Wednesday, July 18, 2018

TLF: Chapter 1 Simplify the Space

Think about the four walls of your classroom.  Think of three adjectives that best describe those walls. I would say: cute, functional, tidy. With each of these adjectives, think about who that benefits more: you or your students?

The saying “what’s best for kids” has its place in an elementary classroom. Are my cute decorations best for kids? Is the functional word wall and the super tall AR (Accelerated Reader) tree best for kids?  Is the tidy appearance best for kids?

How about “what’s best for the teacher”?  We spend the most time in our classroom and it is our priority to instruct kids in our classroom.  So my cute decorations are best for me (Pinterest has been a GAME changer in elementary classrooms), the functional aspects are helpful for me and the tidy appearance is best for me.  

So what’s best for the classroom, in my opinion, is a combination of both what the teacher and students need and want.  Think quality -v.s- quantity.

Think about, for example, your Kindergarten classroom from when YOU were a kid.  Think of three adjectives to describe the four walls that surrounded you for an academic year when YOU were five.   

What we put up on the four walls of our classroom and how much we put up are very different in the U.S. and Finland.  Thomas Walker noticed very quickly the “less is more” Finnish motto in his colleagues’ classrooms in Helsinki.  He feels that the calmness of students and teachers can be, to some degree, attributed to the simplified learning spaces of their classrooms.

A study by Fisher, Godwin & Seltman in 2014 revealed that, in the U.S., children “were more distracted by the visual environment, spent more time off task, and demonstrated smaller learning gains when the walls were highly decorated”.  I can understand that revelation and know that when I’m somewhere that has a lot of stuff up on walls, I feel overstimulated and am more distracted.  

Finnish teachers limit, to an extent, what and how they decorate their classrooms.  They want their classrooms to be uncluttered and cozy and achieve this by keeping their classroom design and decoration simple in order to achieve a positive tunnelma(atmosphere).  

Walker’s suggestion is to really think about the purpose of what you put up and display in your classroom throughout the year.  If it is something that helps students (a word wall, for example) or something that highlights students (published writing project, for example) then that is worth your time.  But if it’s just for show, or you feel the pressure to display student work or you’re trying to win the Pinterest-inspired classroom contest then it’s not worth your time and energy.  Quality -v.s- quantity

Think about your teacher desk area in your classroom (if you have one). What three adjectives best describe it? I would say: cozy, small, organized. There are teachers who do not have a teacher desk or teacher area in their classroom.  I am not one of those people and never will be.  My desk area is the first thing I set up in August and the last thing I put away in May.  My philosophy is that if I’m going to spend a lot of time in my classroom, it needs to be cozy and helpful to me.  You’ll find slippers under my desk, a little fountain on my desk, lamps around the room (with lights off) and chocolate in my bottom left-hand desk drawer.  The icing on the cake is when I put on the Pandora 'spa' station and my iPhone is connected to a bluetooth speaker across the room.  Zen baby!

Next up: Breathe Fresh Air

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