing to learn apposed to being in just another standard classroom. We all know that young children need to get up and move around every so often, but they also need somewhere to move to. Just standing up and streching for a minute or so doesn’t always cut it. This is one of the coolest ideas I have ever heard a teacher come up with! This post will be in the back of my mind until I graduate. If the teacher can make learning fun and comfortable the children will most likely be more interested and soak up much more information. This was a great post to read and also gave me several ideas on how to decorate a fun and comfortable classroom of my own one day. you can contact me at krasovichmayedm310.blogspot.com or our class blog at edm310.blogspot.com

  2. I’m so glad to hear others’ thoughts on this. Having only two years in a primary grade I feel like this is still a real struggle for me. (Setting up a classroom for 4th/5th graders feels very different to me.) I think your paper model is brilliant. I end up physically moving all my furniture again and again. Not too efficient.

    • While I do like playing with it on paper, I can’t wait to see it in person and I will probably move the furniture around a lot as well. It is hard for me to know if the two feet I allowed between tables is really enough unless I see it with my own eyes.

  3. I’m surprised I didn’t make the little model this year. After talking with you on Yammer I decided to dispense with the five extra chairs. My room feels so sterile as I sit here typing this. Might as well check my Google Reader, our Division network seems down this Friday afternoon. I cleared a shelf for student materials; one that used to be devoted to my teacher support material. That gives a bare three inches of storage for each student. Binders and notebooks can go there. I asked for a one inch binder and a few notebooks. They should fit in the space. Perhaps there will be room for a library book.

    Defined space in a room are important. I have centers defined. In the next few weeks I will establish the first four centers in the room. Despite that, I think it is important to maintain as much flexibility with the limited space I have.

    More than shifting furniture (a hobby of mine), I am trying to shift my thinking on norms. For example, it is common practice to send groups into the hall in order to spread the noise. Often over the years my classroom has been the quiet space and group discussion moves to the hallway. It is an odd arrangement. I have shifted my thinking to group work in the classroom and silent activity in the hallway. When you shift to a studio design (AKA kindergarten classroom), you have more things to arrange than furnishings and storage.

    • Alan, I agree that changing our thinking has to come first. As usual, you say it more eloquently than I. Have you seen Darren Kuropatwa’s post about design today? http://dkuropatwa.posterous.com/instructional-design-principles It echoes some of the things I have been thinking about the walls in my classroom. A lot of things that I have up are coming down. Instead of sterile, think of it as a way to focus the student’s attention on the things that are important, that you create together. I think that the walls are another post, though…

  4. Kathy,
    It is always so hard to find the arrangement that “works”. This year before school started my main goal was simply to create more space – tough to do when I am not allowed to get rid of big pieces of furniture (we have no storage at my school). I did manage to create the feel of more space even though I did end up bringing in more shelves for my classroom library. My priorities/philosophy/principles were to create more space/room to move and to have more books in easy to access areas for the students. I think I did well with these. I still need to work on other things like bringing in more natural items – plants, rocks, logs, shells – to give the room a more “living/growing” atmosphere. I love your couch and coffee table additions. Those make the room seem so much more comfortable.
    PS I still need to work on that bouncy house idea, though.

    • All primary teachers must think alike. I am also hoping someone will donate some plants for me–plants that are hard to kill. As well, I have a shell collection that is always in the cupboard because there is nowhere to display them. I hope to change that this year–maybe on the coffee table.

    • That’s also an excellent idea! Bringing in more natural items will give your classroom a fresh look. Plants and rocks would be nice, and not too expensive. Maybe you could make that a fun project for the students. Let the students pick out a few things they want to have in the room. Maybe, if your school has nice rocks outside, you could allow them to pick up a few and make cute arrangements. A child’s creativity always brightens a room.

  5. Hi Mrs. Cassidy! I am an Elementary Education major at the Universtiy of South Alabama and was so excited to read your latest post! I thought that all of your ideas for the classroom designs were wonderful! It is so important for children to be able to get comfortable while learning as well as becoming as independent as possible. Your paper design really inspired me and I now know that I will make one of my own before attempting to choose a set up for my classroom when I begin to teach- this is obviously easier than having to move the furniture forty times! I am sure that your students will be greatful for all of the hardwork and thought that you have put into making their classroom one that they can benefit from that most!

