August 21, 2014

Literacy and Math???

This past week I had the very special opportunity to help my younger brother, Trevor, set up his very first classroom.  He is a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota-Duluth and got his first teaching job at the same middle school he student taught at in Duluth.  He will be teaching 6th and 8th grade math.  As I was helping him set up his classroom, I was amazed at the connection between the way I set up my literacy classroom and the way he set up his math classroom.  It made me realize that routines, organization, and the instructional plan really dictates how a classroom is laid out, not always the content.

Before Trevor and I laid a finger in his classroom, we took a walk around his school, visiting other classrooms.  Each time we walked into a new classroom, I asked him how he would feel as a student walking into this classroom.  It was interesting to view a classroom from this perspective as a student on the first day of school.  Trevor noted what he liked and disliked about how classrooms were laid out and decorated, and we brought this into the set-up of his classroom.

Trevor started by establishing the different options for independent work time.  He created this anchor chart so that students clearly understand what their options are.

The first option for students  is to work independently in their desks.  Trevor's desks are set up so that he can easily walk in a circle when he is instructing using whole group instruction and/or guided practice and easily check-in with each student.

The second option is for Trevor's students to work with him in the guided math area.  Some days he may ask students who need extra help to come over, but other days he will call over students who need re-teaching or extension on specific concepts based on their formative assessment.

The third option is to go to the white board at the back of the room and work out a problem with a partner in this area.  This encourages collaboration and problem solving when you're stuck, a life skill transferrable to almost every area.

The next option is to ask the student expert at the front of the room.  Each day Trevor will choose a new student who is capable of answering questions on the particular math concept of the day to be available to answer questions during independent work time.  Since Trevor will be working with small math groups, this gives students another place to go when they're not sure how to begin a math problem.  For the student expert in the front, it provides him or her with an opportunity to explain the thinking that goes into solving math problems, which even for the smartest students can sometimes be difficult.

The last option is to use a comfy chair and lap desk.  Trevor will rotate so two new students get to use the comfy chairs during independent work time each day.  No matter what the content area, giving students choice will encourage them to take an active role in their learning.  Time and again in classrooms, I see students sitting at their desks "stuck" without asking questions and instead just giving up and not engaging in any sort of learning.  How Trevor has set up his classroom makes the decision to sit and do nothing pretty much impossible.  Students can make the decision of how they learn best and problem solve when they don't understand something to seek the clarity needed in order to continue.

Trevor and I created an "Exit Slip Board" for his classroom.  It contains numbers that represent each student.  Trevor will pose different math questions and reflection questions for students to answer when exiting class.  This will serve as great formative assessment and form a community of learners in the classroom. 

The area by the window is for students who have been absent.  He will write what students need to make up each day in the binders and put the extra handouts into the organizers with students' names on them.  This structure adds the the personal responsibility he has already instilled in his classroom before students even walk in the door.  The baskets are hand-in baskets for each of his three classes.

When we first got to Trevor's room, the "teacher area" part of the classroom took up almost 1/4 of the space in the room.  By moving tables and storage and pushing Trevor's desk into the corner we were able to maximize space for students.  If there's 25-31 students and one teacher, you do the math! :)

Trevor has a class set of iPads that students will establish expectations and routines on how to use during the first few weeks of school.  He has a technology coach for his school and already has so many neat ideas of how to utilize the iPads in his classroom.  Needless to say, I'm just a little bit jealous.

Trevor purchased "Big Post-It Paper" and is keeping it in the front of the classroom to use for anchor charts.  As you notice, the walls in his classroom are bare right now with the exception signs labeling the different areas of the room.  Trevor will build what hangs in his classroom walls with his students as they establish expectations/routines and learn new math concepts.  These anchor charts will be what decorates the walls of his classroom.  Everything on the walls will be usable to his students.

I also made these table number labels for the tables in his classroom.  This will be so that he can easily have different table numbers form groups when he does group work activities.

I also made Trevor customized math lesson plan templates.  The first is for a quick overview of the week.  The one below is a daily lesson plan template to help him plan for gradual release of responsibility and how he will differentiate instruction to meet the needs of all the students in his classroom.

Setting up Trevor's classroom really made me realize how even though the content he and I teach is different, setting up a classroom for whole group, small group, and individualized instruction is oddly similar.  I'm so excited for my brother as he embarks on his new journey as a teacher!  His classroom is ready to go, and I know his students will be lucky to have him as their teacher.


  1. You are a good sister! I set up my brother's first classroom too:). It looks great!

    1. Thank you! I guess there are some benefits to being the younger sibling in the same professional as your older one! ;)

  2. Could you further explain the exit tickets on the wall?

    1. Sure! The Exit tickets would be used if Trevor wanted to pose a self-reflective question to the class or have them work out a math problem before leaving for the day. Each students has a number and would place their completed notecard under their number. Trevor would then be able to read/look through the exit slips to see what his students are thinking, and/or who is/is not getting the concept that day.


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