Friday, July 28, 2017

Online vs. Face-to-Face Instruction: Surprising Similarities (Part Two)

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FINALLY! All classes taught (the Summer Reading Program for Freshman Struggling Readers for the high school and Intro to Speech for the community college) and taken this summer (Online Learning training courses) are completed. I can rest my mind for three whole days before Speech Camp begins; this summer is flying too fast. This summer has been one of reflection and growth as I approach the start of my 10th year of teaching while challenging me to seek balance as a mom and educator. Since online learning has been such a focus this summer, I sincerely approached this relatively uncharted territory with some reservations, seeking to find the differences between traditional and online learning. My reservation lay mostly in the subjects I teach, communication and humanities, which rely on face-to-face interaction and nonverbal communication. As the summer continued and I engaged with more instructors at various levels of teaching/experience with online learning also in these fields, I was encouraged, surprised, and eager to overcome the minor barriers to some day provide positive and growing experiences for students in this academic area.

The two topics I previously addressed include: Read "Online vs. Face-to-Face Instruction (Part One) HERE

  1. Start with organization. Always have a Plan A, Plan B, and maybe even a Plan C.
  2. Prioritize relationships and tone setting.
Both of these areas of instruction focus on the initial setup and launch of a course, which will most likely be time-consuming at first, although these aspects will become easier with time. After addressing the beginnings of a course, I knew I wanted to reflect on and note the differences of heart of the course - its content. Once the course is established, however, how do the weekly interaction and student learning change?

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3. Student Engagement is #1 - Regardless of Format

Students who participate in online learning expect to be more independent with their work, the pacing of the course, and the activities in which they are required to engage. Because of the asynchronous nature of e-learning, students are expected to be more independent to comprehend content, participate, and complete tasks assigned. That being said, students still need additional support and want to feel connected to their peers, the content, and their instructors on some level. As instructors in any format, it is so important to allow our personalities, interests, and passions to shine through our instruction and content delivery. When we engage in self-disclosure ourselves, students feel a natural connection to the course, are far more likely to log in and participate and will share personal connections and insights. The act of self-disclosure can enliven discussion (forums or face-to-face conversations), lead to higher quality work, and start a dialogue of questions and resource sharing that can lead to further understanding of curriculum by all.

Engagement is pivotal to students' overall experience with the course, attitude toward the content/instructor/peers, and ability to retain information. In an online format (or again, any format), students should share resources, complete outside research (with credible sources), and forge deep connections between the information being learned and class and their lives. An onslaught of recent research studies and articles have addressed the changing needs and expectations of students, which is often attributed to the shift in technology and the frequency of connectivity thanks to mobile device, are centered around the idea that students seek information that is relevant to their lives, useful to their careers or present goals, and involves student-centered work. As such, we ought to work to ensure that curriculum design provides opportunities for students to engage in learning in ways that allow them to take control and feel ownership of their learning. When they are connected to what they are reading, producing, and creating, the learning becomes more meaningful.

Today's students need to apply critical thinking skills and move beyond recalling (or Googling facts). Written communication becomes a necessary skill as students are assessed by their peers and professors based on their grammar, ability to articulate ideas and the tone that is infused with their writing style. Through online interactions and engagement, students develop far more skills than just the those related to the course content. As instructors, we must guide, support, and encourage them to be engaged by being present, active ourselves, and modeling strong communication skills that will enhance their experience and motivate them to continue to log back onto the course's learning management system or in the case of a traditional high school classroom - keep them from scrolling on their phones and tuned into class each day.

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4. Online learning challenges us as educators to incorporate the most up-to-date research and resources.

