Feeling excited to set up your immersion classroom?! Don’t start moving the desks yet!
When it comes to classroom setup, the best first step is to REFLECT on our values and beliefs about teaching and learning in an immersion setting.
You see, the spaces we create communicate what we value. Furthermore, values-informed design supports us in living out those values.
Think about it this way: One coffee shop has ample cozy chairs and tables, while another has a drive-through window and limited seating. The first values providing a comfortable place for people to gather over a cup of coffee, while the other values offering fast, good coffee-on-the-go. Their physical designs simultaneously communicate what they value about the coffee-drinking experience and help them to live out those different perspectives for the benefit of their customers.
Just like these two coffee shops, our values and beliefs about immersion education inform decisions we make about classroom setup, and our classroom setup influences the way we teach.
These are some values and beliefs that have been circling our minds lately here on the instruction team at add.a.lingua:
- A TALKING classroom is a language growing classroom.
- The cultivation of independent learners (not dependent ones) matters a great deal.
- Students want to feel known and cared for.
- The elevation of the non-English language must always be a planning priority.
- Students and their learning are important.
¡SÍ, estoy totalmente de acuerdo! If you’re tracking with us on these values and beliefs, keep on reading. Here are our thoughts on how you might set up your classroom to both reflect these values and support yourself in living them out through your daily teaching.
1. A TALKING classroom is a language growing classroom.
The way we arrange desks and tables illustrates to students what types of interaction they can expect to experience in our classroom. When we use tables or form groups with individual desks, we’re telling students that they’ll be talking to learn. Having students seated in groups also sets teachers up well to use collaborative learning techniques and strategies like think-pair-share and turn & talk. You might also consider being flexible (within reason) regarding assigning seats. We all benefit from hearing multiple perspectives, so it’s valuable to provide our students with diverse seating arrangements throughout the year.
2. The cultivation of independent learners (not dependent ones) matters a great deal.
Let’s take a brief step back to understand what we mean by this. According to Zaretta Hammond in Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain (2015), independent learners bear the bulk of the cognitive load of their learning. They make use of strategies and resources around the room, instead of relying on the teacher as the sole proprietor of knowledge. One way our classroom setup communicates and breathes life into cultivating independent learners is to use the walls of our classroom as student resources. That means classroom walls are prepared canvases, ready for linguistic resources created with and by students. Consider where you’ll place your word wall, content area word walls, and anchor charts about routines, strategies, and concepts. Keep in mind, too, that students need to be taught how to use the walls as resources while they are learning.
3. Students want to feel known and cared for.
How might students feel valued when they see a bulletin board dedicated to showcasing their work? How might they feel included when they see book covers representing diverse cultures, backgrounds, and interests? How might they feel cared for when they see a personalized welcome note and special pencil at their spot on the first day? These seemingly little details speak volumes to children about how important and valued they are.
4. The elevation of the non-English language must always be a planning priority.
Is it obvious that Spanish is the language of your classroom? First, take a look at the bookshelves. Are all the books in Spanish only? If you need an English bookshelf, place it in a separate location from the Spanish books and keep it covered unless it is English time. Second, consider the precious real estate of those walls again. While you do want to leave them open to become student-resources, there are small things you can add to elevate Spanish visually:
- Post a small sign on your door that is a friendly reminder to students, parents, and colleagues alike that they are entering a Zona de español.
- Make it a habit to hang illustrated dichos or a clever Spanish pun/idiomatic expression. Teachers who serve students in add.a.lingua partner programs have access to an abundance of these as part of the add.a.lingua frameworks!
- Display a couple examples of realia from your country of origin or other countries you’ve visited.
5. Students and their learning are important.
Picture a place where important things happen and important people spend time. Those places look nice, don’t they? Curating the aesthetic of our classrooms sends the message to students that they are important and their learning is important. A nice appearance isn’t about how new a building is or how fancy our materials are. It’s all about presentation. Check that materials are well-organized and labeled. Choose calming, coordinating colors to decorate. Trim the bulletin board paper to fit and ensure the border is in place. Keep surfaces wiped down and the floor picked up. You get the idea!
Whether we are naturally free-form or organized people, the classroom environment we create for our students communicates what we value and believe about teaching and learning. So before you start setting up your classroom, take a moment to reflect: What messages do I want to send my students about what’s important to me this year? How might I design my classroom to communicate that?
And then, start moving the desks.