Gardens are a form of autobiography.
I could open a farmers’ market this year. My garden is overflowing with fresh vegetables and flowers. My family has even begun to ask, “We aren’t having zucchini for dinner again, are we?” The biggest delight for me is the number of watermelon and cantaloupes I have growing. I’ve planted them before, but never with any luck. The vines would grow and beautiful, lush yellow blossoms would open up and slowly begin to change into tiny orbs that promised succulent fruits, only to wither away before they had time to mature. I always ended up with dried, shriveled vines clinging to sad, greenish, brown spheres that never reached their potential.
So, what made the difference this year? I changed the space where I planted them. In previous years, I planted watermelon and cantaloupe in long, narrow raised beds. I figured I could train the vines to run lengthwise along the walls of the bed. Since that didn’t seem to be working, I decided to put them into a different space when I planted my garden in late May. I set the small green seedlings in a large, square bed, with lots of space between them. They looked rather lonely and forlorn spaced so far apart. My hope was that the plants would have room to stretch and grow and produce edible fruit. Well, my plan seems to have worked. The vines reach out every which way and it’s only a matter of days until we have our own homegrown melons for breakfast.
I was reminded of the importance of space when I went to school to spend time with the brand new teacher I am mentoring this year. The first thing she shared was her vision for how the different spaces would be used in her classroom. Her rocking chair and easel were up front with a large empty space for the students to gather. Sticky notes dotted her walls indicating where to put her calendar, class promise and her word wall, to name a few. She had even begun arranging her classroom library in a space that was easily accessible to her young learners. The physical spaces in her classroom are well thought out and have a purpose, promising a rich learning environment for the 23 first graders who will soon enter her room.
The physical space isn’t the only space we need to think about though. The space I’m considering isn’t necessarily visible to someone passing by a classroom. I’m thinking about the space we give children that will help them thrive throughout the school year. Are we giving our students ample time to explore? Do we welcome their questions and encourage them go out and find answers? Are we asking questions that encourage students to think critically and problem solve? Are we open to the possibility that there might be more than one right answer? Do we give students choices that empower them? Are they reading books they want to read? Are they writing about topics that are important to them? Do they know it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them?
I’ve come to believe that these invisible spaces are just as important as the physical spaces we create in our classrooms. By providing the right spaces, we give our students opportunities to stretch, grow, and reach their full potential.
This week we look at classroom library spaces. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Contributor, Choice Literacy
Julie Johnson is a literacy coach in Hilliard, Ohio and has taught for nearly 20 years. She is a teacher-consultant with the National Writing Project, a recipient of the NCTE Donald Graves writing award, and the author of the blog Raising Readers and Writers.
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Here are two features from the archives on classroom libraries.
Franki Sibberson gives advice for Curating a Nonfiction Classroom Library:
Erin Ocon explains how she builds A Library from Scratch in her middle school classroom:
Here are some ideas for creating makeshift reading nooks, many with recycled materials:
If your classroom looks a little bare next to the ones of colleagues who are Pinterest and hot-glue gun fans, fear not. Research shows kids may learn more in classrooms that are not heavily decorated:
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Andrea Smith discovers the value of more creative nonfiction book tub titles after listening to ideas from her students:
Katherine Sokolowski looks at challenges from the previous year for ideas on Reorganizing the Classroom Library:
Katie DiCesare has suggestions for Books for Studying Illustration with First Graders:
New PD2Go: Karen Terlecky confers with fifth grader Alex about making wise choices during independent reading time:
This video, workshop guide, and related readings fulfill Common Core State Standard ELA-Literacy.RL.5.10: By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, at the high end of the grades 4-5 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
Finally, Gail Boushey and Joan Moser (“The Sisters”) work to redesign a middle school classroom library in this encore video:
That’s all for this week!