When students are accessing a majority of course material, and in turn producing work online, a vast sea of information is available with a few simple clicks and key word searches. We are all exposed to a slew of information with every hyperlink we select. As such, we are now challenged with revamping and revising resources to keep pace with the ever-changing landscape of the Internet. Through the experiences I have had this summer, I realize that while this may seem like a daunting task for instructors at any level to keep up with the current research, articles, news, and trends - instructors are not the ones that need to be doing all of the curating. In fact, when students are taught to effectively research and seek out credible resources, they become the fact-finders and presenters of new information. Through discussion forums, students can locate information that pertains to their interests and learning goals, share and discuss the information they find, and synthesize the knowledge they gathered with course content. Providing citations and links to both students and the instructor alike, students lead the charge of maintaining relevance all while engaging in meaningful critical thinking and researching activities.

All of this being said, reinforcing research skills becomes crucial. While it seems as though instructors at every level K-12 incorporate research projects and activities, students often forget or simply block out key strategies and reminders about credibility, how to utilize online databases such as EBSCO and Google Scholar, and cannot for the life of them accurately cite a source using the correct version of APA or MLA even though quality, paid resources like Noodletools or the Purdue OWL provides all the information for them that they could need, students still need guidance in this area. Conducting a fast Google search is convenient and often seems to produce reliable results. As instructors, we need to take the time to explain why credibility matters, how going beyond a Google search can help them in their future careers, academic courses, and even daily lives, and how to evaluate and apply the information they find. These skills require continuous guidance, support, and reinforcement, which is perhaps an explanation as to why my high school students CLAIM they never had to create a works cited page. Students, I see through you and your youthful and often innocent attempts to prevaricate the truth.

My final thoughts:

Through these courses and experiences with online classes as a whole, I have come to realize that quality teaching is quality teaching no matter what platform is used to deliver the content. Students need passionate and personable instructors who teach them essential academic skills that will not only lead to immediate success in the classroom but also life success in any avenue students choose to pursue. While shifting one's methods of teaching to accommodate a different modality can be overwhelming or teaching a course for the first time can become a time-consuming and meticulous process, the same essential elements still must be implemented by instructors to ensure an engaging, rich classroom experience for students that involves relationships, relevancy, and dare I say it, even a little bit of fun!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Online vs. Face-to-Face Instruction: Surprising Similarities (Part One of Two)

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This summer, I enrolled in a few professional development courses for the community college that I adjunct for to qualify to teach online courses. Being able to teach online would allow me to teach multiple night courses during the school year and potentially avoid having to complete the nightly drive to class as often. While these facts alone are appealing, I began this summer skeptical that a Humanities Course (especially a public speaking one) would translate effectively online. With initial trepidation, I found it refreshing to take formal classes again for the first time in two years, and I appreciated that this experience challenged me to deeply consider course design, methodology, and reflect on student engagement. With the finish line of this experience in sight, I realize that these elements of instruction, particularly student engagement, remain surprisingly similar regardless of the format of the course and delivery of instruction. Online teaching, while mostly devoid of the nonverbal aspects of communication and relationship building, can provide rich forums in which to hold conversations about content, explore a multitude of resources, and can foster relationships. Noteworthy differences are felt from a traditional, face-to-face course to an online course, and I am not sold on young people being disciplined enough in their student skills to navigate an online course independent of face-to-face support and relationships, but I must say this platform holds value and the potential opportunities for both instructors and students.

How do we ensure the success of an online course or any course for that matter? The answer lies in the design of both the course and the level of student engagement, which is ultimately fostered by clarity and organization of the instructor, the energy front-loaded into the course, and of course, the relationships that are built through personal and content-specific connections to students' lives.

The question I have asked myself repeatedly (from the lens of an online instructor and also a daily, face-to-face teacher) is how do we accomplish all of these tasks? How do we provide the best learning experience and environment for our students in spite of any challenges, diverse needs, and obstacles that might appear?

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1. Start with organization. Always have a Plan A, Plan B, and maybe even a Plan C.

I am a perpetual organizer. A shelf of un-alphabetized or haphazardly scattered books serves as a source of temptation - calling to be sorted and organized. My friends laugh at my need to sort my Google Drive into numbered and labeled files, by date and completed for future reference as to how I may teach a course again. Color coding brings me joy and perfectly straightened rows, pictures, and papers are an absolute necessity if I do not want my world (or classroom) to feel like chaos. Aside from all those Monica from Friends personality traits, "I'm breezy." Honestly, besides inanimate objects needed to be in their proper places, I love truly chaos and the unexpectedness that people create. This sense of spontaneity is one of the reasons I teach and embrace the youthfulness and zest young people can bring to any experience.

