#Kinderblog, Week 3

What is the process you follow for setting up your classroom? What are your priorities, your values, your beliefs, about classroom setup, decor, and organization? (Feel free to share photos! We love photos!)

Photos work for me.  In fact, I took a few , or a dozen, on the last day of school in hopes of tackling a new and improved room arrangement.   I’m a visual learner and need to see my space allowing time for possibilities to develop in my mind.  This particular challenge has simmered since school got out in June and  provides me the perfect opportunity to face it and figure  out my classroom setup.  Of course I expect to do some tweaking of things once the students arrive and good intentions are put to the test.

This year brings about an exciting change for our classroom.  I was  awarded five computers through a district 5 +1 technology grant and I need to find space for them.  The  addition caused me to really take stock of how to arrange the classroom to fit the computers in without giving up too much.  I also want to place them where they would be easily accessible with classroom next door for collaboration purposes.

Even though kindergarteners are the smallest people in the building, we still need lots of space to move and learn.  And by the way, just so you know, I have the most incredible classroom in the entire building.  It was truly designed with kindergarteners in mind.  It’s huge!  It has its own bathrooms, storage closet, and coat area which means no lockers in the hallways to contend with.  With great access to the outdoor areas and the furthest away from everything, I get plenty of exercise each day walking to and from specials, my mailbox, and the office or work room.

Even before school let out for the summer I began mulling things over in my mind, considering all the possibilities.  I knew I had to come up with space, so I went in on the weekends and stayed late a few evenings.  Well, more than a few, but if you are a teacher you understand completely.  I purged.  And I purged.  And I purged some more!  Gone were the bulletin board sets I had spent hours coloring, cutting, and laminating as a young teacher but hadn’t actually put up in at least 13 years.  Gone were the games that spilled out of the cupboards in hopes that they might get used someday but never did.  Gone were the broken dishes and dingy play food in the housekeeping area.  One can only take them home every summer and throw them in the tub with bleach so many times.  I will continue to do that for our beloved Legos though.  Leogs never get dingy or broken.   I ordered new housekeeping items for the housekeeping area.

After the great trash bash took place I could see things taking shape and imagined where things might go.  My next big decision was to eliminate one huge piece of furniture and it came down to the couch in the class library or the piano.  Hmmm….let’s see…possibilities of lice or music?  Couch out.  Piano stays even if I find myself using it less and Symbaloo more.  I knew I could come up with a kid size, comfy alternative for the class library and not have to deal with the cumbersome couch taking up more than its share of space.  In all the hustle and bustle of staff and classroom changes occurring in the building, the beloved couch found a new home.  I remember the good fortune I had the year I simply posted a sign during Open House in my empty class library requesting an old second-hand couch only to discover a parent happened to work in a furniture store and was able to donate a brand new one. That is when I learned to just ask.  You never know what will happen.  That was 14 years ago.  I guess it was time for that couch to move on even though we have snuggled and shared many stories together and occasionally allowed a child to take a much-needed nap.

After the final bell, the hugs, tears, and goodbyes I started moving things around, stepping back, pondering, moving things, stepping back, pondering.  The results are all the photos  included in this post along with my thoughts and intentions for each area.  Have a look.

Priorities:    My priorities moving forward are to provide space for a mini computer lab, remove tall obstacles which create perfect places for those special students to discover and claim for their own, and to define areas for specific purposes such as large group, quiet areas, access to outlets, and functions.  The number one priority however is to create a place where we love being together and where learning can happen.  A place we can call ours.  We are a class family and we will spend enormous amounts of time together in it, especially during those long Wisconsin winters of indoor recess.  Thank goodness for GoNoodle and Cosmic Kids Yoga!

Values: Above all, learning.  The classroom must honor what it is  to be a five or six-year-old child.  It must provide opportunities for curious learners in every area.  It should offer a secure, safe, consistent place where my students are confident to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them.

Beliefs: If the classroom is bright, cheerful, organized and owned by the students it’s a great space.  We call it our classroom for a reason.  We all have a responsibility to respect and care for it.  Of course that takes a lot of routine setting and modeling expectations and reteaching when necessary.

Decor:  I always worry about how bare the room looks at Open House for parent and student first impressions, but come back a month later and there will be plenty of evidence to show the  learning going on inside our classroom.  I stopped with the cute, manufactured thematic stuff years ago when I realized the student work is the real deal for display. When you create the space together it’s much more meaningful.   There has been much debate over this topic lately and I for one couldn’t be happier with the less is more philosophy.  Honestly, I just don’t have the money it takes to make my room pretty, cute, coordinated and thematic.  So this year, it’s a repainted Author’s chair and milk crates with hand-me-down chair pads  for the class library to replace the couch.

