Once the bigger pieces of furniture are in order, I begin working on the finer details. Specifically, I ask myself What processes can I put into place the will expedite student movement from one activity to another?
Teaching time is precious. If students take more than a minute or two to transition from one activity to another, a teacher can lose hours of important instructional time.
Quick student groupings
Each student desk has a letter and a color affixed. I will quickly group students into groups of five or six by saying I’d like all the A’s here, B’s, there…. I can get them into groups of four or five by color by saying Reds go here, purples go there…
In contrast, student name tags are not affixed to student desks. Instead of moving student desks, I move name tags. In this way, students will experience different color and letter groups as the year progresses. Even if the arrangement of desks changes and/or name tags are switched, each child will have a specific letter and a specific color group.
Eliminating Loose Paper
Another way teachers lose instructional time is by passing out and collecting paper. Students rummage in desks and backpacks looking for required sheets. A couple systems will keep supplies together.
Math Baskets: Each student has a magazine holder full of materials. Materials include their math workbook, math textbook, measuring tools, a loose paper folder, an erasable white board, a white board marker, and a yellow writing journal for open-ended math questions.
Plastic Zipper Bags for Literacy Supplies: The plastic zipper bags hold students’ independent reading books, their writing journals, their reading journals, a pen, and any loose paper we happen to pass our during a lesson (a rare occasion – but it happens). These zipper bags go from home to school in backpacks.
Online Reading Logs: I want to keep track of students’ reading, but I don’t want to send home paper logs. Here is a screenshot of a Google Spreadsheet that I use:
- Each student has his or her own sheet. The sheet is locked so that only the one student (and I) can edit a particular sheet. Also, Google Spreadsheets have revision histories so that information is never permanently lost. Individual student names (below the blue bar) have been omitted for privacy reasons.
Name Labels: The quickest and easiest way for students to get names on supplies is to use name labels. I put large labels on the math baskets, reading cubbies, and backpack cubbies before the year begins. Students have a whole sheet of small labels (with their first names only) that they affix to their homework planner, their literacy plastic zipper bag, their loose paper folder, their pencil box, math and reading journals, or anything else that might need a name.
Student Data Notebook: Everything confidential goes in this binder, which is labeled “General Info.” Each fall, we receive student data on reading and writing levels, we get reports from nurses about health issues, we get notes important notes from parents. The section of the binder I use most is the “passwords” section. Students have their own school accounts as well as accounts with Voicethread, Renzulli, KAZ Typing, andEveryday Math. As much as I warn them to make each password the same (and not share it with anyone), some children will inevitably forget their passwords. I keep them all on sheets to which I can refer.
Prepping the Common Area for Assigned Floor Seating: Before the 1:1 computer program, I didn’t mind if students sat by reading and writing partners in hodge-podge order. Now, I like students to sit in rows for two reasons. First, student are able to “turn and talk” quickly – with their knees facing their partner. Second, once everyone is seated, students can put their laptops on the floors and teachers can still walk between them.
To create “walk room”, I have students line themselves up horizontally with a color and vertically with a number. Eventually, students will be assigned seating with reading and writing partners. Rather than running to a favorite spot or sprawling on the floor, each child will now have a spot on the grid to which they can immediately walk.
Structure Balanced with Differentiation
Why so much structure? Shouldn’t students be allowed choice, freedom, and play? Throughout the year, students will choose what they write. They will choose what they read. Math homework will be differentiated. Since most of my instruction is differentiated, I find classroom structure particularly important. Am I set up so that students can quickly transition when asked to do so? Do they know how, where, and when to find the materials they need? Can they move safely without the danger of hurting a person or an expensive piece of equipment?
What do you think? Is the balance right? What structures do you have in place?