When students enter a room or log in to a classroom, all the best-laid plans often go awry. Each student is a unique individual, with a distinct set of needs, interests, and skills. As such, each student requires an instructor to carefully consider learning outcomes, curriculum, and the best approach for the composite of his or her class during a given semester.

An outline is ESSENTIAL for unit timing purposes and standards aligning, but even classes given the same curriculum map and the set of expectations will inevitably vary. Creating an outline provides a framework for the course, allows the instructor to be more organized and prepared, and gives direction and purpose to the course as a whole. Building in flex time to tweak, change, and adjust to meet the academic and social/emotional needs of our students. With multiple plans and options in place, however, we are prepared and ready to make split second adjustments and recreate the plan even in a moment's notice, even if that plan is not A or B (or that plethoric C that allows me to embrace my inner tranquility and flexibility.

Often in an online course or graduate course in general, the outline is meticulously structured. A prescribed syllabus or curriculum is provided up front, but all learning modules (or weeks of the course) do not need to be presented on day one. In fact, giving students that much access to the course can often hinder learning. The instructor simply must be aware of his/her flexibility in planning assessments or assignments according to department and institutional requirements.

2. Prioritize relationships and tone setting.

Amy Cuddy, a Harvard business professor, has studied first impressions for over a decade. Understanding how to welcome and win the trust of an audience is crucial in establishing the tone for a classroom and according to Forbes, Business Insider, and Time Magazine, a person only has seven fleeting seconds to create that first impression. Shockingly, a Harvard study conducted in 1993 by Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal has shown that students can judge a professor's effectiveness by merely watching a TWO-SECOND video clip and then evaluating them both after those two seconds and the end of a course. Yikes! No pressure is felt here.

No this information does not mean that we exclusively have the first few seconds on the first day of the semester to establish our presence and classroom environment, but it does remind me that we need to work consciously and carefully to provide students with an environment that is both structured, clear, and serves as a conduit for meaningful, life-connecting experiences and skills building that will lead our students to a successful next step (whatever that step may be). This type of tone-setting then becomes crucial and as I recall my #1 for this article - does require detailed planning on behalf of the instructor, at least for the first few days or module!

Students want to see us as people. When they're younger or if it is an online class, they often struggle more with fully comprehending that we do not live solely on a computer screen or in school (although I'm pretty sure many people in my community know my car... and may believe otherwise). We have passions, families, and we have imperfections that make us better teachers and lovers of learning. When we can find a way to jump into the mix of those first few days with our students, sit in their desks, look them in the eyes, share a few personal/goofy stories about ourselves, they begin to care more. Even if this additional sense of care is minuscule in the grander scheme of life and our students are resistant to writing papers, giving speeches, completing labs, etc., making them care about each other and us just slightly will naturally increase engagement, increase the positivity of the environment, and draw students to sign back onto the online platform or open a book outside of the physical confines of the classroom.

Tone setting is VITAL to fostering real and authentic relationships, whose memories and impressions will far outlast the definitions of key terms, the formula, or the plot of a book. Relationship building puts content into context, encourages team building and life skills, and allows for students to embrace the grander picture of their educational experiences because they start to care - for others, for what tasks are placed before them, and ultimately, they care more about themselves as they see themselves as part of a community. When students care about themselves and others, they will bring their best selves to class discussions, activities, and experiences - which ultimately leads to an increase in learning and meaning. My surprising realization regarding tone setting in an online learning environment is that besides physically being in the same space as students, it is not different. Best practices in this aspect of beginning a course are the same in any format.