Organization:  I like to think I am organized, but as the school year rolls along, I tend to stuff things here and there particularly right before parent teacher conferences to give the illusion that I’m organized and tidy.  It all finds its place back to its spot eventually.  Summer is my time for sorting, boxing, filing, repairing, creating, and visiting the dollar store for yet more plastic bins and baskets.  Each new year an opportunity to reorganize things.

Computers Wonder Wall
Computers Wonder Wall

I know you are thinking,  is that really a template? Yes!  It’s a bit over the top, but I do make templates for all the furniture items in my classroom so that I can rearrange and get a feel for things before I actually move things around.  Beside planning  for computers and the Wonder Wall in the “New Areas” I am thrilled to have four student tables this year as opposed to five last year.    I will have less than twenty students (at the time of this post anyway) for the first time in 12 years.  That’s one less table full of students folks.  I was also able to eliminate a four drawer file cabinet after my keep it, donate it, or trash it session.

Reading Table
Reading Table

This small group instruction area is midway alongside the wall in order to see all areas of the room while I am busy working with students.  On each side are shelves containing math and literacy supplies for easy access.  The top part of the chalkboard  gets covered up with our Daily Five I-charts.  I use the bottom occasionally during Guided Reading, but mainly rely on whiteboards. painted baking sheets with magnetic letters, and Magna Doodles right on the table for quick responses during teaching.  Does anybody else still have a chalkboard?

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Housekeeping

This area changes throughout the course of the school year as determined by students’  interests.  Having a  familiar pretend area for the beginning of the year is perfect, but  changes to become many other dramatic play areas such as a grocery store, restaurant, animal hospital, construction site, post office, or zoo to name a few.

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Writing Supplies

This counter fulfills numerous functions throughout the year but is home to paper choices,  pencil sharpener, staplers, and paper cutter.   I try my best to keep it uncluttered but somehow it always ends up as the place to set everything I intend to get to.  When it’s time to cook, paint, glitter or hot glue it’s a great work space at just the right height for little ones.  The sink is handy to the messes we make.

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Word Work and Literacy

These cubbies house all our word work manipulative and our literacy center bins.  Check out the awesome coat area back there.  It provides daily opportunities for practicing responsibility to care for our own things.

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Tables

In this photo all five sets of trapezoid tables are clustered together in advance of summer cleaning, but it has me thinking about possibly keeping them as one big unit while we build classroom community rather than have them separated in sets.  I guess I will determine that once I see my final number.  I am hopeful it will remain 20 or less by the time school begins.

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Writing Center

This year I plan to have the table pulled out and away from the Word Wall to fit 1-2 additional chairs.  There never seems to be enough room in this area once the children view themselves as writers and illustrators.  What a great problem to have.  It happens right around the same time that the housekeeping area with the dolls begins to lose its appeal.  That shift in play is a magical time when students’ play time begins to look much more like work but it’s on their terms so to them it’s still play.

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Large Group Area/White Board

This is the place we meet for large group instruction with loads of talk, modeling, and practicing.  The buckets below are home to all the things I need to be the entertainer, magician, and leader of the learning.  My favorites:  smelly markers, train and slide whistles, and creepy witch’s reading finger.  It’s pretty safe to assume those are also the children’s favorites along with the never-ending sticker supply and colorful highlighting tapes for showcasing things we notice in print.  This double-sided easel is located right in the center of the classroom where we learn to gather for the purpose of learning together.

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Large Group Area/Piano

This fabulous piece of furniture is my way of holding onto the good, old-fashioned classroom.  Yes.  It takes up an enormous amount of space, but I make sure I use it daily even if it’s only to play a signal for transition times.  If I play slow it means take your time, clean up carefully.  If I play it fast, it means quickly meet me at the carpet and we will go back and clean up later.  I always play quick when we have a celebration or problem to solve and then we get right back to business.  My favorite use of the piano is when I can play Happy Birthday for each student on their special day and they think I’m the best pianist in the whole wide world.  Trust me.  I’m not.  I get by with the help of  my Wee Sing easy to play song book of simple childhood songs  like Bingo.   You have no idea how many different songs can be sung to the tune of Bingo or Thumbkin.

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Large Group Area/Smart Board

The nice thing about my large group area is the giant carpet.  It’s plain.  No distracting letters or numbers.  There’s room for everyone.  It gets a little tight when we are doing yoga together but in the days of half day kindergarten when we were responsible for teaching art, music, and physical education we could squeeze three classrooms of students (66 kids or more) in my room in order to give one of the three teachers a prep time.  That was collaboration at it’s finest out of necessity.  Each month I change the clean up song and our blue carpet turns into a pumpkin patch, cornfield for scarecrows, Santa’s toy workshop, a skating pond, etc.  Did I mention how many ways you can change the words to the tune of Bingo?

