Sunday, September 27, 2009

Rethinking the environment

Teachers are often complimented on their classroom environments when the room is print-rich, colorful, neat, labeled, and student work is on display with rubrics and standards posted on the same board. For the last four years, I strived to meet this standard of creating a stimulating environment. This year, however, I began to think that perhaps, my classroom might be OVER-stimulating for the children. When you think about it, how can children focus when there are so many colors and bins and print everywhere. Even when I visit other classrooms for meetings, I find that I am often distracted by what is up in the room and I find my eyes wandering around reading their charts, looking at their work, and staring at the projects dangling from the ceiling. How much is too much? At the beginning of the year, especially, it seems like classrooms are way to busy. Shouldn't you be building the environment along with the children?

I recently had the opportunity to visit the classrooms of a well-respected progressive private school and I was shocked by the simplicity of the classrooms. The Kindergarten classroom, for example, was very spare with only a few books on display, plain cork boards lined the walls with student artwork on them. The room was neat and tidy and comfortable. It had a rug area that resembled a living room, a block area, and tables with simple wooden chairs. The classroom door opened up the an outdoor rooftop playground. Everything seemed so natural. The room was painted with earth tones and there was little plastic to be seen. The only print in the room was the labels under the artwork with the students' names. The first letter of each name was in red and the rest of the print was black. It bothered me a bit that it wasn't apparent what the students were studying in each subject area by looking around the room. Even the artwork didn't seem to relate to any content area. I didn't see shared reading charts or big books anywhere, but at the same time, I couldn't help but think that if I even had children of my own, I'd get a job there just so that they could have this type of education.

Now I'm feeling conflicted. I want my students to have the best education possible, but I don't know what is the answer. I want them to be strong readers and to love reading, but am I over saturating the room with print and books, or is that what they need? I have definitely toned down the colors in the room this year. The bulletin boards are blue and green and I have a lot of plants in front of my grand windows. I even painted the long countertop that runs along the back wall with baby blue paint to soften the tone (it was bright green with chipped paint revealing salmon underneath). I can't, however, remove the evidence of what we are learning. I really think that anyone should be able to walk into a classroom and know what the students are learning just by looking around and I think my students need it too. Maybe it's okay at a private school to let students experiment with paint and hang up their work, but I really feel that with my students, I can't afford not to teach them something at every opportunity because they are not have a rich experience in their home life. I would at least have them represent the colors of Fall (connected to our Science unit: Weather and Seasons) or something along those lines if we were doing painting.


miss brave said...

So interesting! I definitely agree about the potential for over-stimulation. For the past two years, as a push-in teacher, I often found myself distracted by the classroom environment every time I entered a new classroom. At my school, though, there are tons of requirements for things we're expected to have on display around our classrooms, so it would be impossible for me to tone down my own room now that I have one.

Oralea said...

This is such a great reminder to think about different needs of students. I'm a student teacher in a room that is definitely visually chaotic. It's clear that some students thrive but I wonder how many of those who seem to be "spacey" or "underachieving" are totally overstimulated and unable to concentrate? I will freely admit that the room makes is difficult for ME to focus on one thing at a time. I also agree with the idea of students being involved in the building of their room. I saw a photo of a 2nd grade classroom recently on the 1st day of school and the walls were blank! I was a little bothered by this at first but then thought about what a feeling of accomplishment the students will have as they see the walls fill up with their work...

Thanks for the great post!