Name: Erin Howley
Job Title: 1st Grade Teacher
School Location: New Jersey
How did you design your classroom?
What prompted you to want to arrange your room this way?
When I received my first full-time teaching job I purchased the book “Spaces and Places” by Debbie Diller. This book really helped me focus in on what areas I wanted in my classroom, how to optimize space, and how to make sure every area was student-friendly! My first task was making a list of must have spaces for students. Once I had my list I arranged and rearranged my spaces until I felt my classroom was neat, organized, purposeful, and accessible to the students.
One very important aspect of my classroom is that every area has a purpose. If I have a back of a bookshelf that is visible, I make sure that I ‘spruce it up’ with paint or contact paper and make it a place to display anchor charts or student work. When I set up my bulletin boards, I make sure that they correspond with the area where students will be utilizing it the most. For example, my reading board is directly behind my small group table (which is also located near my library). My word wall and writing boards are next to one another and by our writer’s table. My math board is located where I have the math manipulatives students will use during center time. By setting up my classroom this way I feel that the students understand where to find materials and where they can access information that was already taught (on anchor charts).
Another key component when setting up my room was making sure everything was easily accessible to the students. With easy accessibility, students can move from one activity to another with ease, which makes for a less chaotic classroom! Of course, the best laid plans often go astray, so I have changed my spaces over the years.
Overall, the book “Spaces and Places” was a very vital component that helped me arrange my room. While the book and pictures are a little dated (it was published in 2007 and does not look like the Pinterest-perfect classrooms that you see online), it is a wonderful book that I would recommend to all new teachers!
What are some of the important spaces in your room?
What are your favorite parts of the room?
What are your students’ favorite parts of the room?
Some important places in my room are my calendar area, my classroom library, my word wall, my ‘take a break’ spot, and my small group table. My favorite parts of the room would be my classroom library and my small group table. I love seeing the students getting comfortable in the library and really focusing on their reading. I also love my small group table because I set it up so I have everything I need to meet my student’s needs in arm’s reach and I can also maintain classroom management as I can see every part of the room. My student’s favorite areas would have to be the classroom library and the calendar area. Our library has lots of fun seating which the kids love! Our calendar area is the place where we start the day with morning meeting. I know my students love coming to our calendar area and greeting each other every morning and reading our morning message.
Do your students have assigned seats? Do you rotate stations?
Do students have free reign of where to go in the room?
My students do have assigned seats with their desks however, students do not spend a lot amount of time at their desks. Students can do work wherever best suits them and their needs, but they have their desk as a place to eat snack, complete crafts, store their materials, and if they prefer to sit there. Since I teach 1st grade sometimes I do require students to sit in their desks for certain assignments (tests, publishing writing assignments, handwriting practice etc.). I also use their desk as a space they can return to if they are off task. Students know that if they do not choose a good spot where they can focus, they will end up back at their desk.
I utilize The Daily 5 in my classroom so there are 5 different centers. Unfortunately, the past 2 years I did not have a listening center, but I will be getting one from my teacher wish-list this upcoming school year! After I fully teach each center, students can choose which center they want to go to. In past years I tried keeping track of which center students went to, having students keep track of the centers they went to, or assigning centers. After much trial and error, I found that allowing students to pick works the best. The students know they are to visit each center at least once a week, and I make sure to give students reminders if they tend to only go to one specific center. This year I am going to try having students check in and set goals before we start rounds of Daily 5. This check in will just be oral and make students take responsibility for their learning!
I also utilize Math Daily 3 in my classroom. Before math centers begin I have a list of all the available activities and students who are not working with me choose their center. Again, I do not keep track from day to day, but I will guide students to a different center if they repeatedly choose the same one.
Have you always arranged your room this way?
Have you slowly moved to this design?
Have you noticed a mood change in your classroom or what are you expecting to change with this setup?
When I first began teaching I had a very hard time letting go of control and giving the students choice. I always had flexible seating available, but to eliminate problems with our ‘fun seats’ I had a rotation of where students could sit that day. This worked well, but I decided that it is important that students learn to problem solve. I had to think, “What happens when the kids are on the playground and they want to go on the swings but they are all full?” They figure it out! Once I allowed students to choose I found that there weren’t as many problems as I thought and that students became more engaged. I noticed students making responsible choices and echoing things that I had taught like kindly telling a friend, “This might not be the best spot for us since I want to talk to you but should be reading.” Of course, the kids do need reminders sometimes (they are only 6)! But I can’t even count the number of times people have come into my room during centers and complimented our class on how quietly and effectively we were working! I feel like when I let the students choose their seats during The Daily 5 or Math Daily 3 I can teach my small group instruction and know that the other students are engaged and learning!
Where did you get the materials for your room?
A lot of the materials I have for my room were self-bought. I brought in a butterfly chair, a disc chair, and beanbag chairs I had from my younger years. My parents and I made crate seats. I bought 2 flip couches from Walmart. I have bought countless supplies and things for organizing materials. My school district is really great with granting our teacher ‘wish lists’ but I did not start teaching in this district and my first year I did not ask for a lot of materials. This year, however, I put more on my list and it was approved! My new school district is really great with making sure we get what we want for our rooms, but since I didn’t start there I had a lot that I bought on my own.
What else should we know about your classroom?
I try to set my classroom up to be a home away from home. Students are expected to spend most of their day in the room so I want it to be a comfortable, cozy environment. I know that as an adult I like to have lots of different places to do work. Sometimes I’m in the mood to sit on the couch and write my lesson plans. Other times I know I will work best at my desk. Students should have these options, too! That’s why I try to make sure my room has lots of areas for students to choose from!
Can we see more from you on social media or Teachers pay Teachers?
Besides following me on Instagram you can find some resources I’ve made in my TpT store! I am somewhat new to TpT and don’t have too many resources up, but I am working on adding more resources as I make them! My store is https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Miss-Howley !!