Midpoint thoughts: 

Once the initial tone of the course is established, the real course design begins. My number three (3. Student Engagement is #1 - Regardless of Format) and four (4. Online learning challenges us as educators to incorporate the most up-to-date research and resources) realizations from this summer involve student engagement, which is the heart of instruction in any format and utilizing the most up-to-date and current research to drive student instruction. Note: I will elaborate on these topics in a subsequent post.

Overall, I have been amazed at the similarities between online learning and traditional face-to-face learning. The same strategies that drive course design and curriculum development in an online format remain the same as a face-to-face course with perhaps a little more intentional design to promote student engagement, discussion, and accountability. It is important to note that in online learning asynchronous interaction and connectivity occur 24-7. This loose time phrase does mean that direct interaction between class participants and the instructor occur less frequently and in entirely different means than a traditional course. Of course, this implies different types of activities, assignments, and expectations do exist What I have come to realize, however, is that in spite of these tangible differences, quality approaches to instruction at their core remain relatively unchanged. Quality teaching skills and instructional methods that many instructors have taken years to develop and refine is still vital and an important part of the learning process. The teaching aspect of education still matters and is what helps lead to students to become lifelong learners. What I love about being a teacher and what many others love, can and still does exist across multiple modalities of learning.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Cultivating Lifelong Learning in Every Moment

Time is the most precious commodity we all possess, and I'm sure we all can attest to not ever having enough. When perusing the nonfiction shelf at my high school's library the final week of summer, one book, 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute by Richard Wiseman, caught my eye. In the likeness of Dale Carnegie's How To Win Friends and Influence People, this book's cover seemed to promote methods to improve communication skills, persuasion, and the ability to engage with others - all skills I could implement in my speech classes and communication-based lessons. After finishing summer school and some pre-speech team prep, I have finally found a few fleeting moments to read for my own enjoyment. This book, among a few other nonfiction books, has been far too neatly stacked on my dresser for a month too long.

After reading Joy Kirr's Shift This, I have begun reflecting upon minor ways to improve classroom teaching and instruction this fall that will save time and yet still promote meaningful discussions and experiences for my students. Since time is such a valuable resource, the more meaning infused into a lesson or activity, the greater the chance to impact student growth - both academic and social/emotional. When students recognize the value of a lesson or even a moment of a lesson, they are more likely to remember their experience in class, which can ultimately lead to lifelong learning, which is the goal - right?

Depending upon educational pursuits and career choices, my students will need writing skills to varying degrees. Regardless of their vocational paths, they will need to express themselves, communicate, and be able to discern what they hear, read, and see. 59 Seconds does an exceptional job using psychology experiments and well-researched studies to explain how the messages we construct influence our relationships, our ability to persuade, our motivation, and our overall effectiveness as communicators and leaders in our classroom. While this is not a book focused on education, I appreciated the insights and the broader perspective on human engagement as a whole.

As teachers, we are responsible for sending thousands of verbal and nonverbal messages each day. From face-to-face interactions, hollers in the hallways, and abundant amounts of emails, we are constantly being bombarded with and expected to return clear and thoughtful statements to well over one hundred people a day. These communicative exchanges have not even accounted for the expressions we constantly send nonverbally and often inadvertently. Our profession requires us to be loquacious and engaged communicators on both conscious and subconscious levels. Every action sends a message to our students that influence the overall classroom environment. Even our placement in the room at the onset of a period can send a message and impact the tone of the room. (No wonder many of us struggle with making a straightforward decision about what to eat for dinner at the end of the day! Our communicative circuits are overloaded).

At the school in which I teach, a single class period is only 45 minutes in length. This minuscule moment in time is full of possibility and opportunities to convey critical skills and life messages students, but the brevity is certainly noticeable. Teaching requires a great deal of persuasive techniques. When students have thousands of ideas that they can access from their smartphones, why would they want to turn off their devices and tune into what we are selling? Can't they Google the information that we are projecting to them? Herein lies our daily struggle with engagement and student motivation. What I appreciated about Wiseman's text was his attention to captivating an intended audience. Whether the audience consists of teens in a high school classroom or adults in a professional development setting, the techniques and conclusions he outlined could not only strengths the messages exchanged in a given setting (such as a classroom), but they could also add value to those interactions.

