Recently I attended a conference session where the principal provided an overview of how her school pays attention to student centered classrooms. Early into her session, I heard her say that she conducts a “visual walkthrough” in every classroom before the school year begins. The practice of conducting a walkthrough before the students even enter the classroom was the type of refreshing bit of new learning I was hoping to take away from the conference. I often conduct environmental walkthroughs during a school year but never before. What might I look for during a “visual walkthrough” that takes place before bodies fill the seats and notes fill the board?
- Are resources displayed that support vocabulary development, reading, writing, and academic dialogue about your content? Are the print materials commercially produced or teacher/peer produced from a previous semester? Why is this important?
- Are the resources displays relevant to the current unit to of study? Are they static or do they change as the unit changes?
- Are the resources accessible to students to use and reference? For example, is the font on the posters large enough for every student to comprehend? Are dictionaries and thesauri organized in a location students can quickly access and without disruption?
- Are print materials available at different reading levels and within a variety of genres? Do the resources change as the units change or are the print materials static?
- Does the physical space in the classroom promote individual, small and whole group interactions for reading, writing, and academic dialogue?
- What evidence is there (i.e., norms of behavior poster) that the expectation for academic discourse is rigorous and relevant?
- What evidence is there that the teacher models effective learning behaviors? Is there a document camera to project examples to use during a Think Aloud? Does the teacher have a composition book that is used for writing exercises to model what good writers do? Are there posters displaying strategies, like text coding, that encourage skills good readers bring to text?
I realize the school year has started but it is never too late to revamp your classroom learning space. The change could occur across a weekend, over fall break, between winter and spring session, during a long weekend, or as part of an in-service day. The video series below, Remake Your Classroom, shows how one classroom became more student-centered and teacher-suitable in its design and was transformed after a weekend. As you watch, I challenge you to make note of what you see, what you think about what you’re seeing, and what you wonder about what you’re seeing.
What can you do inside your budget and your time to remake your learning space?