Starting out the semester means thinking about how the room is arranged and whether or not those arrangements are conducive to the educational advancement of the students.
I am fortunate in that I have a nice room for a variety of arrangements. You see, it is the old drama practice room. The room is long and narrow with two doors. At the rear, there is a small stage area. The length makes for troublesome rows as there is really only room for four rows across, meaning I need a good five or six seats in each row to fit the students. The length of the room allows for the rows with a teacher command center in the front (host to the teacher desks, board, storage cabinet, SMART Board, and television that is probably older than I am mounted in the corner), student rows in the middle area, and tables for cooperative learning in the rear. Having the stage allows me to separate out groups – two small tables fit on the stage, a circle table down from it on the floor, and a larger rectangle table fits nicely under the window off to the side. Two doors are amazing because with administration needing to make frequent visits just for appearance in classrooms, there is an easy in and an easy out. I never have to be the bad guy when the students know anyone could walk in at any time.
Once setting up the room itself, a great amount of thought goes into how I can arrange the students in the rows in order to assure the best possible behavioral and academic outcomes. Our school has been under the gun for a few years, and people have been watching data in my room in terms of both discipline and academic testing and value added. Needless to say, I feel the pressure to maintain an environment with an intense academic focus through cooperative learning and direct instruction. I am working on creating a document (entitled “Guide to Grouping: Building a Cooperative Learning Classroom”) to outline my steps on this process, but I want to test out my thoughts and ideas before posting it. I have been doing much research on cooperative learning as I identified it as my major goal for professional development this year.
Considering decorating the room, I have created a few poster sets to post. We are not required to have a word wall, but I was at a previous school and I loved the way the students used it. In fact, I am a visual learner so I tend to teach that way as well. Students are practically trained to look at the posters and remember the posters for information throughout the semester. Before the EOC, everything has to come down but at that point the students have, hopefully, trapped the information in their memory. We are going to do an intense vocabulary review the first two weeks, so I wanted to provide the opportunity for all students to demonstrate this low-level of mastery from day one.
Anyway, I decided to post a few word walls from the start:
1. Because the eighth grade standards required students to master elements of plot, I wanted to have a poster set with those elements. Students are going to create and trade essential plot vocabulary trading cards, and having this information visible will help students access the information if it was not retained from the previous year. You can find the poster set at http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Plot-Story-Elements-Informational-Posters-Word-Wall-Printables.
2. Because our school is a TAP (Teacher Advancement Program) school, we are focusing on thinking and problem solving. While I have been able to teach and model T/PS in the past, I want to make more of an effort to help students label this information in order to help them internalize it for future academic use. I have posted this poster set at http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Thinking-and-Problem-Solving-Wall-Signs-for-Word-Wall.
3. To help students with accountability after an absence, I have created “What did I miss?” posters which I have secured to file folders and posted on the wall. Each day, I will put the names of absent students on any needed handouts and place them in the appropriate folder on the wall. These can be found at http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/What-did-I-miss-Wall-Signs.
4. Another item posted (actually on the door so students have access from the hall) is a folder labeled “Need help on the EOC?” In this folder I have placed a stack of study guides with essential terms and skills needed for the Tennessee State End-of-Course English I test. This list is also posted on the wall using the poster maker in the school’s library. This list is arranged first by the standard and then by grouping the terms in common skills areas according to the units taught. This document can be found at http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/TN-English-I-EOC-Essential-Skills-by-Unit-and-by-Standard.