How do I set up my room for a meeting space (without tearing down a wall)?

Burning QuestionsI haven’t posted in … well, it’s been a minute.  One of my goals is write again here.  I asked some colleagues what they thought were 6-12 grade ELA teachers “burning questions.”  And let me just say, I have the BEST colleagues.  They were so thoughtful in their responses — which helped me launch this new series for my blog.  

PS — At the end of each post,  you will find a link to a fancy one-page PDF (shout out to my incredible brother for designing it!) with the information in the blog — including resources.   

How do I set up my room for a meeting space (without tearing down a wall)?

I once taught a class of 32 high school students in a single-wide trailer. One morning, I literally found a student on the roof of the trailer.  And who could blame him?  We were packed!

At this point, I had yet discovered the power of the classroom meeting space.  But thinking about how cramped we were in that trailer brings great empathy for teachers trying to create meeting areas in less than ideal spaces.

I think the first thing we have to realize is the power of the meeting area.  I was a little late to this party.  As a high school teacher, I felt the meeting area to be way too elementary for me. Then, challenged by one of my mentors, I tried it.

I was wrong.

2016-02-09 12.39.00It wasn’t childish at all.  Most of my students loved it! It built a sense of community in a way that really can only be accomplished through this closeness of learning together.

Once you decide that a meeting space is a priority, you have to make it happen.

It took me many tries and student help to figure out how to really arrange the classroom in a way that worked.  I finally settled on a student-design of desks in groups of four forming a U-shape with the open area in the middle my meeting space.  You can see pictures here or here.

At this point in my career, I was lucky enough to have a nice space to do this.  Thinking back to my trailer days, I wonder what I would have done.

I know it would have taken a lot of thinking, moving, organizing, sweating, and prioritizing.

Here are some questions that might be helpful in thinking through this:

  1. What are my non-negotiables in the classroom? (Think: meeting area, classroom library, etc.)
  2. What is the teaching space vs teacher space vs working space ratio in my classroom?
  3. How does the way my space is organized reflect my teaching values?
  4. What do I have to keep and what can I get rid of?
  5. Can I make any space work for more than one thing?
  6. Is there awkward space I can repurpose – such as lockers, under the whiteboard, etc?
  7. If I’m limited on space, how can I set up the room to where it will be easy for students to move chairs, desks, etc for the mini-lesson and then back again? (This is totally a teachable routine.)

Last, I would leave you this suggestion.  Start at the beginning of the year with a meeting space.  Even if you are unsure about it, start at the beginning and do it with a positive attitude.

You just might be surprised.

Resources to Check Out

BQI1_Meeting Space2
Burning Question Issue 1 PDF

 

PROFESSIONAL BOOKS

Debbie Diller’s Spaces and Places

Ruth Ayres & Stacey Shubitz’s Day by Day

Nancie Atwell’s In the Middle

BLOG POSTS

Two Writing Teachers’ Why We Gather

ReadWriteInspire’s Inspired Design

The Daily Café’s 7 Steps to Classroom Design

PICTURES, VIDEOS, & IDEAS

HoCo’s MS & HS Classroom Areas

Michelle Wolf’s The Meeting Area in Workshop

ELA Coach Wall’s Workshop Meeting Area Board

Pernille Ripp’s My Classroom without Students

TOOLS TO GET STARTED/REDESIGN ROOM

Scholastic’s Classroom Set-Up Tool

Classrooms4Teachers’ Classroom Architect

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Power of the Meeting Space in the Classroom

I was introduced to the concept of the meeting space through Teacher’s College work with my district’s elementary and middle schools a few years ago. While I was inspired and challenged by everything from Teacher’s College, I thought the meeting space was a neat idea, but a little too young for my high school students. A colleague reminded me of the research about movement and learning and challenged me to try it. So, a bit skeptical, I did. And it was pretty close to magic. It has evolved over the past two years into what I now call “meeting in the middle” Meet in the middlewith my students.