Here are my educational connections and takeaways from 59 Seconds. (I cannot turn off my teacher brain - even when reading to satisfy my own curiosity):

1. Live with and instill an attitude of gratitude in others.

I loved the "attitude of gratitude" concept, which was touched on early in the book. The "attitude of gratitude" was a major theme and focus for my speech team this past year. Being thankful for each opportunity, experience, and person strengthen the team. Living this motto and demonstrating it through actions makes any environment and those within it thrive. Reading through this section of text was a convicting reminded me that this concept does not need to stop with a competitive team. Our attitudes impact our outlook on situations, which in turn affect those around us. As I am developing my curriculum for Junior English this fall, I have spent a significant amount of time thinking about the life of Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye and all the Holdens I encountered in my teaching career. Being a teenager is challenging. Whether it be as intense as the death of a loved one or common as a breakup or the loss of a first love, their problems are real and painful to face. Promoting positivity and a grateful outlook on the gifts we are given can help students learn to cope with the struggles they face and even promote empathy, which along with the growth mindset are two areas I want to explore in the 2017-2018 school year). My goal is to have the "attitude of gratitude" promoted on a bulletin board, incorporated into lessons, and even infused into my weekly life challenges that I have been developing for my juniors this fall.

Side note: "Want To Be Happy? Be Grateful" is an awesome TED Talk that touches on a grateful attitude.

2. Be a giver; it's contagious.

Along with an attitude of gratitude, the act of giving is another way to increase happiness and an inviting classroom environment. During the first semester, I am working on a weekly life challenge assignment in which students will be asked to do a simple task that typically involves showing kindness to others. Talking about giving to others needs to be a part of our conversations, especially as we read about characters in texts that are often disliked because they are misunderstood and needed someone to extend a branch of support. Giving to others, whether it be tangible objects or just giving our time or attention, is a fulfilling act that not only brings joy to others but brings joy to us. I want my students to see how easy giving can be and how significantly it can impact our environments. I am excited to see where the life challenge project goes. My students will be blogging about it this fall, and I cannot wait to read the results.

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3. Praise effort over abilities.

Yes, the growth mindset is everywhere! My mother's school district and several others have taken to Dr. Carol Dweck's research. While I have watched a few TED talks and perused a few articles, I have not read Dweck's book. I'd also like to read The Growth Mindset Coach: A Teacher's Month‑by‑Month Handbook for Empowering Student Achievement by Annie Brock and Heather Hundley, which has been on my radar for a while. Encouraging students to identify their strengths and recognize how hard work truly affects the outcomes of their endeavors is critical. Praising an "A" or winning a medal is not as impactful as praising the journey that it took to reach the achievement. Emphasizing the process of success, in turn, makes students more successful. As a parent of a young family, this concept has become even more important to me as I consider how I praise my daughters and recognize their growth. This year, I want to learn more about the growth mindset and actively discuss and apply this concept with my students, not just in a passive way.

4. Visualize yourself doing instead of achieving.

This concept struck me. I have always thought that I should challenge my students to see themselves achieving their end goals, but shifting our mindset subtly can have a significant impact on the outcome of their achievements. Instead of writing down a goal and looking at the end result, we should challenge our students to focus on the process. Envision how one would work toward the goal rather than completing the goal. This concept makes a great deal of sense. Creating smaller sub-goals and tasks that ultimately lead toward a greater accomplishment is a powerful thought process and can create conversations that last a significant period of time. Our students need to be taught this type of skill before they leave for college or enter the workforce, places in which they will be asked to handle a great deal of responsibilities that require achievement over time. This concept will help me a great deal second semester during the I-Search, a major research project that consumes the greater part of 2nd semester.

