Watch a slide show about our classroom:
What our room looks like
Every year I agonize over room design. There should be room to move freely, spaces for work in large and small groups, places to play and work on the floor, and plenty of storage. With 3 grades in one room, I have to meet the needs of varied ages, so organization is important. Most of all, the room needs to be cheerful and welcoming.
The class library needs to be in the corner where there are walls to lean on when snuggled up with a book. (This picture was taken in the summer, before our book baskets were in the shelves.)
I need to be able to see into all center areas from where I work with small groups at my table. Noise is also an issue when planning center placement.
This year I am attempting to soften colors in my room to blues and greens since a some children need less visual stimulation to stay on task.
Student work files, writing, and art supplies must be handy to students.
A good fit
I have a centers-based classroom. My philosophy is play-based and hands-on, so we have a lot of materials to span the continuum of skills for kindergarten through second grade and beyond. I’m all about differentiation. We expect to do work that “fits” in this classroom.
We do a shoe exchange early in the year. We try on each other’s shoes and conclude that it is best to wear our own. Schoolwork, too, needs to fit us just right. We don’t worry about what our neighbor might be working on; we do math that fits, and we read books that fit. It’s a kid-friendly way to introduce differentiation.
Themes inspire us
We use themes as vehicles to spark enthusiasm for learning. Vocabulary and skills are included, but only in context. These themes are what gives energy to our day. A lot of the photos and descriptions here involve learning and tracking skills, but it is important to remember that themes are what give meaning to much of these skills.
Here we are practicing measurement with our leaves during a tree study. By the time we get to “measurement” in the math books, it’s all review because we measure interesting things often.
More theme-based learning: spiders and worm races! (“Radius” is fun to learn when it is the distance your worm travels to win the race!)
After large group read-aloud and/or instruction, students work at centers while I work at my table with small groups, teaching reading and word study skills. Students follow the wall chart to know where to go, and after they get to a center they can usually choose between various options.
Literacy centers include Phonics (seen above), Writing, Working with Words, Listening/Reading, Spelling, and something we call Book Celebrations. Book Celebrations is where all the fun, content-related stuff goes. If we are studying Africa, there will be a picture map of Africa and some search-type activities to do with that. If we are studying animal classification, the students might sort animals and write about them. This center varies quite a bit. The writing center varies too, but we typically have familiar choices for them to choose from. They work in groups of 2 to 4 students.
Keeping track of what everyone needs to work on is a bit complicated at the phonics center, where skills are many and levels are spread across 3 or more grades. I can stamp a child’s chart with a picture stamp that guides that student to his choices for the week. For instance, if he gets an elephant stamp (for work with consonant blends), he knows to choose something with a little elephant picture taped onto it. Meanwhile, his partner may be working with CVC words (teacup icon) on her chart. The two of them might even play Candy Land together, each with his or her own word card set to match the skill they are working on. Here is our phonics center and my little icon guide:
Math is fun!
Math starts with a quick meeting where we do lots of different things. I try to keep it under 15 minutes, with something for each level. They enjoy math meeting because it is often games. The 1-100 pocket chart has a hidden fish card that the pelican puppet is hunting. Or we count the date in large magnetic coins in several ways.
After math meeting, I get everyone going on their math center activities and then work with a small group.
Here, this little sweetie is figuring sums with manipulatives. She sets up the counters, counts, then finds the sum card. Students choose their counters. I choose the operation card set.
Since I have a manipulatives-based math program, I need a way to track student progress. I refer to the NAD standards, but I use the Go Math curriculum as a guide.
The difference is that Go Math (in my opinion) asks the children to do some things without building a foundation. We lay down a solid foundation with lots and lots and LOTS of concrete experiences. It is all about touching, experiencing, and building mental images while we play. We take it one step at a time and build on past experiences. We have a ton of math manipulatives, and each one is versatile. Here, you can see our greedy dinosaurs being useful in a few different ways:
I skip the math books almost entirely for kindergarten and 1st. We “do” each lesson, but not necessarily in the books. For 2nd grade, I use math book pages for assessment, practice, and review as needed.
Below, two girls are learning to be flexible with the base ten system. It’s right out of the books, but we call it “The Stinky Cheese Café”. After repeat experiences like this one, they will recognize and then eventually understand the pattern and not need the “stinky cheese.” At that point, we can revisit the books periodically to keep it fresh.
I track student progress using the Go Math lessons. I typed the lessons into the chart below so I can track each skill across the year. Each quarter , I record with a different color. I can see at a glance who has mastered a concept and who needs more practice.
This page is groundwork stuff and looks pretty full, but I don’t have them do every lesson. Those we do are mostly done in the last part of the year, when I am reviewing skills and preparing them for the next classroom.
Here is our (part of) our math center:
Free Choice Centers
Afternoon centers start at 2:00 in the afternoon and last about 20 to 30 minutes.
This play time builds critical thinking, spatial reasoning, and social skills.
I use the time to work with students who need extra help (keeping sessions short) and to pack notes in folders to go home.
Students who have not finished their work do it during this time. Afternoon centers include blocks, housekeeping, trains, Brio builders, Marbleworks, play dough, sand, take-apart table, art, Lester (our guinea pig), Legos, and various games and puzzles.
Our classroom is designed for playing and interacting with a lot of different things. The large amount of materials we use impacts my design. I use a lot of baskets, drawers, boxes, bins, and drawstring bags. Everything is organized in such a way to make it easy to find and easy to put away.
I try not to clutter up the classroom excessively, but some things are important to include. We use quite a few pocket charts, a few anchor charts, and of course the calendar is something we use every day. We display student work on a couple of different walls in the classroom, and we display our work out in the hall. Here is a picture of our display after the 100th day of school:
Classroom design reflects what is important to us. I believe children need a cheerful place where they can play, imagine, and create. I believe it should be organized and attractive, including pleasing use of color, plants, and layout. It needs to be a safe place, where we can share and have fun together and where we can retreat to quietly when we need to be alone. It is a thinking place, a work place, a play place and a place to simply be us. The classroom is our home away from home.