Thursday, November 24, 2011

It turns out I am a Person of Colour.

I am starting to rethink the colour debate.  (I've posted about this a couple of times before; once promoting a neutral colour scheme here, and then again talking about how the classroom has to match the outlook of the teacher here). My school district is promoting a neutral colour palette because that bright splashes of colour are overstimulating.

Kindergarten class with natural wood furniture and a few muted pastel accents.

This Kindergarten class is pretty mild in terms of colour and is not too overpowering.  I guess the theory is if we are going to teach students about self regulation, then we have to give them a gentle atmosphere so we don't set them off right from the start.

I experimented with colour in my own class at the beginning too.  I had this one bold blue wall (with the smushed sheep sponge painting disaster), plus a couple of commercially-made alphabet strips with a rainbow background.  See below.

But when I moved to a different classroom, I pared the colour right down. NO commercial posters, NO big walls of colour, NO borders. Okay, I did have some burgundy drapes and a couple of other accents. And for a long time, I was very happy with it. 

Here's my calm, happy window space.  Ahhhh.

But then my contentedness ended.

The first reason is: over the summer, my stinky carpet (that had stains of suspect origin) was replaced with clean, blue-grey lino tile.  After 3 months, it looks pretty much the same as it did in August.  Clean, bright, and hmmm, a bit sterile.  My colour is the best out of the other colours that went in (and yes, I picked it, so I can't celebrate or complain) because the other ones look like baby vomit, or like the rich blue tile, they looked great in September, but show every single scratch since.  My floor looks clean!  Bright!  Think: New Hospital!  Not really the look I was going for.

The second reason that the non-colour honeymoon is over is: with my job to explore interesting classrooms, I have the opportunity to visit lots of other classrooms.  Last month, I invited myself into a couple of classrooms in another district.  Many of the classrooms looked pretty much as you would expect: a bunch of desks, mostly in rows with the usual displays with the background paper and borders that look like Walt Disney had a hemorrhage in a rectangular shape.  But a couple of classrooms were pretty terrific.  See below.

The four pictures above come from a grade 3/4 class. 
Every space in the classroom is used in a beautiful, inviting, and useful way.

Okay, I admit it.  I had colour envy.  It wasn't just colour, though, it was warmth.  My classroom lacked the warmth that colour gives.  I have to say that as ugly, stained, and nasally repellent as my old carpet was, it muted the atmosphere of my classroom, and oddly the muddy brown tone of the carpet added a certain richness.  The pictures of this other classroom actually don't do justice to the overall impact of the space.  To get everything to show up on the camera, I had to use a flash, so the colours are more subtle in real life because of the way this teacher used accent lamps.  And there were lots of them.

Actually, the classroom I originally visited in this district belonged to L.  She was kind enough to invite me in to see some of the things she was trying.  I was particularly interested because she teaches grade 7.  She had removed almost all of her desks and replaced them with small group tables.  She also had a number of floor spaces to use as well.  It turns out that her classroom was inspired by the classroom in the photos above.  I recognized elements like the dramatic use of table lamps and the corresponding throw rugs to cover the cords.

I love this shot.  It is of L reading a picture book to
her grade 7 students while they sit on the floor.
Also check out the multilink, multicoloured foam carpet they are sitting on.

L uses furniture and lighting to define her spaces.

Above: a couple of oasis spots.
I love the fact that L was able to make changes to her classroom and that they were inspired by a primary classroom.  Her students really bought into the design changes too.  They are very proud of their classroom, and think it is a great place to learn because it feels interesting.  Also, they love the freedom of having different spots to work.

I'll probably use some of the lessons I learned from these other classrooms to return some warmth to my classroom.  Maybe I'll bring in some accent colours and then mute them with lower lighting.  I already have some cool spherical fixtures in my class, so maybe that will be enough.

So a gradual return to colour.  In moderation.

1 comment:

  1. I love what you are saying about colour/lack of colour. It's so amazing to me how one little change has a dramatic effect, and how it often leads to more changes. Your comments about colours reminds me of when I had a bright orange table with 4 bright orange vinyl covered chairs. Nobody else wanted I know why. It became the "land of banishment". It was not the inviting "warm" part of the room I had anticipated. I have more recently battled with this idea of colour as my room was changed over to white boards. I felt that something was different in my classroom, but I couldn't pin point it. (Yes I knew there were whiteboards!) What I realized is that the green chalkboards had created a certain level of lighting and now the white boards reflect light everywhere. I have had to put on only one set of overheard lights in my room, and now I am thinking about abandoning them altogether.
    I love reading your posts about classroom design!