I was excited this morning to see an article on my feed from Edutopia on creating a “Place for Learning“. In the article, Mark Philips describes a classroom in northern Appalachia that was in dire need of a makeover. The teacher complained of students’ lack of motivation, sense of community, and sense of trust. I very much believe in the power of the physical environment to create a space for students and the teacher to either succeed or fail.
It just so happens that I signed up a week ago to present on this very topic for my graduate course. This was the first semester that I decided to completely change the space for learning in my classroom. I wanted to create a “literate” environment and by doing so create a sense of community, trust, and a safe place for learning and especially for reading!
This is the set-up of most of my classrooms. Students were in rows and my place was at the front of the class usually lecturing and going around and helping others during independent and group work.
Based on research and just hearing from other teachers, I learned that the environment plays a big role in how students perceive learning and the role of the teacher and student in the classroom. I knew I wanted a place for students to enjoy reading and I knew I wanted a space that promoted student voice and dialogue. Below is a picture of the room after the make-over:
The space no longer had the teacher at the head of the class and instead had the teacher submerged with the students and involved in creating a community. I was given the idea to borrow tables and create an island that fosters dialogue and a sense of community. I had computer stations for the very first time that allowed students to transition into technology and then I had my very first reading center! I knew at the very beginning of class that it would involve a great deal of practice in routines. I was very lucky to have a great set of students who participated in building the literate community. I was able to see students engaged and truly enjoying reading. It was very rewarding. Below is a picture of what the area looked like after students became involved in creating their environment.
I was very excited about the environment that myself and the students created. I enjoyed going into that room everyday and students mentioned that they felt a sense of home in that room. What should be noted is that I had about eight to ten students max in the room at a time. It was very important to set rules at the beginning about how the space would be used and how not to use the space. I definitely saw how this could have become an issue in a different circumstance, but overall, it reiterated my belief in the power of a literate environment.