Are you looking for new ways to transform your classroom environment? Room arrangement and active learning are part of a growing trend in early childhood education. In their new book, Room to Learn, Pamela Evanshen, EdD, and Janet Faulk, EdD, dive into how to create student-centered spaces that are developmentally appropriate and practical.
The authors hosted a webinar, Elementary Classrooms Designed for Interactive Explorations, in which they provided inspiration on how you can revamp your learning space to foster positive learning interactions! Learn about the APPEAL rating scale and how to use this tool in designing elementary classrooms.
Below are some questions from viewers that were not able to be answered during the live recording.
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The plants look great, but how would I do this in a classroom of one-year-olds?
This is an important question. We view the physical environment as the foundation for designing developmentally appropriate classrooms that can engage the learners. For that reason, we must consider the age and needs of the children as we begin to establish our classroom’s physical environment. We have identified plants as an important element in the elementary classroom, because of their health benefits and because we can use them to teach children about living things. When we consider the characteristics of one-year-olds, however, we see that there are significant obstacles to placing planters in the classroom that are accessible to the children. Conceivably, plants can still be used to oxygenate the air, but they must be placed in an area of the room that is not accessible to the children. Additionally, care must be taken that the plants cannot fall from shelves or cabinetry. The classroom must, first and foremost, be a safe environment.
What is the best way to manage flexible seating?
We have seen many different ways for managing flexible seating. The age of the children and the instructional design are two important considerations when deciding how to implement variety in seating. Additionally, the depth and breadth of different types of seating is also a consideration. We have seen effective management in classrooms where different areas of the room provide different types of seating: The worktables have traditional chairs. The reading center has pillow seating. A small-group table has chairs with cushions. Standing tables have stools. The computer center has swivel chairs. Another small- group table has ball seating. The children understand that they will have opportunities for different types of seating as they move and work in different areas of the room throughout their day. This framework cuts down on “turf wars” because there is equal access to the variety of seating. It is also effective to have one special chair, such as a rocking chair, for the Student of the Day.
Do we use colorful labels or big black-and-white labels?
This question shows an understanding of the effect that the little details can have on overall classroom design! There are many types of labels we can use in the classroom. For that reason, we look to the age of the children and the purpose of the label to determine how to effectively create the label.
One purpose of labeling is to help children independently retrieve manipulatives and return them to their proper storage spot. Pre-K and kindergarten children can more easily be responsible if their materials are placed in clear bins that have a photograph labeling them. These bins do have colorful labels! Another wordless labeling technique is color coding—for example, all bins with a green square go on the shelf with the matching green square.
On the other hand, older children might only need the word to label their materials. In that case, black-and-white labels are less distracting to the overall appearance of the room. Labels that are posted as a strategy for helping early readers increase children’s reading vocabulary (such as door, computer, window) are generally black on white or all one color, to cut down on visual overload.
Having said this, we do recognize that there are many exceptions to this general statement, because the context and purpose of labels ultimately drive the decision for the use of color.
How do you see 1:1 mobile devices fitting into the environment for responsible learning?
The physical environment for responsible learning leads children to independently access the materials, learning spaces, and tools for learning in the classroom. In this environment, children are presented with multiple tools and materials that support challenging lesson objectives, research, and problem solving. In the digital age, mobile devices will play an increasingly important role in the classroom. We see rapid growth in 1:1 classrooms and school districts. Teachers are discovering more and more ways of integrating digital devices into their instruction.
As with any other tool for learning, however, we must thoughtfully consider ways in which our students can independently and responsibly use these devices. Foundationally, teachers must determine the context(s) in which the devices will be used (such as, the purpose of the work). Then they must frame the procedures for accessing information, data, and/or programs on the devices. Other factors to consider include how the devices will be stored and transported, student accountability, and equity in usage.
This question leads us to ponder the evolving nature of the materials in our classroom environments. One thing is constant, however. No matter what the materials are, children need to interact with their classroom environments in ways that show independence and responsibility for learning.
I can tell that this webinar is more directed to older children, but how could you do work samples for younger children who do not have the ability to write or draw?
The purpose of work samples is to demonstrate student understanding; therefore, the underlying questions we want to ask ourselves is “What did the child/children learn?” and “What did the child do to demonstrate learning?” We like to think broadly about the ways in which we answer these questions.
Authentic assessments, such as photographs, recordings, and observational notes, are excellent resources for capturing the learning of the very young child. Documentation panels, described and implemented by the schools of Reggio Emilia, are a valuable tool for showing what the children in the classroom are learning and how they are learning it. These panels can be presented in media or poster format. In these ways, the work samples capture, extend, and celebrate the children’s developmentally appropriate learning.