The Smart Board is another major place of gathering multiple times each day.  What I like most about our large group area is that each side has its own purpose.  Students always have a chance to sit in front or back based upon the direction we are facing.  Students learn quickly how important it is when we gather on the blue carpet.  I try to break up our daily schedule with many times for gathering there as a class family.

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New Addition/Computers

I am excited and nervous about how this area will come together.  I want the feel for this area to be one of research and inquiry.  A place to wonder.  I requested for three computers to be installed underneath the bulletin board.   Resources on the bulletin board will display our findings and record our global connections on a map.  Watch for posts as this area evolves.  In this area I hope to explore Genius Hour with my students thanks to @dubioseducator who makes it sound perfectly doable with younger students.

Wonder Area Bathrooms/Storage Closet

Wonder Area
Bathrooms/Storage Closet

Two additional computers will go in the Wonder Area.  My thought for putting the computers into two different groups would allow for an adult to sit between two students while others could be working independently on the other three.   I rely heavily on parent help as students become more independent on Kidblog.   Last year I chose to incorporate Wonder Wednesdays using Wonderopolis and a great post by Matt Gomez.  I immediately saw the need to do even more with it this year.

Morning Routines Mailboxes
Morning Routines
Mailboxes

The classroom jobs chart and materials for our daily routines as part of a Conscious Discipline classroom can be found immediately upon greeting me and entering the classroom.  Mailboxes are handy for checking as we enter and exit each day.  The awesome mailboxes were a result of classroom changes much like our couch was.  One teacher’s trash is another teacher’s treasure.

Class Library
Class Library

The soon to be new and improved class library.  Again, a high priority area for the upcoming school year.  The biggest dilemma is organizing a collection of books that has been growing for 28 years.  I have a lot of books and I still keep buying them.  A future post will be about the three new additions  to my collection for this year that I couldn’t resist.

Painting Easel
Painting Easel

This area is exactly where it belongs, right next to the sink for easy clean up.  Many students are thrilled to have a chance to paint, use Playdough, glitter, glue in a bottle instead of a glue stick, glitter glue, water colors,  and stamp pads.   It’s sad when they say their parents don’t let them because it’s too messy.  I’ve always thought that was the point.  Our best messes create the best outcomes.  If you don’t like messy, steer clear of Kindergarten!

There you have it.   I guess I’m all set to head back now that I have it all figured out.  Wait…next up…daily schedule.

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Do your actions align with your beliefs?

#Kinderblog14 Week 1

Write the post that has been in your head (or your drafts folder) for a while now. You know the one. The one you write while you drive to work, or while you are in the shower. What is the question, or issue, or opinion, or emotions, you have been chewing on for a while now? Alternatively, what is the post that you have started a million times, picked away at, edited and re-edited, and almost trashed?  Did you read an article or a Facebook post that provoked a reaction, and that you can’t stop thinking about? 

I began this post five months ago after reading Justin Tarte’s post,  Do your actions align with your beliefs? and the draft has been patiently waiting to be finished ever since.  It started easily because my top five beliefs have remained my top five beliefs since I started teaching 28 years ago and not much has changed about the developmental needs of five and six-year-olds, but the education arena is swirling with change.  Tenderly set aside, I haven’t been able to finish.

I’m quite straight forward and oftentimes brutally honest, so I wonder why this one has been sitting for so long.  Honestly, it’s because with all the intoxication for assessments, data, and accountablity I fear for our youngest learners and my top five beliefs being challenged constantly.   If I openly state how I really feel will it jeopardize my position?  Will I still be looked upon as a leader if my voice becomes too honest or too loud?   Will my colleagues continue to thank me for being the voice within our unit that isn’t afraid to speak up?  How do I maintain balance between changing expectations and what I believe in when they don’t always align?  And when frustration mounts, how do I keep it all  in check in order to stay healthy and focused on the children instead of the issues beyond my control?  These are all questions I have strong opinions about but have not found a way to put in writing quite yet.  I am hopeful the #Kinderchat14 blog challenge will allow me time to wrestle with them.  The feedback from others #kinderchat has always encouraged me to learn, lead, and listen so let’s see if I can get this done.

These are my top  five beliefs and the my thoughts surrounding them as I reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m going.

1. Children learn through play.

All of my beliefs about learning come back to this.  That’s where the good stuff happens.  It’s where we learn to build, explore, question, hypothesize, problem solve, try new things, collaborate, take turns, share, practice, create, respect, negotiate, discover, and rejoice.  Play gets really good when you observe and join right at just the right moments.

“Why sure  I’d  love another cup of tea.  Please make sure you don’t forget the lemon and honey.  Do you know how bees make honey?  I wonder how we could find out.”

“When you finish that map, let’s see if we can locate where your grandma lives since you are going to visit her.  I wonder how many miles away that is.  Is it more or less than when you drove to Florida?”

“That paper airplane you created is amazing!  Would you like to teach others how to do that?”

