More from Debbie Miller…
For the past 2 weeks, I have been highlighting Debbie Miller’s book Teaching with Intention. In the first post I explained the outline of this ‘book study’ and some questions to ponder as you read the first 2 chapters. Last Monday, I wrote about developing 4-5 belief statements and evaluating your classroom to see if the two matched.
This week I’ll be highlighting the next three chapters. And it’s so good! If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend this fabulous resource…especially if you are a new teacher or a teacher just needing some motivation.
In chapter 3, Ms. Miller writes about a classroom’s environment. Here are some things to think about:
• Desk arrangement: clusters or rows?
• Room arrangement: meeting area, desks, computers, math tools, writing tools, supplies…
• Organization of books and materials: one area or spread out throughout the room? She suggests that the books be spread out throughout the entire room because “I want the whole room to feel like a library.”
Ms. Miller gives a lot of suggestions as to the ‘why and how’ of these three points. Reading her ideas is imperative!
For me, my ‘a-has’ came from her suggestion of leaving the walls bare before school. What? Don’t put everything up on the walls? But it will look so blah…and boring! I remember 2 years ago I put up some posters where I knew my anchor charts would go because I just couldn’t handle the fact that there wasn’t something there. Ah! I even remember explaining to a couple of parents…don’t worry…all of our thinking is going to go up on these walls. They probably thought…ya-right-she’s just lazy (or cookoo). Now, my room didn’t look bare….I had it colorful and organized but to me, the walls were just too boring. So, I created extra work for myself. Then, last year, I let it go….I did leave titles as to where things might be placed…like ‘Reading is Thinking” (where all of my anchor charts for reading were going), “Science Investigating” etc. But I left the walls ready for them to fill it up. I love this from Debbie Miller: “Classroom environments are organic—they grow as we do. The best of them reflect the heart and souls of those who inhabit them. They’re never really finished. They’re never really ‘done’”. If I have posters all over my walls (and I do think we need some by-the-way-like maps, discipline stuff, etc.) then it’s not really ‘us’. It’s probably not even me.
However, I am cautious to keep my anchor charts organized and minimal. I have a lot of different ways to organize anchor charts and I hope to post about those next week.
Chapter 4 is titled “Creating Classroom Cultures That Support and Promote Student Thinking”.
My ‘a-ha’ came from this quote: “Whether we’re creating an anchor chart, recording quotes for display, or using a child’s words to frame a discussion, authenticity is essential.” After I read these chapters (and discussed with other teachers), I realized how important it is for the anchor charts to not only make our thinking visible but to create some ownership in the charts and make it ‘ours’ not just mine. Make it real AND authentic. So, let’s say I am teaching about capitals and when to use them…well, before I would write down the examples…NOW, I either have them write it or draw it OR I will write it (because of time) and then put the student’s name (or a picture of them) next to what they said. It’s amazing how my anchor charts changed and the connection with the anchor charts changed. They will say things like ‘I remember when I said that…’ or ‘Emily, do you remember this?’ It gets them involved and helps them remember the skill. What do you think about this?
In chapter 5, “Swimming with Sharks,” I found myself learning how to think through my lessons even more. While so many teachers can ‘fly by the seat of their pants’, I just can’t. I know…I know, sometimes you have to, that is part of our profession (like the saying: ’stay calm and pretend it’s on the lesson plan’-love that BTW) but I have to really think through all of the lessons….from what their schema might already bring (and there are always surprises) to the engagement to the objective to what might happen with the ideas after the lesson. It’s a process. I might not have too much time but it’s one thing I can’t neglect.
Did I mention you gotta read this book?  Have a great week everyone!