The Nuts and Bolts of Classroom Organization
The awaited few weeks before school have arrived, and you are debating over what you want to do in the way of classroom design and your management plan for the new school year. Perhaps during the summer, you came up with incredible ideas for what you want to do in your classroom this coming year. You may have headed to the thrift store in mid-July and found a table you can fix up for peer conferencing, or you purchased a comfortable rug for your reader’s and writer’s workshop area that you absolutely cannot wait to use. A trusted colleague may have assisted you in making significant decisions about your classroom management plan, or you decided for the first time to categorize the books in your classroom library in bins.
Quite a bit may be on your plate right now, but the greatest thing to know in this time is that you are certainly not alone.
That being said, I am going to make some sensible suggestions that may guide you in the right direction as you plan for this coming school year.
Suggestion #1- Arrange your classroom furniture in a way that will make it easy for the teacher and students to move from one place to another.
Walkways are important because you want to be able to move around your classroom with ease. You should never feel as if your classroom is cluttered, even if you have the smallest of classrooms. Fred Jones, author of Tools for Teaching, has written a great deal about ensuring as “obstacle-free” a setup as possible. It is important to start with the middle front of your classroom. If your desk or a technology cart is housed there permanently, it may be hindering you from bringing student desks forward. Your goal is to lay out your walkways so that you can get to each of your students in the fewest steps possible when walking around your classroom and meeting with students. Regularly efficient patterns for a walkway contain a “loop” in the middle of the room. You do not want to be on one side of the classroom while you need to get to a student on the opposite side of the classroom.
Two things that I am doing this year to ensure ample space in my classroom is moving computers against the right side of the front wall and getting rid of my teacher desk. I am arranging my students in groups from the very beginning. Having nearly twenty-five students can be challenging, so I want to make certain the groups are spaced out and students can easily walk to the classroom library, restroom, or storage areas without tripping over other students’ items or asking students to push in their chairs. Each group will have their own set of plastic organizational drawers to ensure even better organizational skills.
Suggestion #2- Consider organization when you set up your classroom.
Everything should have its rightful “home” in your classroom, from the Monopoly game you purchased at Goodwill to your growing collection of Newbery books to the fraction bars you have not used in a few years. You also need to keep teacher supplies in a handy location. Best yet, you want to ensure your personal area does not get cluttered with unnecessary papers or items. The point I am trying to make is that an excellent organizational plan decreases stress and time that you need to look for certain items, particularly during instruction. Standing at the front of the classroom during a math lesson and toiling over which set of drawers you placed your protractors in can be incredibly frustrating. This feeling of confusion and grief can be eliminated if you devise an organizational system where you know the location of everything.
Having said that, I am far from being a saint in this area. I have been in that dreaded position before where I do not know where a specific item is located in my classroom. Perhaps it was poor planning on my behalf or simply not knowing what could best hold my supplies. Yet I knew when I needed to change. Here are a few quick tips, though these suggestions certainly are not a “quick fix”-
Plastic drawers come in a variety of sizes. I have a set of plastic drawers at each of my five groups that hold math manipulatives because my classroom instruction is 90% hands-on. I want students to be able to make the quickest transition possible in getting the manipulatives they need. Plastic drawers can also hold items for centers that you may not want to make visible at all times. Labeling items is important. The Dymo Letra Tag Plus has one of the best purchases I have ever made. Sorting out items like post-its, highlighters and index cards may seem like a tedious task while you are doing it, but it will save you a lot of money later. You may originally think you are short on a school supply, but when you realize you have it in abundance, you realize purchasing more of the same item is unnecessary. Color-coding items can also be important, as you may want to designate specific items for a certain group of students or you want to categorize your centers.
Suggestion #3- Consider where you want to set up your classroom library and how you are going to organize your books before anything else.
I am going to dedicate an entire entry to setting up your library in the very near future, but it is important to think of how much space you need to accommodate it. Also think of how you are going to organize the area- whether you want to organize the books in categorized bins and how many bookshelves you will need to accommodate your collection. Organizing your books in bins really shows you and your students what you have in your book collection, making it easier for them to locate books. I would certainly want to see more books about the Titanic after reading one book about it!
Suggestion #4- If you teach mini-lessons for reader’s and writer’s workshop, you need a place for your students to meet.
A great meeting area, in my opinion, consists of an easel for holding chart paper, a comfortable teacher chair, and anything that can make the meeting area comfortable for your students. In my case, I have five pillows, a combination of rugs that accommodates most of my students, a “couch” constructed of milk crates, and a leather ottoman. More will come in the near future about mini-lessons as well.
Suggestion #5- If you have a classroom theme, think of how you want to incorporate it.
For the past three years, my classroom has had a travel-related theme, and this year is not going to be any different. I have a hand-painted wooden sign marked "Jasztalville", postcard displays from across the United States, and a United States interactive bulletin board where students place tacks for places they have “visited” by reading books. Sometimes teachers develop themes through-and-through, and sometimes they are just a small component of the classroom. There are many websites about developing themes out there that you can certainly visit. The next post for today, “The Teacher as an Interior Designer”, is going to focus more on themes and décor, which can make your classroom an even more exciting place to learn.
Suggestion #6- I almost forgot to mention this, but consider regulations set forth by your custodial staff and fire marshal.
Let’s just be blunt here- Do not head to the store to purchase novelty lights for your classroom if they may pose a fire hazard. You also need to know what kind of rug is acceptable in your classroom if you are purchasing one for your meeting area. Needless to say, you do not want to drag a 12-foot long rug back to the store. Speaking from experience, it is not a pleasant situation.
Seeing that the school year is approaching quickly for many teachers across the nation, I hope both posts today will assist you in setting up an amazing classroom.
Here is a slideshow that focuses on classroom organization and decor for the 2009-2010 school year-
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(In my photo album, you may see an awesome quote on my wall that states- "Life is not a dress rehearsal." When Stacey, grades 6-8 advisor, talked about having that quote in her classroom video, I really liked it. I plan on finding a few other quotes as well to put on my walls.)