I’ve come to believe you can only be as effective as you are organized. I first learned this truth as an artist, when I set up my studio. (Studio is a fancy word for the part of the laundry room I use to paint and scrapbook and stamp and draw and create.) It also holds true as a writer when collecting ideas, keeping drafts, and organizing structures and plot lines. It is true for a family. Getting out the door with everything each person needs for the day, plus happy hearts, is possible only when we are organized.
It is true for classrooms too. If you are among the fortunate who are creating a space for learning, consider organizing these areas of your classroom in order for students to be effective readers and writers.
Meeting Area – To find space for a meeting area, it often must be established first. Franki Sibberson encourages teachers to clear out their entire space and decide on the meeting area first. If you aren't a primary teacher, you may have several reasons why a meeting area won’t work for your classroom. A few years ago I taught high school English. If ever there were a space where a meeting area was impossible to establish, this was it. There were rows of computers, bolted to the floor, with about two feet of space around the perimeter. I was sharing the room, so the teacher who had been teaching for 30+ years had her collection of three teacher desks and bookshelves filled with English textbooks dating back nearly half a century. I’m not joking.
I still established a meeting area. It wasn’t pristine and it definitely wouldn’t be in the running in a classroom dream space competition, but it was effective. We met together and became a community of readers and writers as quickly as possible.
Classroom Library – After the meeting area is established, the classroom library is the next priority. In my school, classroom libraries have exploded in size, and they can no longer be contained on a few small shelves. We have taken inspiration from bookstores and are starting to spread the library across the classroom, using signs to make it easy to find different sections. Teachers also have learned to rotate their books. They don’t keep all of them out all the time. At the beginning of the year, there are fewer book choices. As the seasons change, books are added and others are taken away. As the readers grow, new series are added. As interests are found, new baskets are created. The secret is to have a system that will work for the readers in your classroom.
Writing Resources – What are the resources your students need to make their work possible? Where will these things be kept? Consider a table designed to house tools for writing and reading. Sticky notes, highlighters, draft paper, and extra pencils can be kept here. Perhaps a basket or crate can be tucked in a closet or under a table for clipboards or legal pads. Primary teachers may want to consider canisters for colored pencils, pens, and scissors. However, the essential consideration for resources is to determine what students need and how they can have access to them. Systems need to help students be independent and to free teachers from being “gatekeepers” to the supplies. Of course, this may be a gradual process of releasing responsibility in order for students to be trustworthy with supplies.
Anchor Charts – Another resource to consider is anchor charts. How will you organize them for students to access the information and put it into practice? Some teachers designate specific wall space for different subjects. Others use different colors of charts for different subjects. Some teachers string a clothesline across the room and clip charts to it. Where will you keep chart-making supplies, as well as a record of past learning? Some teachers take photos of the charts, print them, and add them to a binder that stays with other resources for students to access. Other teachers print small versions of the charts and give a copy to students to keep in their writer’s notebooks or folders so they can return to them again and again.
Work Areas – The last organization issue to consider is work areas. Traditionally, teachers arrange desks and then make other areas fit around the desks. Since workshops encourage students to be writers and readers, they will spend most of their time engaging in reading and writing. When we tuck work areas around the other areas of the classroom, we create spaces for students to have privacy or to work together in partners or small groups without disturbing others. Adding tables, couches, bean bags, and large floor pillows gives students more options. If students are working in places other than desks, then you also need to consider where they will keep their personal supplies.
By organizing these areas, in this order, you will create a space to encourage students to be effective readers and writers. Once these building blocks are established, you can add touches of inspiration through quotes, signs, and photos around the room to foster happy hearts within your well-organized class.