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Organizing the Learning Environment
Sharon Longert

 “Classroom environments are most effective when they are literate and purposeful, organized and accessible, and, most of all, authentic” (Miller, 2008). Teaching and learning is difficult in an environment that is cluttered, unorganized and unfriendly to kids and teachers. We spend a lot of time in our classrooms so they need to be interesting places that welcome everyone in the pursuit of knowledge. Your classroom reflects what you value, what you believe about teaching and learning, and what you know about your students. Anyone walking into that room should be able to articulate those values.

  • The first step is to reorganize specific areas by sorting through and making piles of things to keep, things someone else may want or need, and things to throw away. Closets, bookcases, supply areas, and under and over spots need to be vacated. Arm yourself with a lot of trash bags and a cleaning spray; make sure to warn the custodian ahead of time.

  • Next, define the spaces that support your style of teaching. Create a meeting area where the students can sit comfortably, share ideas, have class discussions, and learn lessons that you model. This area can also be used when you organize your students into small groups or conduct workshop sessions. This is the primary teaching area and should have tools and materials for you to chart, read, explain, demonstrate, and model. Students can bring notebooks and pencils to the area and learn note-taking skills.

  • Table and desk arrangement is based on the available furniture, the sizes and shapes of the desks/tables, and the size/ height of the students. At any time in the school year, it may be necessary to pull the room apart and start anew, therefore it is best to have a movable situation so that there can be conversational groupings and rearrangement for testing times.

  • Every room should be print-rich. Books can be displayed and labeled in colorful bins that are organized by author, subject area, reading level, gender preference, genre, fiction, and non-fiction. Bins should be portable and not overstuffed. Students are more apt to select books that are given special attention and are displayed respectfully.

  • Involve students in the process: when they know how to use materials, where to store them, and when to use them, they become invested in the classroom. A lot of time is saved when materials are organized so that everyone in the room knows where they are and how they are used.

  • Charts and student work displays are the best evidence of teaching and learning. Display these throughout the classroom and during the entire year. The process of learning is as important as the end product.

Classrooms are living, breathing, changing environments. We need to constantly assess and reassess our purposes, reasoning and goals. When you are aware of the path, the students usually follow and everyone learns something in the process.

Miller, Debbie, Teaching with Intention, Defining Beliefs, Aligning Practice, Taking Action, Stenhouse, Portland, Maine, 2008.

Do you have a question or comment about this article? E-mail me.


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