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Notes for next year

The classroom that I took over worked very well for the teacher who left, but only works for me. Many of the routines and organizational choices she used don’t line up as well with my classroom management style or preferences, but since I think it’d be easier for me to change for four weeks than to make the kids change what they’ve been doing since the fall, I’m learning to adapt. I’m making notes for next year though, to remember how I’d set things up in the room if I could start from scratch.

1. Pencils shared by the table, folders and notebooks stored on shelves.
I know this will come as a surprise to many people, but fifth graders aren’t very well organized.  They can start the day with 5 pencils in their desk and ask by mid-morning to borrow one.  The inside of their desks resembles a trash heap.  Their desks destroy papers and create black holes that entire folders disappear into.  If I start from the idea of setting them up for success, it seems like having a large pot of pencils, erasers, and pencil sharpeners shared by the table and dedicated shelf space for folders and notebooks would ensure they always had a pencil when it was time to work and that their papers would avoid desk death.

2.  Different activities mean different desk positions.
The desks in my current classroom are set up so that students can work in cooperative learning groups on some lessons.  During other lessons, however, they are all supposed to be working quietly and independently, or having a class-wide discussion, or working with partners rather than a group.  These other kinds of activities need other kinds of seating arrangements, but we force the table groups to work for everything we do.  In my own room, I’d like to borrow an idea from one of my professors and spend some time at the beginning of the year practicing moving the desks into 3-4 different arrangements.  It may take some time to set up, but once the kids are good at it, it would save so much time lost to behavior management issues.  Even “good” kids struggle to stay quiet when they’re looking directly at 3-4 friends.  With some initial practice we can make sure the classroom cues support the desired behavior during each lesson.

3.  Assigned spaces on the carpet.
When my first graders came to the carpet they all knew exactly where and how to sit.  When this group comes to the carpet we spend the first minute or so and then several interruptions during the lesson troubleshooting their choice of location, neighbor, and degree of sprawl.  It’s a waste of time.

In the end, most of these notes come out of seeing that there’s a recurring, class-wide problem and trying to figure out how to minimize or eliminate that problem.  I won’t be able to get rid of every issue, but if we can set things up so that every student has the materials she needs and a setting he can work well in, I think we’ll be a long way towards making the classroom a better place to be.

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