I have unshakable faith in children. They always show me the way. ♥

Monday, September 24, 2007

Cookie's Week

Sometimes I'm amazed by the depth of thought that six year olds have. As a teacher, I'm often pressed for time, ruled by the clock, determined to get from one subject to the next. I think through things a lot, but sometimes... well, sometimes I don't truly see the depth of something until the children point it out to me.

Today was one of those days. We're still in the early days of the school year, working on finding the balance between learning new routines, having fun, and doing work. We were reading the book Cookie's Week at the end of our literacy time. I expected kids to focus on some of the "quick and easy words" and laugh at the pictures. It's a great book for talking about some of the little words in reading and writing, and it also follows the days of the week. To be honest, it's a wonderful book, but I'd never looked for any depth within it.

Until today.

This book has an adorable cat, Cookie, that keeps getting into things and making a mess. The book ends with the line: "Tomorrow is Sunday. Maybe Cookie will rest." but we see a fly up in the top right hand corner and Cookie with one eye open looking at it. The kids right away noticed this and said that Cookie was going to make another mess.

Then Lindy raised her hand. She said, "I think the fly got Cookie in trouble all those times."

There was a pause, and then one of the other kids said, "Yeah, maybe the fly came out of the trashcan and Cookie followed it and that's why he got into trouble all the time!"

Other kids had some other similar thoughts, building upon this and they were quite animated in describing things.

I sat and watched my students debate this, thinking: "Holy Crap. Yes!"

Who knows whether the author intended for the fly to have been the catalyst for Cookie to get into messes, or whether it was just the typical kittenness that was causing her havoc. All I know is that I've never had children have such an engaging discussion about this book. It had never occured to me that it would be something worth discussing. But the value of this? Oh, man, this book is going to be gold to these first graders now. They're going to take it and read and examine it for days, I can just feel it.

It's sort of amazing how discussions end up popping up where I least expect it.

Thank goodness I listened to them today. I love when they teach me something early on a Monday morning. ♥

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

books and the heart of our classroom...


So, one of the dangers of being a classroom teacher is that you never quite have enough of the right books, and often you get donations of lots and lots of other books and then what happens is that you have TWENTY boxes of books and they're only sort of organized and you can't always find what you need. Or, like me, you had NO BOOKS in the classroom when you were hired, and so therefore you spent thousands of dollars over your first five years of teaching building up your library.

So, the nice thing is that I have a lot of books. The hard thing is that I don't have them organized well enough to a) always find what I need right away (sometimes I can), or b) store all of them. I also have multiple copies of many books and some that have just been so well loved that they're falling apart, and some that have been through two (!!!) floods and really need to be retired.

I spent many hours sorting, organizing, and filling boxes of books to be given away/donated. Here is one picture of my progress. The books on the lower left are boxes to give away. go me!

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I still have about two-three more hours of work left on books, but I did a lot today, so yay. :)

I threatened in my last post that I'd talk about some of the different areas of the classroom. Today I wanted to mention the circle/meeting area...

For the past two years, this area of the classroom has always been rich and wonderful. It's always one of my favorite areas because we read aloud here, we practice, we discuss hard things, we have morning meeting, we have visitors, we learn about each other, we cry and laugh and dance and sing.

It's like... well, it's the heart of our classroom.

Last year I regularly felt like we were outgrowing the space. The kids would develop a really deep interest in something and we'd fill a book basket and then have nowhere to put it. The projector cart that lived in the middle of the room (that I connect to the laptop to project images/videos/powerpoints/demonstrations, and etc...) was always in the way. When we would have a lot of visitors to our circle, we wouldn't have room for everyone to fit comfortably. And, really? That can't happen.

If the essence of what I believe is 'less is more,' well, then I have to practice what I preach. So, I've modified things a lot. Here is a shot of the meeting area from the windows:

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Here it looks really empty. Really empty. But what I really see is the freedom for movement, the areas that we will be able to fill with book baskets (at the base of the table with the red buckets, to the right of the rocking chair, on top of or under the little square table in the center).

I start the year with an "undressed classroom." It's pretty and welcoming, with color and pretty lights and lamps and homey touches, but it generally looks sort of empty. The reason? We build the classroom together, the kids and I. We explore all of the materials we're going to use together, we talk about how we can use them, how to take care of them, and where we're going to put them. In October, the meeting area is going to be a lot fuller, in February, it's going to look totally different, because it will evolve based on the needs of our class. But right now? I don't know the exact needs of our class. So we get to figure it out together.

I'm also going to show you something else:

This is the view toward the door from the windows...

If you look between the "tables" with the purple baskets and the red baskets, you'll notice there's a walkway and a circle table. This is deliberate. For the past two years, I've always had something between those tables, and it's always been in the way. Last year, it was our projector cart. We use it a lot, but not enough for it to be in such a prominent position in the classroom. So, I moved it. I put it here:

Can you see it? It's the black cart in the far corner under the window. I took out one entire table that we used to use for the listening center and replaced it with the very small, wood colored shelf that we'll use for the listening center. The projector cart is out of the way, near a space that doesn't get a lot of traffic anyway, and fully accessible for when we need it on a regular basis.

I am so pleased. This is going to make the shelves with book baskets more accessible AND as I've removed some of the furniture from the meeting area, we now have more wall space to display our work.

Seriously, I'm just completely jazzed about this. I can't wait to watch how this space evolves.

Chances are, I'll continue to babble about some other areas of the classroom -- is there anything you are interested in hearing?

Monday, September 17, 2007

classroom set up -- day 1

It's that time of the year again. :) School has started and the children are so full of energy. It's amazing what six year olds teach me.

I've documented a bit of the initial classroom set up -- both to share and for my own reflection. I find it really helpful to reflect on why I make certain classroom set up decisions.

So, these are some pictures from my first day of classroom set up. I also plan to show the children these pictures, too.

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At noon, August 17th, before I'd moved anything around:

I worked on moving things for about three hours, and then...

Looking left:

And looking right:

It's nice that this is the third year I'll be teaching in this room, so I already had some ideas. I made some pretty deliberate choices about things this year. You may or may not be able to tell in the picture, but my desk is far away to the right if you look at the third picture. It's also surrounded by kid spaces: there's a waterfall bookcase, a little carpet for sitting on, and two desks pushed up against it for more private work.

I made this change (something I'd been thinking about for nearly 5 months last year) for a couple of reasons:

I've discovered that as much as I dislike having a desk in the classroom and taking space away from the children, it's helpful for me to have it. I use it to work and something about keeping the top of it neat (with only supplies & my plan book on the top) always makes me feel calmer, even if other spaces get cluttered. And, even though in the beginning of the year it's "my" space, it doesn't stay that way exclusively. Often children will sit at my desk as another private space.

The way I had things last year, though, my desk was one of the first things that you saw when you walked into the room (it was basically where you see it in the top picture). I don't want that to be the case. I want the classroom to be and feel completely focused on children. So, even though there is a teacher desk, it's surrounded by kid areas. Also the FIRST thing you see when you walk in is our Project table -- a kid area. Not my desk.

So, I'm much more pleased. ♥

I also made a few deliberate choices about the location of some furniture at the far end of the classroom -- our meeting area and where there are many learning places: books, listening center, math support, and etc... You can't really see it here, so I'll take a picture another day and then babble on about that later.

So, there you have it. Day 1. I'll spam you with more pictures from the set up later. :)

I hope you all are well. *much love*