Recently, I’ve noticed that we are in the midst of a purposeless, clutter epidemic. It’s hard to trace the start of this epidemic. Perhaps it can be traced back to the rise of Pinterest and easy access to classroom inspiration. In any case, many classrooms are just filled with visual clutter that has little to do with what students are currently learning.
I think we’d all agree that classrooms should be welcoming and safe places for students. We would probably also all agree that they are also places where learning occurs. I am not sure that the spaces we design for ourselves to learn would mirror those many of us have designed for students. In my own home office, I often feel a bit overwhelmed and anxious when there are too many items out and there are too many things around that are irrelevant to my current projects. I know not everyone may feel this way, but many people do. Visit your local library and you’ll see the numerous titles related to minimalism and mindfulness. There aren’t many books on maximalism or eclectic design. One reason for this is probably because the notion of maximalism (if that were a thing) would likely not result in a calming environment. Also, humans tend to like rationale arrangements. Students spend nearly as many of their waking hours in the classroom as they do at home. If our home environment is more peaceful when we are mindful in our placement and procurement of items, might it stand to reason that our classrooms may as well?
Many classrooms (my former classroom included) have a number of elements that are not tied to anything currently happening. I’m not just talking about the random Garfield posters, I’m also talking about numerous old papers and supplies. What would it be like if the things that are out and about in our rooms were just those things students can use or relevant to the present lesson? What if we were purposeful in putting out just what is needed when it is needed?
Many of us may already do this, I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to those of us who have so many things on walls for so many years that we couldn’t even name them all if we were not in the room. I’m talking to those of us that walk by a random object daily that has just become another dust collector. I used to have a number of origami figures in my classroom all the time. They were just kind of always there. Would the students have been more intrigued if I just brought them out when we were about to make them? Then, maybe could we have just shown and tell with a gallery-walk type activity rather than keeping out the 60 new figures my students made for the next few months?
I’m not saying you have to have a cold classroom, we already agreed classrooms should be warm and welcoming. I’m advocating for a purposeful classroom. For example, if we are doing a unit on quadratics, I could bring in some examples of quadratic functions in the real world and put them up in my room to use as part of an activity during the unit. I might also set up some hands-on activities that illustrate parabolic motion the students can play with before the bell. The things around my room could then relate to what we are actually doing. Many of us teach multiple classes, so perhaps there could be particular areas for the different classes, but it would be purposeful. For elementary teachers, this might mean putting aside anchor charts when we are not talking about that topic or having out only the manipulatives that students could use for the particular lesson we are on.
The notion of a purposeful classroom goes beyond the visual environment, it extends to the seating arrangement as well. In future posts, I’ll write about other aspects that might benefit from a more purposeful consideration.