Saturday, July 2, 2016

What do your walls say to students?

What Do Your Walls Say to Students?

Dear Readers,

As I went through my admin program, I took a class on teacher evaluation. One of the tasks was to walk through a teacher's classroom and "read it". Could I tell what was important to the teacher and his/her instruction just by looking at the walls?

It was very eye-opening as I discovered walls are sometimes covered just to look "pretty". Why are educators seemingly afraid of blank wall space?

Everything that hangs on a wall should be purposeful and help guide learners to independence. In addition, walls should "change" throughout the year. Just like we plan instruction, we need to plan our wall space. 

Questions I consider are:
  • Did I buy it in a store or did students create this? You will not find many "store bought" quotes hanging in my room. However you will find student created pieces of art with their chosen quotes.
  • Is this part of our learning? If not, it's probably not going on the wall.
  • Can students use this to become independent learners? If not, it's probably not going on the wall.
  • Does it make students feel like it is their classroom? My playlist may not foster independent thinkers and learners, but it definitely creates a feeling of "our learning space".
  • Why? If I don't know why I am hanging something, then it definitely shouldn't be up there!

The Writing On the Classroom Wall

I have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of this book! It did not disappoint! In fact, I read through it at lightening speed, only a day! Author, @stevewyborney was gracious enough to discuss the book almost as I read it! A sincere thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my thoughts. 

Steve writes about 24 Big Ideas. I made connections to many of them in my own instruction and classroom. In fact, I was inspired to start creating some of my own Big Ideas! 

With Steve's permission, these are quotes, ideas and thoughts that made me stop and think.

The Power of Anchor Charts
"I learned that there is great power in letting opportunities linger." (pg. 17)

When we post anchor charts, we are leaving a footprint or blueprint of learning. They are so vitally important in developing independent learners. I personally post them for each unit, change them as needed and revisit them when appropriate. I have even made what I refer to as "traveling words walls" that students can pull out and put away.

Big Idea 4: Reading Is About Making Meaning
"When we read, we are extremely active thinkers who are purposefully making meaning." (pg. 26)

We cannot do the thinking for our students. As educators, we need to give them the tools, skills and strategies to make meaning on their own. One of my favorite strategies is annotating texts whether it be directly in the text or using post-it notes. It allows students to interact with the text, question the text and look back at previous thoughts and insights. 

Big Idea #5: Writing Is About Making Meaning
"Writing does not happen after thinking. Writing fuels thinking, generates thinking, is thinking, and leads to more and deeper thinking." (pg. 31)

I always keep a writer's notebook alongside my students. By the end of the year it is one of my most prized possessions. Writing can be long or short, it can be lists, organizers, story arcs, words, phrases, sentences, essays, papers or books. I keep samples of the writing process for students to refer back to. My notebook is an anchor for them to develop independence as well.


Big Idea 14: You are amazing! Expect much of yourself!
"Our beliefs about our students will deeply impact our students' beliefs in themselves." (pg. 91) 

Every educator needs to read this chapter. These are a few of the ways I communicate to my students how incredible they are!

I share things I want them to know about me to establish relationships and make connections.

I wrote to each student and told them why he/she is important to me, our class, this world, etc.

I have given out paper plate awards. Each student gets one and I write the reason why he/she received it.

I dropped MANY anchors of appreciation this year! Thank you Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf for the amazing idea!

I write letters to my students throughout the year.

Big Idea 18: Discover a Question

I actually put up a student parking lot this past year, with post-its attached for all the "questions" and "wonders" my students had that were not relevant to instruction. It was a great place to unload those thoughts so they could focus on our learning. 

Heading into our first ever, modified Genius Hour evoked many thoughts, insights, wonders, etc. The students just wrote down anything that came to mind. We then used those as anchor learning to revise and rewrite research questions.

During our journalism unit, students needed to report on a live event. One portion of it prompted these questions for our Assistant Principal regarding one of the components of Morning Meeting.

Probably one of the best examples of questioning came when I handed small groups a box filled with these materials and said, "Do what you like! We will share at the end of class!"

"I challenge you to take the first steps. Choose a Big Idea, write it on your wall, and let the journey begin." (pg. 168)

I took on this challenge as I read through the book. Here are some of my Big Ideas:
  • Reading is embarking on a journey of confirming and acquiring knowledge.
  • Writing is personal, brave and taking risks.
  • Active listening is part of participating in discussions.
  • Respectfully offering other viewpoints to consider is collaboration.
  • Empathy is thinking outside yourself to understand others' struggles and triumphs, etc.
  • Identity is something that lives inside you and can only be taken away if you allow it to.
  • Power is being an Upstander and standing up for what you believe in regardless of what others say or do.
In total, I ended up with 19 Big Ideas! I intend to implement them into my classroom next year as I refine and revise them.

May your walls speak volumes to your students!