A big question when you finally get to the holidays is the extent to which you get ready for your new class before the term starts. I want to look at how you can prepare your classroom for the new school year and still have some time for yourself.
I’ve written about this before (Leaving Room for Your Class) but I think it is worth re-visiting . Recently we have been having an interesting chat about this on our Facebook page following on from reading a post on Lessons from My Classroom. I know that many teachers like to feel their classroom is a welcoming, exciting place for the new class to come into. I just worry that they can spend far to much time and energy during the holidays on achieving that impressive effect.
Get Ready for Your New Class – Things to consider
During the holidays you do not have your TA to help you get ready for your new class with the displays so everything is down to them. Usually. Once, long ago I was that daft TA who came in during the holidays unpaid (!) to help sort out displays! As a teacher you can feel that the classroom environment is something you are judged on, and not just by the children. In a school with that sort of culture it can be very hard to be the person who does not do everything in advance.
In the UK this is less prevalent than it is in the US. Themed classrooms and matching everything to your theme is much more common there. A few hours (days, weeks, you have been warned!) on Pinterest will quickly show you the extremes to which this can be taken. There teachers seem far more likely to spend quite considerable amounts of their own time and money decorating their classrooms. It is almost as though they see it as an extension of home decorating. All that effort can create some really impressive results, classrooms that sometimes really make you green with envy and that you can see it would be a joy to be a child in. Other times the results are so fussy and feminine I can’t help but wonder how any child with ADHD or for that matter many boys (!) would cope.
Schools have holidays not just for the children.You do need to spend part of your ‘time off’ preparing for next term but I seriously question if you should be spending a large part of it on displays.
The other thing I’d question is whether all of this teacher work is actually adding anything to the children’s learning.
I want to consider the idea of ownership of the classroom. If children come into a room that feels totally finished, maybe with just a few gaps for their work, then it is hard for them to feel it is their classroom. I think this is especially the case when teachers re-cycle important elements of a display and bring them out every year. I remember coming into a Year 4 ‘rainforest’ themed classroom with a visiting Year 8 child and having him remark “Wow! We made all those parrots when we were in this class”. Chatting to him further it became clear that it was not that the lesson had been repeated. These really were the same parrots and he quickly identified his one, still with his name on it. To the current Year 4 this impressive rainforest display was likely to be little more than pretty wallpaper as they had no real involvement with it. This sort of classroom display undermines the use of displays for learning.
Part of the move towards ‘working walls‘ has come from a rejection of this kind of display. In particular books and courses about ALPS and Assessment for Learning have led some schools away from themed classrooms even to the extent of not having any displays in the classroom. If you are teaching in that sort of setting then your approach to your classroom set up will be very different. I’d love to hear more about that so do leave a comment.
There is an argument for some display preparation though. It’s good to have boards backed and borders up if possible. Maybe even just some rough plans of what will go on each one. I quite like the idea of creating a bit of mystery and interest for the new class. Here are some ways of doing this to start you off:
- Ask a question in the centre of a board and provide an area for post-it notes guesses. Great for establishing what they already know about a topic. Turn the question into a statement & use as the board title once the topic work starts.
- Prepare a board to display a class charter or Golden Rules maybe in a form that relates to your overall theme for the term or your class name. The point about this board is that it is ‘child led’. The work of filling it then becomes in part their responsibility and forms part of your first PSHE lessons.
- A target board (again themed if you like) for group or individual targets. Personalise it as quickly as possible by adding photos of the children to moveable elements. Make sure you get the children to make these! eg peg butterflies or similar
- If you really do want to have a ‘Wow!’ display already in place then give the class the topic title, cover the main element with brown parcel paper and have the class guess what might be underneath. This will works well with role play areas and things like the giant legs from Jack and the Beanstalk or a pirate ship corner. The reveal involves ripping off the paper to create real excitement which you then quickly follow up with getting them involved in creating other display elements.
I am sure you can come up with lots of other ideas to create that excited buzz but just remember the magic does not last long. I believe it is the displays that they create themselves with your help and guidance that have lasting meaning for most children. What do you think?