The classroom environment has a great impact on student learning and classroom culture. When a visitor enters my classroom, they will notice several items that help to create a positive environment that is supportive of students, celebrates their successes and is conducive to learning.
The visitor's eyes might first notice the particular room arrangement. I arrange student desks in teams of four. The teams are staggered within the central classroom space so that every student has a clear view of the board. In the past, desks have also been arranged in rows of pairs. The seats are arranged as such - teams and rows - to better accommodate the Cooperative Learning activities we do in class. Within these teams, students are seated heterogeneously by academic ability. In mixed-ability groups, students are able to learn from each other as well as from the teacher. On occasion, such as when reading a particularly complex text or mastering a language skill, students are moved from their regular teams into homogeneous focus groups, which allows for differentiation and focused instruction. Students are also seated in teams to allow for practice in teamwork, leadership, and other social skills.
The visitor may next notice the light the windows let in and the colorful displays around the room. Upon closer inspection of these displays, the visitor would see that there are two types of displays: student-created and teacher-created. Student-created displays showcase student success and learning, while teacher-created displays include homework and school events calendars, posters for classroom rules and expectations, and bulletin boards with information about the current unit. Visitors will also notice the word walls for vocabulary learned while reading, and also for academic vocabulary.
Next to either door, there are places for students to turn in their assignments, as well as spaces for independent work. There is also a teacher mailbox where students can write messages or questions that they want to leave for the teacher. These items help to create a seamless flow in the classroom and encourage student organization as well as communication between the students and the teacher.
Of course, classroom management isn't simply about the physical environment. If the visitor were to stay and observe my class, they would be able to see the full scope of my classroom management, starting from when students enter the classroom. During the passing period, I make sure to stand by the door to greet students as they enter the class and give any reminders about supplies the students may need for class, or about the start of class procedures. As students enter the classroom, they place any homework assignments into the appropriate folder by the door and retrieve their journals from their class bins. Once seated, students respond to the bell ringer in their journals and prepare for class.
At the beginning of the school year, students are taught a series of signals and classroom phrases to help create a seamless flow between activities. Students first learn the quiet signal which is used to indicate when students need to shift their attention to the teacher. Students also learn important phrases that show commonly used cooperative learning strategies. For example, if I tell students we will be doing a Think-Pair-Share, they know they will be thinking of their answer to a question, finding a partner with whom to orally exchange answers, and then together finding another pair with whom to share.
Also at the beginning of the year, students learn the classroom rules and policies. In my classroom, there are five rules: prompt, prepared, polite, productive, and positive. I make sure students understand the consequences for not following rules, which include warnings, notes home, detention, and conferences according to school policy. Students also learn the school and classroom policies for assessment, technology, tardiness, and absences at the beginning of the year. I have posted rules and school policies at the front of the room where they are easily visible, and students can quickly reference them.
At the end of class, students push in their chairs and return their journals to the class bins before exiting the classroom.
The visitor may also notice, after observing my class, that there is no behavior rewards system in place. It is my personal belief that extrinsic behavior rewards are not the most effective way to manage behavior in a high school classroom. In a workplace, students will encounter the same situation that they will in my classroom: a contract created and agreed upon by both parties which outline the expectations and guidelines both parties are expected to follow. This contract is the cornerstone of a classroom culture built on mutual understanding, trust, and fairness.
Examples of Room Arrangement:
Examples of Student-Created Displays:
Examples of Teacher-Created Displays: