by Jill Eggleton
I have always loved the character Winnie-the-Pooh, created by A.A. Milne. He provided readers young and old with wise maxims to live by.
“Organization,” declared Winnie-the-Pooh, “is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it’s not all mixed up.”
So, following the advice of Winnie-the-Pooh, before any attempt to teach, I organized my classroom environment, realizing that organization and the establishment of routines were invaluable and the essential keys to successful teaching.
If students have organized spaces to work independently, and clearly know what to do and what is required of them, this will help their confidence and comfort levels, creating a positive environment conducive to learning.
As a classroom teacher, prior to the start of the school year, I spent much time establishing a variety of learning centers. These were mostly placed around the periphery of the classroom, as space allowed.
I liked to use dividers to create more intimate spaces that could accommodate two to four students, sometimes resorting to large cardboard boxes I painted in vibrant colors. Limiting the number of students that could be in each space assisted with management and discipline.
If space was limited, I housed activities and ideas in boxes called Mobile Motivators, which could be used at a student’s desk, a group table, or any space on the floor.
Whole-class, small-group, and independent learning are the structures that exist in an elementary classroom. Learning centers need to be used for meaningful, authentic, independent learning. They need to be enriching spaces with engaging activities that support the student’s learning independent of the teacher. This is vital to free the teacher for group, individual teaching, or gathering data.
It is vital, too, for students to be able to direct their own learning and feel the satisfaction of involving themselves in meaningful learning tasks. The word I highlight is meaningful.
I was very careful to ensure that these centers only housed those activities that required creativity, critical thinking, appropriate consolidation of learning, and opportunities for collaboration with peers. I was never a believer in worksheet activities that didn’t encourage divergent thinking but rather relied on students regurgitating information with no critical thinking necessary.
It was so energizing and motivational for me to see my students excited and engaged in these learning centers, taking control of their own learning.
As Maria Montessori said,
“The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’”
In my experience, students are more confident learners when routines, expectations, and boundaries are clearly and firmly established.
I found it was essential to take time in the first few weeks of school to introduce the learning centers, practice strict routines, and model expectations.
I created a learning center task board with pockets representing the different centers.
Whatever number of students the center could accommodate at one time, I created that number of color-coded pockets, labeling these with the name of the center and, for students at early reading stages, pictures or icons to help students identify the center.
Each student drew an illustraton of themselves on a card, which I could place in the pocket of the learning center. I rotated the names to a new center each day.
After the students had completed their set independent reading, they went to their assigned learning center, where they stayed for the duration of the reading block. Moving students as individuals and not in a group helped with control and management.
I also provided students with a learning center scrapbook where they recorded the centers they visited each day and could paste (if appropriate) activities they may have done there.
At the conclusion of the reading block of time, I chose two or three students each day to share what they had done in their learning center. This gave me as a teacher valuable ‘raw‘ data—an insight into what the child was able to do independently and an opportunity to provide immediate and effective feedback.
As well, this sharing motivated other students, providing them with examples of what they could do in that particular center.
Organization and management was essential to my success as a teacher. It took self-discipline on my part, but the results far outweighed the effort.
I became determined not to leave my classroom on a Friday until the organization, planning, and resources were in place for the entire next week. This generally allowed me a free weekend, and I know that I was a better teacher on Monday because of it.
Winnie-the-Pooh was definitely right, organization is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it’s not all mixed up.
I think back to my days as a classroom teacher, and I clearly recall a classroom buzzing with excited and motivated learners, actively and enthusiastically engaged in independent learning activities, made possible because of sound organization, appropriate resources, and strict routine.
Harry Wong, author, educator and educational speaker, put it this way:
“The number one problem in the classroom is not discipline; it is the lack of procedures and routines.”
My experience has proved to me that organization is crucial to classroom success, and I know that without a strict adherence to it, I would have found teaching to be an extremely stressful challenge.
Order plus organization does indeed equal confident kids, but also calm, controlled, and contented teachers.
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