5. Consider your legacy.

As teachers, our legacy is never fully realized or seen by us. Often, students venture off into the world and find success, but unless it is through social media, we do not frequently witness how they impact the world. Even with social media, it is hard to discern and articulate our impact on our students, however, the lives we touch are many and do truly have a lasting effect. Promoting lifelong learning is challenging amidst the culture of busy. Students and teachers alike can fall into the trap of being task-oriented individuals, working to complete the daily checklist and not necessarily stopping to think about the intrinsic value of what is being learned on a given day. A personal goal of mine is to allow time, even if it is just a minute in length, each lesson to talk about the why. Why are we doing this? Why are we working on a particular skill? Why are we reading a certain book? I want to challenge myself and my students this year to use why on a daily basis. This word is important, and this word can truly make our students more thoughtful, introspective lovers of learning.

(This picture is a quote from the last page of Joy Kirr's Shift This)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Creating the Climate: Classroom Design

For the past decade, I have taught in one of the smaller classrooms in my school. Nestled into a central hallway, the classroom sees a great deal amount of traffic and is conveniently located near the Special Education office that houses a printer that I can pillage from in a pinch. Being an older classroom with original vents and windows that look directly into windows of another classroom, the room is not without its rustic charms (And by charms, I mean dust. An abounding amount of DUST). Nevertheless, I love this little classroom and the memories that have been created with my students and speech team members through the years. This year, my husband even purchased a portable air purifier, which significantly improved my ability to breathe through allergy season. Why didn't I purchase this miraculous device years ago?

To compensate for the cramped feeling that a small room can exude when 26+ seniors are packed into desks with no air conditioning on an almost summer day, a few years back, I asked my awesome and supportive assistant principal if I could have the custodians remove my teacher desk. Freeing up even a meager few feet significantly impacted the aesthetics of the location. In its place, I was given a narrow table on wheels on which I could rest my computer and sit in the early morning before the start of a school day. I also stocked supplies into a three-drawer contains to house school supplies that my colleagues who also shared the room could use. I even started stashing paperclips and pens in a speech team trophy - another cause to chuckle at my expense (I'm practical if nothing else! What else am I going to use a trophy for? More dust collecting?). Removing the teacher desk, which can be viewed as radical, freed up floor space, encouraged my students to move around the room with increased frequency, and provided me with a flexible, movable, and multi-functional piece of furniture. The act of riding oneself of the teacher desk also made me rethink the space and my habits as a teacher. Proximity is so crucial and can send a myriad of nonverbal messages to students. Through my observations, my constant movement not only keeps me energized throughout the day, but also encourages my students to remain engaged and also gives them another reason to poke fun at my expense! Another subtle change that I made involved moving the desk away from the wall. While the room does not have space to spare, a few feet (I'm petite) allowed me to squeeze behind my students, much to their chagrin. Now I could conference more directly with them and peer at their Chromebook screens as a subtle and gentle reminder to stay focused in the short time we have together each day. 

Next year, my room is approximately 1.5 times the size. I still will not introduce a teacher desk, but I will have additional space to begin infusing flexible seating into my room design. With the third child on the way, my husband and I have been nesting this summer by rearranging furniture and finalizing our daughter's playroom - also known as the entire basement. In doing so, I have procured a worn but functional couch and am aching to find a new shelf or two to be filled with scripts and books that have been boxed or inaccessible to my students for a while now. I am eager to arrange the desks and feel out the space before I begin to fill it. The topic of flexible seating has been on my mind, though, especially with the official adoption of 1:1 and the changes that will bring to student needs and student-life (such as a need to charge a Chromebook on occasion). 

I finally started reading Joy Kirr's Shift This!: How to Implement Gradual Changes for MASSIVE Impact in Your Classroom. I love how reflective her writing is and how much wisdom she shares from her experiences as an educator. Knowing her through Twitter and EdCamps, I have always been inspired by her and find her passion contagious. I am absolutely loving her book and have loved how timely her first few chapters have been to my reflections this summer - especially with room design and construction. After completing the first four chapters, I cannot recommend that every educator who is looking to grow and reflect this summer pick up a copy and read it! (Who isn't learning and growing in some way. That's a part of the gig, right?)

