Back in September, I wrote a blog post called The Wackoidal Classroom, which detailed the changes I have made to my classroom’s layout this year. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been evaluating the classroom’s layout and practicalities, and whether it has an educational purpose, or if it’s just a gimmick. The children in my class have been integral in this evaluation, as this is their classroom as much as it is mine.
Before I go through the changes I’ve made, I would like to mention some of the aspects of the classroom featured in my first blog post back in September.
Out With Chairs and Tables, In With Cushions and Clipboards
This is really the biggest change that the children in my class have adapted to. Before half-term, I had tables and chairs for 16 of the 24 children in my class. The rest of the children worked on cushions and clipboards on the carpet area in the classroom. This has worked extremely well, and my Deputy Head pointed out during an observation that for some children, sitting at a table on a chair is not something they would ever do at home, so why force them to do it in school? The children really love sitting in different places. Some prefer the tables, some prefer being on the carpet, but on the whole, they have adapted really well and when I asked them recently if I should get rid of the cushions and bring in tables and chairs for everyone, the result of the poll was a resounding “no!”
The idea for this layout all started one evening when I was in Tesco and I noticed a Tesco Value tent for £8. I decided that I wanted one in my classroom, and so this all evolved! Yes, I committed a teaching faux-pas started with the solution and searched for the problem afterwards, but it works! The tent is free for the children to use when they are working independently of me, which is a huge proportion of our day at the moment. The rule from the start of the year has been that no more than two children may be in the tent at any one point and the doors of the tent must remain tied open at all times. They know that these rules are non-negotiable and see going in the tent as a privilege (as only 2 of the 24 can go in at any one time!), so when they do go in, they concentrate and work extremely hard. I do keep a special eye on what is happening on the tent, yet despite knowing this, all the children are eager to work in there.
Using Stephen Heppell’s Shoeless Learning idea, I have given the children in my class the option of taking their shoes off in the classroom if they wish. I have been telling visitors to my classroom that for some children, taking their shoes off helps them to feel comfortable. Feeling more comfortable hopefully makes them more able to learn, as I know I’m more likely to get on with things when I’m comfortable, rather than when I’m restricted in my uncomfortable school shoes. So far, this has been going really well. Only about a third of the class habitually choose to take their shoes off, but this can alter depending on the time of day and how cold it is! Generally, the lesson before playtime and lunchtime has very few children in their socks, as they would have to spend 30 seconds of their lunchtime putting their shoes on, rather than being outside! I’m going to keep going with this, despite some “interesting” smells at times, as I think it is working for those who choose to take part.
So, that’s what I’ve done already. Now onto the changes I’ve made today. This was how I left my classroom earlier, ready for Monday morning:
The first major change I’ve made is that I’ve removed another 2 tables and 4 chairs. This leaves me with tables and chairs for 12 children – half the class. I’d been considering making this change for a few weeks, but held off until now, so that we can start a new half-term with a new layout. So far this year, I have been asking the children to work in one of three ways:
- in pairs
- in groups of four
This new layout with a 50/50 split of children on tables and children on the carpet/in the tent means that I can now also add ‘working with your half of the class’ to that list. I won’t use this model as often, as children are more likely to be excluded this way, however I’m going to give it a go.
The layout of the tables is a bit of a trial. I’m not sure how it’ll work with all the tables being together, but I’ll find out next week! I’ve laid it out so that there are still three very defined groups of four, but the layout lends itself to larger group discussions too.
As there are fewer tables, I’ve added lots more cushions to my collection. Ikea just loves to see me walk through the door!
I’ve also changed the layout of the tent and computer to allow more privacy when working on the computer, as children there were often distracted by other children looking over their shoulder all the time. I’ve also altered the “only two people in the tent at any one time” rule to allow four children (one group) to work in the tent when the task is discussion-based. If it is a more focused independent writing task, I will insist that only two children be in the tent at any one time.
One corner of my classroom is the cloakroom. I’ve closed this off, as it was quite open before and meant that children congregated there in the morning having a chat about Pokemon cards. By reducing the space, hopefully they won’t have the space to stand and chat, and will come out and get on with the independent learning tasks they have each morning. (Don’t get me wrong, I value speaking and listening as one of the most important skills we teach and encourage in primary education, but there’s a time and a place, and as much as I want them to discuss their interests, they need to ensure that they do so at an appropriate time.)
The last difference between my classroom at the start of the year and now is the displays. As our class blog gets more and more international visitors, our wall of flags will continue to expand. This is a display managed completely by the children and is ever-increasing. This may be a selfish, bad-teacher remark to make, but it’s one less display for me to worry about changing on a regular basis! The children have ownership of it and it’s up to them to keep it up-to-date. On the opposite wall, I am beginning to fill a lot of the white space with A3 photos of what we get up to in school. I’m hoping that these photos will act as a reminder for the children of what we do over the course of the year and hopefully by July, all the walls will be full of pictures of them. It’s really simple and requires basically no effort, yet the children love looking at the photos and I often find them standing chatting to each other about what they’ve been up to in school. Pupil reflection? I think so!
Finally, there is one major thing I have learned since introducing my wackoidal classroom layout: take risks, because they might just be brilliant. In this case, I couldn’t have hoped for a more successful classroom layout. Long may it continue!