Classroom Mid-Year Reflection

I’ve been meaning to do a mid-year reflection for a few weeks, but it has been kind of a daunting task. I reflect on my teaching and my classroom constantly, but not quite to this level. So here goes nothing!

All of the pictures in this post are of my students working on a social studies reading and answering questions. I let them choose their own ISS (International Space Station) work space (ISS is designated for small group work.) I also let them choose if they wanted to work by themselves, with a partner, or with a group. And I also let them choose with whom they wanted to work. The results were quite varied for this particular lesson. 

photo 3 (1)

Why did I go desk-less in the first place? (When I say deskless, I mean not having 25 desks. I still have a few.) Whenever I rearranged my desks in the past the thought at the forefront of my mind was to get the most floor space possible. So why not get rid of the desks all together?

photo 4photo 4 (1)Why did I want more floor space?  I wanted to create an open and flexible learning environment granting the students choices in how they learn and making them self-aware and accountable for their own learning. I also recognized that I would need to explicitly teach them to be accountable and self-aware. photo 2 (1)

Did I succeed? Well I definitely have more floor space in my classroom. That’s measurable. And my students and I have discussions daily about the choices we make and the accountability we have for our own learning. It is really hard to pinpoint one thing, like the lack of desks, and say “that is the reason my class is they way they are this year.” There are so many factors: my classroom, how I teach about my classroom, my consistency upholding my expectations, my teaching style in general, this particular mix of students, the support from this particular group of parents. I’m sure all of these things have played into how smoothly my classroom runs this year.

photo 2photo 1 (1)And the bigger questions is, What does success mean to me? How do I measure my success? If it means my students are well behaved, more so than in the past, then it has been a success. That’s only measurable by anecdotal assessment from me and other teachers in the school. If it means I  have relinquished some control of the classroom and am therefore less stressed and less running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to micromanage all my kids, then success. I am noticeably less busy and worried about school this year. (Again there are always other factors involved, like the fact that I’m now done with my masters degree.) If it means my students are learning the content better, that one is difficult to measure. Even if I compare my test scores with that of the other third grade teachers, there are more variables like teaching styles and different groups of students to take into account. I personally think they are learning well, I don’t necessarily know if it’s better though. If it means my students are more prepared for life and able to better interact with their peers, then I would say success, or at least success in progress. This is the most important one in my opinion. Because of the way my classroom is set up, we constantly discuss things like making good choices and how we are free to choose but we are not free from the consequences of our choices, self-awareness and figuring out how we learn best, thinking about how our words and actions impact other people, and learning how to set goals.

photo 3

What could be better? Even though things are going well, they can always be better. That just comes with the job of teacher. We are never totally done. So upon reflection, the days where I get the most frustrated with my students for their behavior are the days on which I am the most lax on my expectations and I start letting things slide and giving too many warnings. This is something I have always struggled with as a teacher, so while it’s better this year, I’m still working on it. I also think my integration of technology could be better. I use a lot of technology in my instruction compared to most people. I work closely with our tech director, I have my masters in instructional technology, and I teach tech PD to the teachers at my school. But I think tech has taken a back burner this year. My focus has been on the classroom. Which is fine. We can’t do everything all at once: that’s how teachers burn out so quickly. Moving forward I want to go back to stretching my abilities and trying new technologies with my students.

photo 1Overall I think this experiment has been a success, and I don’t think I want to go back to having 25 desks next year. 🙂

Thanks for reading and being curious and keeping up with the goings on in third grade 🙂



9 responses to “Classroom Mid-Year Reflection

  1. So, when you are teaching an opening what do your students look like? When they need to do paper pencil tasks, what do they look like? I’m just curious because I think its a cool idea. I just dont know how I would execute it.

    • That is an excellent question, Danielle! I describe my classroom management systems in my initial proposal that I gave to my principal and you can read the whole thing on the No Desks Proposal tab at the top of my page, but here is the info in a nutshell:
      I have some structures in place in my room that I have trained the students on. They are based off Campfires in Cyberspace. That research states that online (and in person, too) you have different learning settings.
      You have the Campfire, where one person, (ie the teacher) is talking. In my classroom I don’t call it campfire, I call it Down To Earth because my classroom is astronomy themed and on Earth is where Astronauts learn all together. So when I tell my students to come back down to earth, they know to find a place to sit/stand/lay where they can see and hear me. I use this for my openings, giving directions, and direct instruction.
      Then there is the Watering Hole. This is where people come together to collaborate. In my room I call it ISS or International Space Station, because that is a place where astronauts work together in a small group. So when I tell my kids this is an ISS activity, they know to find a group (I don’t usually assign them) and a place to sit in the room where they can work together.
      Lastly there is the Cave. This is where people go to work and think alone. In my classroom we call it a black hole. So when I tell my students to find a black hole, they know to sit somewhere that’s at least fingertips away from anyone else when they hold their arms out, and not to sit by someone that will distract them. They use black hole for tests, independent work, and silent reading.
      The students and I discuss and practice often what those structures look like, what would a good black hole spot be? Could this black hole spot also be a down to earth spot? We talk A LOT about making good choices in where you sit, by whom you sit, and with whom you work.

      Does that help, Danielle? Let me know if you need more explanation! Thanks!

      • That is super helpful! I take it that you are self contained and do not have a team teacher? I think this would be difficult to implement with a team teacher who does have desks and more structure. I love the idea though and can see the benefits. Thanks for sharing!

    • I do have a team that I work with, there are 4 third grade teachers at my school, and we actually ability group. So our students switch classes for math and language arts. I teach the high math class and the at grade level language arts. Since I’ve started doing my classroom this way my teammates have slowly started changing things about their classrooms. None of them have the students keep things in their desks. All the students’ supplies are kept in their cubbies above where they hang their backpacks. Two of my teammates have gotten rid of assigned seats and adjusted their desks so that some are lowered to the ground, some are traditional height, and some are standing height. My third teammate still has assigned seats. I thought these differences might be difficult for the students at first, but my students have proved me wrong and been very flexible. I asked my kids (in an anonymous survey) if they were worried about having to sit in a regular desk in next year in 4th grade and most of them said no because they had desks in second grade and they all go to another third grade teacher for at least one subject this year and sit in a desk.

  2. And I guess to directly answer your question, Danielle, it looks like there are kids all over my room all the time.
    It also helps that I wear a microphone and I have speakers in the ceiling so that even if a student is in a far back corner they can still hear me clearly.

  3. I love the no-desk movement but my main hold up is how would you address state testing in your classroom?

    • I have a unique circumstance in that we don’t do standardized testing in our classrooms in our school. We are a growing school so we have a few empty classrooms set up for testing. However, my students take all kinds of other tests in my room just fine. They know how to spread out for a test and use the privacy divider boards. I would probably assign them spots if we were standardized testing in my room. Not easy, but possibly doable.

  4. Pingback: The Extrovert Ideal | Adventures in Third Grade

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