As the summer passes by, here's my list of priorities to consider with the new space:

A Student Center

With the use of technology, we rarely need supplies to demonstrate knowledge or write. Often, student writing is produced on the Chromebooks, but that does not mean we do not shut the Chromebooks to write on whiteboards, journal, complete group work, etc. In fact, closing down the Chromebooks is an excellent way to brainstorm ideas, collaborate, and connect with others. In doing so, we need markers, supplies, and even tape. Students in high school barely bring their books to class let alone a functioning pen or pencil. As a result, having a student center stocked with supplies at the ready and a few chargers for their Chromebooks would be so helpful to all in the room. Instead of a teacher desk, I sincerely have taken to this idea. Plus, I need a place to dock my computer as well. My long, rolly table will serve nicely as a place in which a student or I can access needed supplies, sit if he or she needs to a place work other than a student desk, and as an added bonus the corner that I'm looking at already has all the cords for the computer!

Bulletin Boards

I have NEVER had bulletin boards. I do not feel equipped to craft bulletin boards as a high school teacher. This single fact was one reason why I avoided elementary education. My former elementary teacher turned principal mother, however, is quite talented at bulletin boards and making everything perfectly centered, proportioned, and positioned. I have already enlisted her assistance in this process, but I still need to procure the supplies! What I loved in Joy's book was that she suggested keeping the classroom as an empty canvas - a place in which students can add their ideas, celebrate community happenings, and personalize THEIR classroom. I will devote at least one bulletin board to this purpose; however, I want to develop some skeleton to provide structure. My theme for this board will be "Oh the places we're going..." Yes, perhaps the idea sounds a little youthful for high school upperclassmen but instead of Dr. Seuss centered, articles from the local paper, information about the books we are reading, and what we are learning will appear, and this board will change throughout the school year. Reading and learning is an adventure! This idea is vital to instill in students. Another board will be devoted to my "Life Challenges" theme - a new project I will explore this fall. Students will be blogging about and completing brief life challenges each week. In hopes of developing empathy, making content more relevant, and creating community awareness, I will highlight how and why we should be cognizant of our community by completing and documenting our experiences with these life challenges. So, these are my two primary ideas for the boards. Thank goodness my mom will be helping me put these ideas into fruition.


In my old room, I inherited two narrow bookshelves with no backs. Students would unintentionally push books and play scripts through the back causing unneeded damage to the books. Also, the position of the shelves caused the books to be not accessible to students. I moved the shelves at the end of the year but still found them to be nonfunctional. In the move, I left those shelves behind and am looking for a better bookshelf or even a pocket-style, rotating rack to store the books. I want students to read and embrace the books that are there for them to use. If the shelves prevent or deter the browsing of books, then students are accessing them! Finding the proper shelves is still in works and will come with time.

Seating Arrangements To Spark Conversation and Flexible Seating

Like countless teachers, I have played with the arrangement of desks. Personally, I prefer clusters that allow me to move swiftly and quickly within them. In my old classroom, limited space prevents me from experimenting with the formation. Finally, I settled on three clusters of desks in a horseshoe formation, which worked. Now that I have a different space, I am excited to find a way to spark increased conversation and collaboration with a few variations on the horseshoe formation. Perhaps, I could even try tables or incorporate various types of seating in the future once I have a better vision for the desks. Flexibility seating is such a fascinating topic, and I loved how Shift This touched on experimenting with the possibilities. Also appreciated from this section of the text was the reminder that grant money might be able to help me purchase alternative tables and chairs that would facilitate collaboration and group work to an even greater extent. Any changes to the traditional desks that I currently have will more than likely occur in year two of this venue change, but it is certainly fun to imagine the potential.

A minor shift like moving to a classroom a mere a hallway over is exciting. A new space implies more options and the opportunity to rethink classroom design. Subtle alternations to the arrangement of a classroom can significantly impact on the overall climate. I am excited to read further into of Joy's book, which has raised timely topics for me as an educator and has challenged me to reflect on my goals for the school year that is about to begin. Please check out her blog and her work! Joy is an inspiring lady. 

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