  6. Dear Mrs. Cassidy,
    My name is Amelia Platt and I am a student at the University of South Alabama. I will be commenting again and I will summarize both of my comments on my own blog on 9/12/10. My blog is plattamelia@blogspot.com and our class blog is edm310@blogspot.com. First let me say that I love your idea about the love seat in the classroom. I am a person that has to have a comfortable learning area, and I think the kids would love it. I also like the idea of the coffee table in the middle of the classroom. I am a nanny for a 14 year old and and 12 year old and I know both of them love to go right to theirs at home to do work it seems to help the focus more when they are there. I also love the fact you want to incorporate all the different learning styles so that the children will feel more at home in the classroom and can learn better. I think if I would have had my teachers think more into this I would have liked school a lot better than I did. Sitting straight up and in those hard chairs was not fun and made it very hard for me to pay attention in class. I hope in the setting you picked they will learn more from each other and make friends a lot quicker. Something Ihave learned is that having friends to talk to in the class makes things a lot easier when they need help from peers. Sometimes it is easier to ask another student for help than it is the teacher. In closing I think you have some really great ideas and I will keep some of them for when I get a classroom of my own. These are some of the things that can make or break a student in my opinion. Thank You for taking time to read my comment and I look forward to hearing from you.
    Sincerely,
    Amelia Platt

  7. Hello, I am a Secondary Education major at the University of South Alabama and I have been assigned your blog to read and comment on. I will be commenting on your blog again in the future and I will be summarizing my visits to your blog with a post on my own blog on 09/12/2010 at http://www.holcombelaurenedm310.blogspot.com
    You can also visit our class blog at http://www.edm310.blogspot.com/

    It is refreshing to see that you care so much about your students’ comfort when designing the layout of your classroom. I feel like so many teachers overlook the importance of students’ being in a learning environment in which they feel comfortable and not so uptight. I remember when I was in grade school, we only had tiny desks to sit in; no couch, coffee table, or area rug. I think that giving students an area where they can escape the more rigid structure of the school day will allow them to be more creative and to really enjoy learning.

  8. AnMarie, Amelia and Lauren,
    Thanks for your reflective comments. I appreciate your thoughts. I have had a week to see how this is actually working, and am hoping to post again, soon about how it is going.

  9. Hi,
    I am a student at University of South Alabama majoring in elementary education. I will be commenting on your blog again in the future and I will be summarizing my visits to your blog with a post on 9/12/2010 at http://www.spencesherrieedm310@gmail.com and you can visit our class blog at http://www.edm310blogspot.com/. I love your post and I think it’s great how you design the classroom for the kids and what’s best for them. I think every child has different learning styles, even though it may be challenging, you have shown it is possible to accommodate that. Last year my daughter was in the fourth grade and her teacher, Mrs. Morgan, had a great set up. For the reading groups, she had a reading hut. It was in the corner and it was decorated in a Hawaiian theme. She arranged it so the children wouldn’t be distracted from the rest of the class and had bean bag chairs for them to sit on. That was Haleys favorite time, just because she felt like she was in a tent. It encouraged her to read as well as the other students in her class. I also love the idea of getting rid of the desks and putting in tables. I feel like the students can work together better that way as a team when appropriate of course. That’s preparing them for life in the workplace, relationships, etc.

  10. Hello, my name is Crystal Baxter and I am taking Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 class at the University of South Alabama. I found your blog very interesting and informative. I took a classroom management class at the University and it made me think about classroom management and the way to set up a classroom. These ideas are really good and it helped me realize that classroom environment is very important. I could not agree more that the way students learn is very different and can make a huge difference. I think you have put a lot of thought into your classroom and I imagine that what ever conclusion you come to will work and be very helpful to the students. Thank you for the opportunity to read your blog.

  11. My name is Talisa. I am reading your blog for my EDM 310 class. I will be posting a summary of my comments to my blog (http://swaintalisaedm310.blogspot.com) on October 9.

    I love how you’ve set up your classroom! I like how you’ve stepped outside the box for the set up. There’s nothing wrong with the traditional 1st grade classroom, but yours is so much more comfortable (I feel the comfort from here). Your students probably appreciate it to. And the coffee table and sofa….EXCELLENT! It seems so mature for a 6 year old. Have you noticed a change in their behavior because of the change in the atmosphere?

  12. Your ideas are great. I really like the idea of a sofa/loveseat. I believe children would enjoy getting comfy with a book in a comfortable setting. The school where I substitute teach just got a Smartboard this summer. The students love it and it makes learning fun for them. When I become of teacher, I will remember your ideas and maybe they will help me out. Thank you!

  13. Hi I am a student at the University of South Alabama and part of my assignment is to post comments on different teachers blogs. I am so glad that I was assigned your blog, because I spend a lot of time thinking about how I’m going to set up and decorate my classroom for my students. I will most definitely be using the paper blueprint, I think that is a wonderful idea and will cut back on moving stuff around if it’s not how you planned it. I also liked your idea of being a teacher gives you to start fresh each year. You can learn from the previous year, which will help you make the new year better. And at the end of each year when it’s time for your students to move on, you will be proud to know that you made a difference in their lives.

  14. Hey! My name is Jenny Black and I am a student at the University of South Alabama in Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 class. I am an aspiring teacher and I too look forward to designing my classroom. I was actually thinking to myself while reading that I needed to take notes on how you set up your classroom, because you have done your research! I think it looks GREAT and the idea about the couch, I think is incredible. We want our students to remember us and we want to make learning fun. Your classroom sounds like a place to WANT to be. I really respect how much thought and effort you put into people you haven’t even met yet. It shows true dedication and compassion. I hope these qualities will be reflected in me one day as well. Thanks for genuinely caring. I’m sure your students will have a wonderful year.


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