Creating the right classroom environment fit for ELLs
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Something I am constantly looking to improve is the design of my classroom. I question everything that is put on the walls or on the back of shelving — specifically whether it is useful or detrimental to the students who share the room. In my three years of teaching, I think I have rearranged my classroom 30 times, and I am still moving small things here and there weekly.
I do large classroom makeovers, moving every single piece of furniture until it reflects how the children use it. I also do small makeovers, changing what we have on our boards, moving materials to different areas, etc. I spend a lot of time in my classroom, before, during, and after school, so the space needs to be comfortable for not only my students, but for myself as well.
Many people wonder and question why I spend so much time fussing over where shelving goes or why I chose not to put up a colored background on my bulletin board. It's not that I'm just picky and controlling. It's much bigger than that.
The classroom environment is the third teacher. It plays an important role in how the students (and teachers) in that environment feel, and how they will interact with the room and the materials.
To a student whose native language is not the one used in the classroom, having a lot of labels without pictures, words on bulletin boards, and paragraphs on walls explaining what to do with the materials is both overwhelming and frustrating.
Imagine you walked into a new room that you were going to spend eight hours in every day, but you couldn't understand a single thing in there. Would you feel comfortable?
Here is what I think are the most important things when setting up your room:
Think twice about what you put up. Make sure what you put on the walls and bulletin boards reflects what the students know and do in their classroom. Boards and/or walls should be covered with student work, but be mindful: too much on the wall/board is a sensory overload. You want your students to pay attention to you, not that cute animal train alphabet going around your room.
Include pictures (especially at the beginning) with labels. There is no sense in putting a "glue" label where the glue goes if there is no picture of a glue stick for those who aren't yet reading, or don't understand the language. I would go with the pictures first, then add the words later, and maybe take away the picture at the end.
Make your room feel welcoming and comfortable. I try to make our space reflective of a home setting. Furniture is a huge factor in this, and we have to make do with what we have. Try to separate areas for different functions. All students will benefit from having a quiet spot in which to concentrate, read or cool down. Don't put your reading area beside your construction/block area where there is a lot of noise and chatter. You can also use this reading area for one-on-one or small-group lessons; it has the most privacy and is the most cozy.
I hope teachers and anyone who works with students, especially ELLs, understand how important the environment is. It sets the tone for the day, and for the year, before you get a chance to. When students get a chance to be a part of that environment, they will be more comfortable when they are in there.
After all, you spend a lot of time in there, too. Make it a place of relaxation, and you will be so much happier putting in extra hours in there.
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