I’m a little late getting this one posted. There was recently a death in my family, and my head just hasn’t been in the teaching game. I’ve been off work for almost a year, too, and man I can’t wait to get back. Staying home with a baby is cool, but I miss the madness of a busy Junior classroom! On that note, let’s just jump right in…
I rarely use my chalkboard. Sometimes a whole week will pass with the notes from Monday’s lesson still there, untouched but for spots where my students ran their fingers through the chalk on their way by. One section of my chalkboard is dedicated to reminders to be written in the agenda – but since I don’t assign homework (an issue for another post), even that is rarely used.
There is no “front” to my classroom, either. There isn’t one place where I stand while teaching, one spot where my students know to look for me if it’s lesson time. My desk and my computer are on opposite sides of the room. My students sit in groups/pods, not rows.
I am, I guess, what you would call a fairly non-traditional teacher.
When it comes time for whole class discussions, more often than not, I gather my students on the large carpet. (Okay, up until last year, my “carpet” was actually two giant rugs I bought from IKEA with my own money… but last year, RIGHT before I went on maternity leave, my principal let me know that I was getting my very own large rug provided by the board. Awesome! I’ve seen it. It’s great. I can’t wait to use it!)
Gathering students is awesome. It was something that was never really talked about during my teacher training, nor did I see a lot of my colleagues doing it. I started doing it in my Grade 5 class because I had set up a really lovely little reading corner and found that my students really enjoyed the space. We used it for read alouds at first, but since I saw the benefits of having them there, I expanded it to most lessons. Now, four years later, I pretty much only teach that way. Why is it so awesome? Let me tell you!
1) No desks, no random things to play with. We’ve all had students who just can’t keep their hands out of their desks or their chair on the floor during lessons. I got tired of telling my students to keep all four feet of the chair on the floor every few seconds. I got tired of trying to keep their hands out of their desks. When the class is gathered on the carpet, there are no desks to hold tempting trinkets and no chairs to lean back in.
2) Kids can move. I find it much easier to accommodate students who need to move around when we are gathered at the carpet. Kids who benefit from being able to walk around during lessons can sit on the edge of the carpet, giving them freedom to get up and move without disrupting their peers. When you want to give the whole class a body break, you don’t have to hear thirty chairs all screeching at the same time.
3) You can set up centres before class. Sometimes I set things up on my desk pods while my students aren’t in class. When they come in and see things on the desks – group work supplies, science experiments, etc. – they know to go straight to the carpet instead. From there, I can give all instructions and send students off to the desk pods without worrying about them touching things or having to set things up while they wait.
4) It’s easier to hear everyone. Students can hear me better, I can hear them better, and they can hear each other better when we’re all in a group on the carpet. It’s a smaller space, so even the quieter students can speak their minds without too much difficulty. I don’t have to project as much, which makes me seem “softer,” if that makes sense. Redirection doesn’t seem so harsh, reassurance seems even kinder.
5) Turn and talk is more varied. I find my students never sit in the same place every time, so when you ask your students to “turn and talk” during a lesson, suddenly they’re speaking with a wider variety of peers when they’re gathered on the carpet. In pods, they are always stuck talking to the same peers, and that gets a little stale.
6) Students need fewer reminders to pay attention. When you have students sitting in pods, the temptation to look across the desks to the person sitting in front of you is huge. You can make faces, pass notes, generally just not pay attention… and it’s pretty easy to get away with, too. Sitting on the carpet, everyone is facing one direction: the speaker. It becomes glaringly obvious when you turn to speak to the person next to you. When you aren’t paying attention, you get called on it immediately. Very quickly, students learn that during carpet time, they’re just better off paying attention from the get go.
7) It feels like a community. There’s something really nice about everyone sitting together as a group on the carpet. Instead of sitting in pods or rows, you’re sitting with all of your peers together. It feels different.
There are many, many more reasons why I like having my students gather on the carpet, but hopefully those gave you at least a few things to consider. If you never gather your students together (and you can do this even if you don’t have a carpet – the bare floor works, but you can always do it outside, too!) maybe think about trying it out for a read aloud one day. You might be surprised by how much your students enjoy it, even at the Junior level!