Here’s why I love this strategy:
1. It gets students moving. High school students sit a lot. By asking them to move to the floor, they are activating their learning. Also, they are moving away from the distractions of whatever may be on their desk.
2. It builds a community of learners. My desks are arranged in groups—small community of learners. When I ask students to meet me in the middle, the closeness of the class reminds us that the entire class is a community of learners.
3. It encourages a safe environment. In the meeting space, we listen and we talk briefly, only to practice what we are learning or to share out an example. It isn’t a place where students get called out or put on the spot. It’s safe there with us sitting together; it feels more non-threatening than sitting in the desks with the teacher standing above them.
4. It is a meaningful ritual and routine. Meeting in the middle is when we are learning a skill or listening to a read-aloud or something that is teacher-centered. Most of my class is student-centered, so this ritual of moving to the middle helps students understand the shift in behavior and listening they need to make for this type of instruction.  The routine is knowing how to do it quickly and effectively.
5. It keeps my mini-lessons mini. Students are only going to sit on the floor for so long. I have to be purposeful and intentional with my time during meetings in the middle.
6. It’s fun. The students love this throw back to elementary school, and I do too!  It brings something different to norm of the day.

The success of having a class meeting space in high school depends a lot on how you present it to the students. Here’s how I kicked it off this year:

I explained to students that research has shown that they spend most of their school day sitting in classes listening to someone talk to them, typically a teacher. They all seemed to agree on this point. I shared with them that one instructional coach found that this happened about 90% of their school day. Because we had so much to learn in this class, we were going to use movement to help us activate our learning and refocus their brains so they could pay close attention to what we were doing. Then, I called them to meet me in the middle.

I don’t doubt that some students internally groaned, but most were excited saying things like “I haven’t done this since elementary school” and “I hope she reads to us” — which I did. I shared the children’s book Courage,  then we turn and talked about how we wanted to be courageous this year. I asked for a few share-outs,  gave them instructions for their work session, and sent them back to their desks to work.

I plan to use 2015-08-04 14.54.13the meeting space for conferences as well. The open area makes it a great space to gather students for individual or small group reading and writing conference while I still can maintain a presence in the room during work sessions. I bought $5 small tables that I’m going to use as stools from Family Dollar (thanks to an elementary school teacher friend who posted this great find on Facebook). The stools/tables are stackable, so they easily fit under a table when they are not in use.  If you would like to read more on conferencing, To Confer is to Validate the Child offers a thoughtful discussion on its importance in the classroom.

Bonus Read:  I was really challenged by Used Books in Class’s The “So What” Conundrum post.  I will be using the So What? question more for reflection as a teacher and in learning with my students.


Follow-up on Day One Activity:

Although this activity is not perfect, it was so much better than previous boring first days. The questions and comments students asked gave me insight into their 2015-08-04 16.12.24personalities, their hopes and their fears. It amazed me that not one single class asked about grades. Instead they wanted to know about what we were going to read, if I was strict, and how we were going to improve their writing. I have to admit this activity made me realize what I thought students would think is the most important about a class was not. It also allowed for natural conversation about class instead of a formulaic spill about the syllabus. I will continue to do something of this nature in my classes in the future.

As mentioned, I chose to read the book Courage for the first day. It’s a simple yet powerful read that gave us the platform to talk about the courage we will need to examine ourselves through reading and writing and to share with others in our community of learners. When students shared out what courageous act they wanted to accomplish this year, several over the course of the day said they wanted to show courage by sharing in front of their peers. I had to smile, as I knew they had just taken the first steps to do that by sharing right then sitting on the floor in our meeting space.

Follow-up on First Week Impressions and Priorities:

2015-08-04 09.57.46I loved seeing students get excited and immediately wanting the book As Simple As Snow after the book talk.  For an important discussion on how we develop and protect students’ reading identities, see Stop Feeding the Beast–The Reading Myths We Pass on as Truths.  Speed dating with a book was a great success.  Students had about 70 titles to browse from various genres, topics, lengths, and levels.  Everyone found multiple titles to add to their “Books I Want to Read” list.  Now every student has a book in hand, and they had the opportunity to begin reading in class.  We are working on getting them signed u2015-08-04 13.07.45p for Goodreads.

I also had students write down the last time they read a complete book and their goal for the number of books they wanted to read this year.  I’m not really worried about what that number looks like, but I did want them to begin thinking about how they were going to challenge themselves as readers this year.  We documented it by taking a picture.  I plan to take another picture at the end of the year with their goal on top and number of books read this year on bottom.