Friday, August 29, 2014

Creating a Classroom You Love, Part III: Hello, Walls

If you’re just joining me, you can read Part I and Part II by clicking on the links. 

First of all, if you got the Faron Young reference in the title, you rock. 

Secondly, you know that part in the movie Steel Magnolias, where Julia Roberts says, "Pink is my sig-nuh-tcha color?" And anything that would stand still in the church got pink bunting wrapped around it?  And when the doors of the church are opened it looked like someone had poured Pepto Bismal everywhere?  You need a visual?  Okay, here’s the pic:

Yeah-don’t do that.  To your walls.  Please.  Pretty please.  With sugar on top.

Like Shelby, you may think it looks dahlin’ to have every square inch covered, but…it can be more of a hinderance than a help.

Walls are such a big deal.  Done right, they truly help maximize learning.  They can serve as a way to display celebrations, dismissal, calendar, word wall, question/concept board, outcomes, word walls, anchor charts, center info, number lines and even more.  Done properly, they give students tools that they can use to further their independence.

Done improperly?  Let’s just say I know someone very close to me (hint, hint) whose early classrooms resembled more this

Than this:

I’ve taught in Kentucky for 10 years and it took a good long while before I was ready to admit the walls just weren’t working.  And in those early years I had awesome neighbors-neighbors who were decent to a fault.  I say this because no one had the gumption to walk in my room, scan around, and say, “You poor thing!  You’ve suffered a natural disaster. Don’t you worry, I’ll call FEMA for you to save you the trouble.”

As a young teacher, I wanted my room to look exciting, so I could not slap enough posters and pocket charts on walls.  After a few years, I was able to objectively look around and say, “This has got to stop”.  I realized that my brain went into sensory overload when I walked in, so my poor kids must have been in the same state.

(And maybe, just maybe, having to take all that crap down and put it back up was wearing on me after a few years.  Who knows?) 

Since I’m not afraid to tell you what I’ve learned, let’s examine some common mistakes and then we can discuss how to fix ‘em.  And here, in no particular order, are some décor thoughts:

      Problem: Your Door.  By dressing up your door, you’re already giving people something to process.  I worked in a school a few years ago where every teacher was required to have a theme door.  One year the lady next door wanted to do the Gingerbread Man story and spread it over both our doors since our theme was Fairy Tales.  Her door was completely wrapped and showed the kids in pursuit on the road.  Mine showed the road and the Gingerbread Man.  It was phenomenal, but a lot to take in.                       Solution: I know people will think I’m crazy, but either decorate only the outside of your door or make something simple on the inside.  My weakness is wreaths.  I buy ‘em when they are on sale (after a holiday, for instance) and change them accordingly.  I have one for Back to School, one Halloween, one Harvest, One Christmas, One Valentine, and one March Madness.  Here’s my current one, which is the mantra I repeat when it’s 7:30 a.m. and I have a minimum of three crying kids:  


Problem: Your Word Wall.  I can’t tell you how many classrooms I’ve seen where teachers put up a year’s worth of words before the 1st day of school.  Please understand: I love word walls.  However, they are like any other educational tool-they must be intentional and kids need to be instructed in how to use them.  The neat thing about the brain is it wants to make sense of things.  However, for young students, seeing all the words (especially if they can’t read) is overwhelming.  (1st day have kids’ names, share good books for word wall activities, keep personal word wall in folder, journal).  Another reason to wait to put up your words-if you’ve already assembled your wall, chances are you will be less likely to refer to it.  My students enjoyed watching our word wall grow.  (Plus, this wall is a fantastic way to help students understand graphing and comparing sets when you get to it in math.)                                                                 Solution: For Open House/Back to School Night, simply display only the headers or the headers with the students’ names on the wall.  I like having just the headers up, and that way we can discuss how to use the Word Wall once school begins.  I would also like to point out that this year I broke my mold and only displayed the uppercase letters.  I’ve been reading some professional lit on teaching letter identification and put the info into practice.  The book suggested only displaying the uppercase letters because they are the easiest to discriminate (for example an uppercase P and Q look very different than their lowercase counterparts, so kids can learn the letters more easily).  I like having names up at Open House because I think it helps the kids see they really do have a place in our learning community.  I have sentence strips that I use sometimes for names.  Or I simply use this amazing FONT and print them out.  Also, when your students are ready, give them a personal word wall and show them how to use it.  And if you need some quick books to help you beef up your word wall, try 
.  Tons of practical, great ideas. 

Problem: You Paid For Cute Décor and, By Golly, You’re Going to Use It.  So you’ve visited the parent teacher store, dollar store, or online and found the most adorable class décor kit.  And since you’ve paid an arm and leg out of your pocket, you’re going to get your money’s worth.  Which means displaying charts and images all over your walls.  You’ve created a custom wall paper job.  And the wall paper is…busy.                                                                                                                                                            Solution: Again, ask yourself what’s really necessary.  Take, for instance, Daily 5.  At the beginning of the year they kids may need to go and physically place their meme on the Daily 5 choice.  But I know that my students don’t truly need a pocket chart the whole year for Daily 5.  So after I’m certain they can handle removing the chart, it goes back in the box until next fall.  And be honest about what’s truly necessary-the good manner posters I used in August will (hopefully) not be needed in January.  Look at what your students need and plan your wall space accordingly.

Problem: Not Changing Things.  So at the beginning of the year your class couldn’t spell ok.  (Side note, last year the most entertaining convo in my room was when we were writing using M&Ms.  Half the class couldn’t spell it-seriously-and the other half were annoyed because they kept saying, “M AND M!!”)  But now they’ve got the first 25 words down.  Take down what you don’t need.  Think about an airport terminal-how confusing would it be if they kept the flights that were completed up all the time?  How helpful would it be to see the flights from four months ago?  It’s the same principle here.  (And if you worry that your class will need the info later, do like Nancy does and take a picture of the chart or wall and display in an album. Her post about this can be read here-on her incredible blog.) That way when new kids arrive you can still refer to a chart needed.                                                                                                      Solution: Unlike the Buckingham Palace Guard, my wall displays don’t get changed daily.  I mentioned earlier I switch out my wreaths with some regularity.  This is also the time I look around and see if anything needs to be added or removed from my wall space.  So basically, once a month.  Or every nine weeks with report cards.

Problem: Disorder.  You have addition facts next to a behavior chart, lunch menu next to Daily 5 Chart, science vocab next to the pre-writing poster.  There is no rhyme or reason to your charts and when students need help, they have to stop and scan two or three walls before arriving at the correct poster.             Solution: I don’t know how many times I can say it, but don’t use it unless you must.  And then plan accordingly.  Just this year my plan is to have 1 literacy wall (which will house reading strategies and anchor charts word wall, convention posters, etc), one procedural wall (with behavior, outcomes, calendar), one math wall, and one science/social studies wall.  This is a win-win for everybody, because you’re not wondering where you’re going to display a rubric and should the kids need a reminder they will know which wall to consult.  So that’s my plan, but I am cognizant it may need to be tweaked.

Hope you and yours have a wonderful, relaxing three day weekend!  I have just two more tidbits to share before wrapping up this series-glad you've shared this journey with me!

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