January: the month where you’re technically on holidays, but your work brain thinks it’s a great time to ‘get ahead of the game’ and start planning…
So, when you do head back into the classroom to prepare for the start of the new school year what should you be spending your time and energy on and what shouldn’t you be worrying about at all?
Here are 5 hot tips for preparing your room for the new year:
Tip #1: Your classroom does NOT need to be instagrammable!
Contrary to what social media might have you believe, your classroom will not be judged by Neale Whitaker or Shaynna Blaze on the first day of school. This is good news as it means you can relax a little, enjoy your HOLIDAYS and lower your too-high expectations of creating a classroom environment that will appear on the front cover of a magazine.
You’ll be relieved to know that there is absolutely NO research that says classrooms crammed with every new Kmart item and perfectly colour coordinated displays increase student learning. Of course, the space needs to be warm, inviting and free from clutter, but at this time of the year you really should spend your mental energy, time and money on the items that matter most.
Tip #2: Plan the physical space in your classroom
This tip is also known as ‘Where will you put your explicit teaching space?’ and ‘Where will you put your classroom library?’ These are the two big ticket items in any primary school classroom, so get them sorted first.
The explicit teaching space (which usually includes the whiteboard and/or data projector) needs to be free from clutter and should support the students to give their full attention to the space (i.e do not place boxes, tables, sports equipment, posters or other alluringly distracting items between the line of sight of the students and the place you will be doing your explicit instruction).
The second big ticket item, the classroom library, is SO important it gets its own special heading:
Tip#3: Organise your classroom library
A classroom library is a compulsory item in any classroom that aspires to develop lifelong readers and writers.
- According to the research (Fountas and Pinnel 1996, IRA 1999, Neuman 2005) this space needs to hold a minimum of 300 books! Yes, you read that correctly! That is the equivalent of asking all 25 of your students to select 12 books from the school library to stock your class library. And to think I considered myself a trendsetter when I asked my students to select 2 books each…
- Irrespective of the year level, there needs to be a good spread of fiction and non-fiction books.
- The library needs to be inviting and make your students WANT to read.
- It needs to be neat and organised.
- The books need to be swapped out for new books regularly (my class used to change all the books over at the school library at the end of every month).
- It needs to stock all types of literature: picture story books, novels, comics, anything!
- It needs to include books that reflect ALL of the reading levels in your class (even the really low and the really high ones).
Tip #4: Organise your wall space- but don’t overdo it!
Ideally, you would have a reading, writing and maths display space as well as a space for things like behaviour expectations, school values etc.
- Don’t be tempted to spend your holidays laminating yourself into a shiny bliss! Organic and relevant win out over laminated and premade. (Even if it is a really colourful one from Pinterest!)
- Day 1 walls should be bare bones displays ready for population with anchor charts you collaboratively create WITH your students.
- Resist the urge to print off that ‘other words for said’ poster. Instead, plan time to build this with your students early in the term (they will refer to it more often then as it will be full of their own ideas).
- Some of things you might consider putting up for your bare bones displays:
- Daily schedule
- Learning Intentions space
- Space for a Bump It Up wall for writing (I would create the template for this but discuss and then order the pieces of writing with the students)
- Space for a word wall
- Number facts
- School values
- Growth mindset messages
- Behaviour expectations (I always created these with the students in the first week).
- Birthdays- (this was usually just an A3 poster in my room as I rarely referred to them and I needed to save space for really important teaching and learning items).
- Emergency Evacuation plan (boring but necessary).
Tip # 5: Select your class novel
I have a rule about this: Every teacher should read to every student, every day.
I have fond memories of my grade 3 teacher, Mrs Brown, pulling on her long black gloves every time she read Roald Dahl’s The Witches to our class. If we are serious about creating lifelong readers and writers, we should be aiming to develop those same fond memories of reading, being read to and of books themselves in each of our students.
When selecting a novel:
- Use the opportunity to expose students to a book they may not otherwise pick up.
- Consider reading the first book in a series. I always had a huge conversion rate for students who would go on and read the series after this. Note: I only ever read the first book in the series. I wanted to spread the reading love and expose students to lots of different genres, authors and topics through the class novel, so I didn’t have time to read more than one book in the series.
- Consider reading classics and other old timer books that students may not pick up because they are not glossy or fancy looking. Books such as the Hobbit, Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree, Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.
- Think about books with big themes that students may not otherwise come across or be exposed to in their own reading: refugees, disability, diversity, loss, survival, war, history, inequality, cultures etc.
- Try and steer away from bum, poo and fart books or books with cheap laughs that students can read themselves in their Independent Reading time. You want to make the most of this sacred time by maximining students’ exposure to rich, quality literature. (For some students, this may be the only exposure they get to this type of literature).
- Read through the book yourself before you read it to the students- will it suck them in to wanting to read more? Will it hook them into the pleasure of reading?
- I always chose the first novel of the year and then let the class select out of a handful of books for the next one. I would choose 5 books, do a ‘book sell’ on each and then have a vote to choose the next one.
- Do NOT ask your students to do activities related to the class novel. This book is purely about reading for the joy of it and having a shared text to reference in later reading and writing discussions. For some students this will be the only book they are allowed to read without having to do a task or activity.
So, there you have it, 5 hot tips for getting ready for your new class. Hopefully these tips can help you spend your time, money and brain power on the things that really matter at the start of the year.
Enjoy the remainder of your holidays and if you have any other ideas or suggestions (or can share a class novel idea) please let us know in the comments below.