Friday, August 22, 2014

CREATE the SPACE Together

It’s August. August = Back to School. Countless amounts of time and money are spent by teachers decorating classrooms in preparation for the new school year.

Do you want to have a classroom that children love and cherish? One where the students know where everything is and how to use it? One that the students help keep in order? If you do, the secret to success of this kind of classroom is to let the students help “create their space”. Students will long remember the discussions around creating the alphabet chart and be able to make connections to the work, if they had a “hand” in the work. Design lessons at the beginning of the year that will allow the students time to create the important things used in the room.

What’s on your walls? An ABC chart? A birthday chart? Color words? Number words? Labels? The new year is a blank slate. The story hasn’t been written yet.

I love the freshness that a new year brings. How many other professions are given a “do over” each year? A chance for a fresh start, for the students, parents, teachers, and administrators. Beginning the year, with most of the walls blank, allows the children to help create the wall art and the charts that they will use as references all year. It allows the students to “own” the space.

Here’s how it might begin….

Have a large collection of alphabet books, they are an invaluable part of a classroom (especially kindergarten). As I read the alphabet books to my class, I learn my students. I notice which references the children “react” to. As they respond to the pictures and words, I learn if they like alligators or apples. If they are more interested in balls or butterflies. If they enjoy cars or cats.

I give the students a chance to help “create” our classroom resources by asking their opinions, garnering their input. For example, the alphabet chart is a staple for most elementary classrooms. I let the “class” decide the picture that will accompany each letter of the alphabet. It takes some time, to do this. Actually it takes a few minutes of class each day, spread over the first month (or thereabouts) of school. Taking a letter a day (not to be confused with teaching a letter a day/week) I let one child paint the picture we have a agreed upon, until everyone has at least one turn. I like to lightly sketch the picture for the child because, although I greatly value the child “doing the work”, I also want this work to be an example that everyone can easily “connect” to and remember. If the child draws and paints the picture, and no one can recognize it, the whole idea and a lot of time has been wasted. If I lightly sketch the picture, I provide a scaffold for the budding artist. My goal is not for the child to be able to paint a beautiful picture. My goal is for the child to have a helping hand in creating the literate environment for our classroom.

Many other resources can be created in this same manner. Creating an alphabet big book, modeled after The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s ABC book would be an outstanding example for the students to learn a few sight words along with other pictures. First and second graders may be fully capable of illustrating, coloring, or painting the pictures for the book.

Here are a few of my favorite ABC read alouds. Do you have favorites too? I’d love to add them to my collection. Let me know your thoughts on this blog and leave the title in the comment section.

A is for Apple, by Tiger Tales
Alphabet Animals, by Charles Sullivan
Alpha Oops! The Day Z Went First, Alethea Kontis
Arthur’s Really Helpful Word Book, by Marc Brown
Eric Carle’s ABC by Eric Carle
Geography from A to Z, by Jack Knowlton
I Spy, An Alphabet in Art, Devised and Selected by Lucy Micklethwait
LMNO Peas by Keith Baker
Museum ABC, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
P is for Palmetto, By Carol Crane
The Alphabet Family, by Eva Montanari
The Alphabet Tree by Leo Lionni
The Apple Pie ABC by Alison Murray
The Construction Alphabet Book, by Jerry Pallotto

Here’s what the finished product might look like. A BIG THANK YOU  to Marisa Whittington, Kindergarten teacher for sharing pictures from her classroom. 

ABC Chart in Kindergarten Classroom, Thanks, Marisa!
Reading Alphabet books and creating a big book that is similar is so much fun!


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