Sunday, June 27, 2010

Do It Yourself? The Why, the How, and the Cost.

Someone asked me for some suggestions about how one might start "revisioning" their own classroom.

The Recipe
Basically, there are 2 parts.
  1. Remove anything that works against whatever vision or atmosphere you are hoping to achieve.
  2. Bring in anything that will enhance your vision.
I know this is brutally simplistic, but sometimes we need some cut and dried guidelines to keep things clear.

What I Cut
When I created The Space, the teachers' lounge, (see Origin blog entry), I cut out anything that reminded us of kids or school, and I brought in anything that was calming (e.g. soft mood lighting, draping fabrics, couches, herb teas and cappuccino, old jazz music playing on the CD player). 
When I started this same process in my classroom, my idea was to make it less industrial looking.  I started by removing anything "schooly": commercial posters, display borders, desks, pocket charts, etc.  That also included removing anything that looked institutional, but that proved difficult or impossible.  For instance, some of the institutional elements included: the ugly wall brackets, the ugly walls themselves, and the life-sucking fluorescent overhead lighting.  So I got rid of the shelf brackets, covered one feature wall with blue borderless paper (though the cloud sponge painting was a mistake I won't repeat), and draped sheer netting along the ceiling to soften the space and the lighting.  I was still stuck with the ugly carpet, the window, the sink, the beige counters, the beige cupboard, the blue doors, the digital clock with built-in p.a. speaker, the cloakroom, and the white drop ceiling.  The rest, as far as I was concerned was mutatable.

I did keep a number of schooly things:
  • tubs for my books (until I can afford wicker baskets).
  • some class-made reading posters.
  • a teacher desk and a filing cabinet (my teaching partner could not live without them, though I will turf them next year.  My desk takes up a lot of space and I never sit there, but do manage to pile up a whole lot of detritus on it).
  • my Smartboard and whiteboard.
  • a few desks (for those students who liked or needed them).
  • a few school tables (you know the ones; metal with coloured enamel top).
  • two trolleys with the pull out tubs (for student supplies, seeing as I removed their desks).
I kept these things out of necessity or because I couldn't find a more organic replacement for them (yet).

What to Bring In
Here are the things I bought: 
  • 3 tall risers and 3 short risers ($100. Built by me and materials from Rona. These were a replacement for the desks, and to me were essential for de-schooling my classroom).
  • sheers.  ($7. Lill by Ikea.  I draped these along the ceiling to diffuse the lights).
  • indoor/outdoor carpet ($30.  Walmart.  These hid the ugly industrial carpet and defined a group area.  I don't recommend this particular carpet because it snagged a lot).
  • drapery panels ($12. Jysk These replaced the 20 year-old drapes that were there).
  • led lights ($6 ebay.  Blue, low energy, and programmable.  They gave a calming, happy feeling).
  • doc holders ($50.  Daiso.  These acted as lapdesks.  Pieces of plywood or clipboards would work well too).
  • frames for each child (Made from $30 of crown molding.  My dad and I actually made these 6 years ago.  They make for an attractive, but authentic way for the students to display work or art.  My students changed what they displayed as often as they wanted).
  • pneumatic shop stool ($25.  Canadian Tire.  A backsaver.  I can wheel around the classroom and be at the student's level.  The stool is small so it takes up little space, and it is pneumatic, so I can be at a number of heights). 
 Here are the things I brought from home:
  • some floor and clamp lamps to replace the overhead lights.
  • cushions to make the risers more comfortable.  Students brought some in too.
  • a wire 45 record rack from a garage sale.  This was used to display books students published.
Here are some things I still need:
  • more cushions.
  • I would love to have more or only organic materials in my classroom, but that may not be practical or financially possible. 
  • some of those reusable shopping bags.  The students could keep their lapdesks in them.  I had bought those cardboard magazine holders so students could keep their reading books in them.  The magazine holders are not terribly robust, but the fabric bags would be tougher.  I think I'll hang them from hooks along the wall so there is easy access to them.  Also, it would be easier for students to take their learning with them wherever they went.
Your Mileage May Vary
Do you need all of these things?  NO!  These were things that fit my vision.  They may not fit yours.  If I was to recommend the essential items for my vision, they would be: the risers and some kind of lapdesks (to be rid of commercial desks) and the sheers (because of soft halo effect it had on the lighting).

What is important is what is important to you.  When you think of your idea or ideal of education, what does that look like in your head?  When you get that concept, then make your classroom a place that reflects your vision.  If you want an active classroom, then create a place that has an open floor plan.  If you want independence, then create a number of different places where students can go.  If you want lots of hands-on, then create large work spaces.  If literacy is your cornerstone, then make your library your focus and have easy access to writing materials.  If you want lots of social interaction, then have meeting spots, couches and a communal space.  If technology is your focus, then get a bunch of power bars.  If you want peace and serenity, you might not want the classroom next to mine.

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