Why would anyone think it’s okay to eliminate such a valuable event for more instructional time. There’s plenty of instruction going on during play when done right.  All the debate regarding schools eliminating recess to gain additional instructional minutes has my head spinning!  Who thinks up these “solutions?”

2. ALL children can learn.

Duh!  In all my twenty-eight years of teaching I can’t remember a single student who did not make progress in some form or another.  It’s a shame that we can’t measure and provide data for some of the most important indicators of progress such as the ability to self regulate emotions and behaviors, accept assistance willingly, learn self-help skills, communicate and negotiate through problems with peers, develop and maintain friendships, and increase self-worth.

We have data to sort, analyze, form interventions, teach, assess, analyze, and do it all over again and again.  We really need to collaborate on the teach part and allow time for sharing and developing great first classroom experiences so there wouldn’t be a need for interventions.  We are too busy collecting and analyze the data to talk about the teaching.  In fact, state and district  literacy assessments alone take me away from my students nearly nine teaching days.

3. Children learn to read, write, and problem solve by engaging in literacy and math activities throughout the day.

While the debate and polarization about the  value and appropriateness of CCSS rage on, I have to remind myself to stay focused on the children.  Their needs have not changed.  If I think too long or too hard about matching up the standards to everything, I’d turn in my key and head home.  I have an old post related to this.   I’m a doer.  I just get in there and do what I do.  From what I hear, I am pretty skilled at the art and science of teaching.  All this other stuff makes my head spin and frankly, it leaves me bewildered.  So, I learn alongside my students the way I would want my own children’s’ teachers to do.  That philosophy has served me well all these years so I’m sticking with it.

4. Oral language is the foundation of a quality program for young children.

My room is noisy and active.  Don’t judge!  There’s a lot of learning going on.  Learning is messy, active, and not always quiet.  When I need peace and quiet I grab a book and even then we talk our way through the book making connections, noticing things, predicting, confirming, sharing thoughts with one another,  laughing, crying, simply put… enjoying!  Talking is abundant in my classroom from the moment the students are greeted at the door.  Through conversations face to face or online we create dialogue  used for our learning experiences.  The best part is when we share our learning with the world, which in turn created more opportunities for language.

5.  I teach for independence.

This is actually another draft waiting to be finished and  posted soon.  Thank goodness for this blogging challenge to increase the odds of it happening.

Bonus belief:  Learning is lifelong.  The greatest thing about teaching Kindergarten is helping children begin their journey into formal education.  Equally important, however, is my own learning.

In the past year I vowed to give Twitter and KidBlog a try with my students.  The benefits far outweighed the terrifying excuses for not making an attempt. It allowed me to focus on a new experience instead of the stress and struggles abundant in our building and district as we navigate our way through cultural changes associated with PLCs, BYOC, TEP, SLOs, PALS, RtI,  PBIS, F & P, LC,  Alpine data entry, SMART goals, CFAs and book studies.  Not only that, our staff of 24 years is changing due to the building of a brand new school.  Lots of emotions came into play at the end of our school year.  Many days it felt like too many adult concerns were taking me away from the children.  And more often than not the stress level amongst the adults felt toxic.  It was wonderful to have something unrelated to the dictated demands to provide the energy and excitement necessary for working with children.  Access to a great PLN through #kinderchat and sharing struggles and joys outside of my building kept me afloat this past year.  We are all struggling in some way, some to greater depths than other, but struggling just the same.  Everyone is so supportive and encouraging and coming from the same point of view as simple as we love working with young children and will do whatever it takes to be their champions.  We know and understand that these children get one chance to a be five-year-old and it is our job to make that the best year ever.

I’ve also been a risk taker in my technology learning, which is weird that it’s so difficult for me when it’s what I ask of  my students.  I applied for a grant to get iPads.  Denied.  I don’t accept no very well and went through Donors Choose.  Got an i pad mini.  Attended a conference for using iPads in Kindergarten.  Participated in my first Kinderchat and Google Hangout.  Registered for my first EdCamp.  Applied for a a 5+1 grant which puts five computers in addition to my teacher computer right in my classroom complete with internet access.  Granted!  Gone are the internet hassles associated with iPads and our infrastructure that doesn’t support all that innovative teachers are trying to do.

As I look ahead to next year, I am nothing short of excited.  Having a new mini lab in my classroom forced a new classroom layout.   Purging file cabinets, cupboards and closets allowed me to evaluate what I need and don’t need.  Had to make room for those new computers!  Reflecting on my Kidblog and Twitter experiences to identify what worked well and what I plan to change.    Welcoming a new principal to our building and  two new teachers to our grade level team will be refreshing as we embark on a brand new year.  So much to look forward to, but I am still grateful for the summer months to relfect and recharge.  Oh!  And participate in the #Kinderchat14 blogging challenge.

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