Sunday, August 30, 2015

Engagement from the Start: Launching Your Year of Learning Considering Time, Choice, and Space

It’s that time once again, and I have to say, this year I feel ready.

I have been thinking a lot about what this back to school post would contain. After all, there is so much to think about, and so many ideas to share.

But then I stumbled upon a blog post that Nancie Atwell wrote for Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post.  She was writing about the term innovation, and what it means to education. In the piece Atwell (2015) wrote,

“I’d like to reclaim the term. Methods, created by teachers in a quest to develop students’ skills and understandings, are the essential innovations. In my 40-year career as a middle school English teacher, the simplest and most powerful innovation was to give my students time and choice as writers and readers."

And I thought, that’s it.  Of course Nancie Atwell would remind me of what matters most when thinking about back to school, and about daily reading and writing instruction.  The greatest innovations we as teachers have are time and choice, and I would add, space.

Readers and writers need time to write.  They need to be able to make choices and decisions about what they are reading and writing, as well as choose the tools, strategies, and materials that they will use.  Readers and writers will also need a space that supports them -- physically, emotionally and cognitively. Back to school requires us to consider how we will launch the year, cultivate engagement in all our readers and writers, and give them time, choice, and space to flourish.

Considering Space:  Preparing for the Year
I define space as the physical space and arrangement of the room, the emotional space, the cognitive space, and the materials and resources within the space.  These are four things that I do in preparation for the school year:

  1. Create an Engaging, Aesthetically Pleasing, 

and Functional Physical Environment:  

The physical arrangement of a classroom sets the tone for learning, so consider the use of classroom physical space wisely.  Arrange furniture in a way that allows for learning differences (for example, allowing a more distractible student to face a quieter or less busy wall or section of the classroom, or considering teacher proximity for a student needing more support) and carefully consider the flow of the room.  Leave room for transitions and movement, and create areas or “nooks” that will support independent practice or collaborative endeavors.  Also consider how wall space is used. If possible, paint rooms using neutral colors in warm hues for younger students, and use cool colors for older students. Don’t operate in extremes – completely blank walls or completely covered walls.  Walls should contain some charts and other visuals that provide students with pertinent information (such as an anchor chart from a recent lesson) or motivation (such as a class motto, quote from a writer, or other inspiring thought). Think less is more, and ask yourself, would I want to and could I do my best reading and writing, thinking and learning in this room?  If the answer is no, consider what you need to do to create an appealing and engaging physical space, and if yes, you are set to go.