Monday, August 09, 2010

PROCESS- Writing Spaces and Places- Part 1

One of the most significant changes that I have made in the past few years of teaching has been a change in the physical atmosphere of my classroom. From teaching self-contained 6th grade for 11 years, then teaching in the JH for the past 5 years, I had accumulated a lot of junk to say the least. I had punctuation posters spread across the front of my room, a cursive alphabet stretching across the top of the back boards, style posters, editing posters, literature posters, cutesy Argus posters, and countless others. By the end of each year, I was thankful if the janitors weren't messing with the walls so that I wouldn't have the chore of putting all 100+ items back up in the fall. Then… I went to the Piasa Bluffs Summer Writing Institute (class of 2009).

There, I had a conversation with a calm and centered friend, Alicia. We discussed the difficulties our students had focusing in the class. Not all, but many have an incredibly hard time, even in JH, when asked to concentrate on one task lasting longer than 15 minutes. We discussed our teaching styles (Do I talk too much? too fast? Do I give clear instructions?) and our classrooms. She told me about how she had repainted her classroom and redecorated with art prints. I began having dreams of a “Barnes and Noble”--a relaxing chair, a good book, and a cappuccino at hand. I pitched my idea to my principal--color scheme, decoration, and purpose. Is it too late to paint? It was a go!

This will be the second year in my "chocolate milk" room. The walls are all painted a smooth light chocolate (I would go a bit darker if I had a choice again) and I invested a bit of cash in six art prints and frames. I pulled out the one desk I had for group work and showcased it with new fern-green plastic lawn chairs. At yard-sales, I found three large exercise balls (all white~ coincidence?) that we use for computer chairs. I hung three white Chinese lanterns (without lights in them) from the ceiling just beneath the fluorescents (for the glow). I have a wind chime, a small waterfall, and a metronome. I gave my classroom a name. "The Creativity Cafe". I label things with it. I love my room. The students like it better too.

I will say my room is still filled though. I have thousands of books--too many to shelf at the beginning of the year. And then there are the students. I think that's the change that I like the best. Once I had rid my room of odds and ends that jumbled and cluttered, my students were able to see better. I could see THEM better.
The discussions have changed. The mood changed. But I know it's not over, I'm still evolving as well.

I went into my classroom to begin setting up for this next year. I've taken three full boxes of books home. I've been "weeding". It feels better. It's beginning to shape-up into my favorite place to read and write. Space is good.

What's your "perfect" space like? Do you remember writing in a classroom? What makes/breaks your reading/writing experience? Share with us!

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