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Classroom Organizing Tips for Encouraging Student Independence

Teaching is often about moving kids toward independence. Here are some ways to set up your classroom, from the entryway to the walls, to achieve this goal.

  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

Meeting Area as Teaching Partner
All the materials in this area help set the stage for the activities we will cover during the week. An easel has a big chart pad for the poem of the week. Another easel has a short chart pad for word study, problem solving, mini-lessons, and more. Book baskets and easel ledges hold books for our current studies in social studies, literature, and writing topics.

Homework/Attendance Management Table
My homework table is right outside the classroom door. It is always arranged to support each student's independence. A green tray is labeled "Homework," an orange tray "Notes for Roe," and a large basket "Homework Folders." When kids arrive, they independently place clothespins (labeled by name) on my attendance sign and deposit their papers and folder in the appropriate containers. When it's time to go home, they stop by the table to get what they need.

Community Supply Center
Each family sends in exactly the same supplies. We put them all together and share them as a community. The children learn how to access and use all of the supplies independently, which teaches them responsibility.

Mini Conference Notebooks
Unintimidating and flexible — that's what's great about my 4- by 6-inch mini spiral notebooks. They are easy to grab and carry with me, and I use them to take conference notes with individual students or groups. I make sure to purchase three or four sets of these notebooks so that my students can have some of their own to use as sketchbooks, note-taking pads, and reading logs. I might say to them, "Your goal is to do one page in your reading log today." Because the page is small, this task is not intimidating. Children can refer to things they've done previously to check their progress and to move their skills forward, with or without my suggestions.

Motivational Spinner Rack
In addition to book baskets and other kinds of displays, I use a spinner rack. It is motivating and takes up minimum space. I make sure to fill it with chapter books, picture books, and informational books that I want the students to try out. Children gravitate most frequently to this display when choosing books, possibly because it's a "mature" bookstore-like display. It makes them feel more grown-up.

Walls for Teaching and Learning
I try to make my teaching explicit. Almost all of the things written on our signs, labels, and charts emanate from our lessons, discussions, and class work. These written tools are a way to help kids remember and review all of our important work during the year.

Multi-Purpose Schedule
As we arrange the schedule each morning, the children practice their time-telling skills and learn what to expect that day. At 12:45, after lunch, we have "Dessert (read aloud)" — because reading is so sweet!

The Writer's Craft
I teach my students that there are three basic steps a good writer goes through each and every time he or she writes. We call it R.R.E. (reread, revise, and edit). I write these out on reminder cards. When children have questions, they go to these cards for the answers.
 

Roe Wrubel is a third-grade teacher at PS 89 in Manhattan, New York, and the author of Great Grouping Strategies (Scholastic, 2002), a professional book for teachers.

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