It’s no secret that a well-organized classroom benefits our students. A welcoming and structured classroom sets the stage to create a positive and safe learning environment.
As teachers, we need to focus on how to maximize the learning in our classroom while minimizing the behavior problems (because let’s face it, that’s a win-win for everyone!)
For me, there are 3 fundamental things to consider when organizing my classroom – classroom arrangement, seating charts, & grade book.
Classroom arrangement is something that often isn’t given much thought but it can have a huge impact on student learning in your classroom. Obviously the options for arrangement are different for every teacher.
Some have individual student desks, some have longer tables, and some even have permanent lab station tables that can’t be moved.
Over the years, I’ve experienced all of these and have had to come up with what worked best for me based on what I was given that year. Luckily, I’ve mostly had desks and tables that I can move freely around my room.
And boy did I move them.
I felt like my first few years of arranging my classroom was like playing a game of Tetris. How could I arrange everything to ensure that my students wouldn’t get distracted and could then soak up all of my fascinating science knowledge.
I’ve tried them all – individual seats, vertical rows, horizontal rows, semi-circles, pairs, and groups.
Now I know all teachers have their own personal beliefs on how their classroom should be arranged. I guess I’m no exception to this either since I personally (and strongly) believe that groups are the absolute way to go.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that early in my teaching career I dismantled groups now and then and went back to rows due to behavior problems in certain classes. But over time I found that those particular behavior problems didn’t go away just because I changed the arrangement and they were more of a reflection of my classroom management skills at the time.
I truly believe that science is a collaborative field of study and that idea should carry over into our classrooms as well.
For me, I’ve found that arranging my classroom into groups of 4 works best. I make sure to angle my tables so that every seat has a clear view to the front of the room (which admittedly can be tricky at times). Basically, I want to ensure that I have eye contact with every single one of my students.
Arranging in groups also creates open pathways in my classroom which gives me quick and easy access to my students. Group arrangement also lends itself to easier lab set ups, station rotation activities, and less needed supplies (yay!)
I know that many teachers shy away from groups because they feel it promotes off-task student talking. And sure, sometimes it does. But this is where I make sure to set up those expectations with my students early in the year.
I WANT them to talk…when it’s appropriate.
I’ve found that my students are actually more active and productive in an activity when they can work in a group together. They tend to keep each other accountable which in turn keeps them more focused on what they’re learning. That’s a win in my book any day.
Now just when I’ve finished patting myself on the back for my awesome classroom arrangement, the panic hits me. I still need to make a seating chart. Ugh.
If I were writing on the top 5 things I dread most about teaching, making a seating chart would definitely be on the list. It always feels like I’m working on a long and complicated formula that has no possible correct answer.
And just like my classroom arrangements, I’ve tried all different methods – alphabetical by last name, alphabetical by first name, boy-girl, random seats as they came in, or even no seating charts at all (this free for all usually ended in disaster though).
But I know that although creating seating charts are a nightmare for me, they are extremely important for a well-organized classroom.
I like to start with a blank template of the classroom arrangement for my room.
In middle school, we have multiple class periods throughout the day so I print a different template for each period.
I then use small sticky note tabs to write each student’s name. This is a giant pain initially, but it saves me time in the long run.
I can then place each tab down on the seating chart and it’s easy to move around until it’s as good as it’s going to get (because let’s face it, it will never be perfect.)
I like to keep each chart in a sheet protector within a folder or binder so the tags stay in place. This is also a great tool for substitutes in your classroom. They can quickly take attendance and it prevents students from “accidentally” sitting in the wrong seat next to their best friend. It’s also helpful for them when leaving notes about your students – both positive and negative.
So, seating charts – done!
Now this is where I’m tempted to leave well enough alone and never change the seats again. But the reality is that kids need to change seats in the classroom.
Students need to have the opportunity to work and learn with different people, even if they don’t always want to.
That’s life. That’s the real world that we should be preparing them for.
I always tell my students that it’s amazing what they can learn from other people when given the chance.
I change my seating charts every grading period, which is about every 6 weeks in my school district. I’ve found that it’s a good amount of time to work as table groups and it prevents students from being stuck in the front or back of the room for too long.
When the time comes to switch seats, I just move my sticky notes around and display the new seating chart under my document camera. The seats are numbered on my template so it’s easy for students to find their numbered seat in the classroom.
If you don’t have a document camera, you can just tell them their new seat number as they come in. Of course, sometimes small adjustments need to be made but with the sticky notes, it’s an easy fix.
So now I’m all set…until the next grading period.
So the last important piece of my well-organized classroom puzzle is my grade book.
For many of you, hard copy grade books used to be the norm because, well, they were the only option.
Now everything is high tech and digital. Online grade books automatically calculate averages for you and even parents can view grades online at home.
Although hard copy grade books are thought of as ancient practice by newer teachers, I still feel they are a necessity. I love technology as much as the next person, but technology doesn’t always seem to return the feeling.
If your school technology is similar to mine, then you’ve probably experienced the random computer failures and loss of internet connection from time to time.
Hard copy grade books are a life saver for me. It’s a perfect backup system for when my computer doesn’t feel like cooperating and I actually tend to reference it way more than my online one because it’s always accessible.
I like to print a roster for each of my class periods to use as my hard copy.
Our district system allows us to add blank columns to the rosters which are perfect for recording grades. I just label the column with the date and name of the assignment and I’m ready to record.
In middle school, our grading scales are different based on the category of the assignment. For example, major grades count more than assessment/lab grades, which count more than daily grades.
So to make it easier for me to find specific assignments, I like to highlight the major and assessment grades in different colors. It helps them stand out when I’m looking at an overwhelming number of grades on the same sheet.
Each grading period, I like to print new rosters on a different colored sheet of paper. That way I can keep the old grading sheets to the back for reference and I don’t mix them up because each grading period gets its own color. It’s also helpful when tracking student growth in my class. I can take out the previous grading periods to monitor any trends or academic changes.
Hard copy grade sheets are also great for quick reference when discussing assignments with students that they have (or have not) turned in.
Our district’s redo/retake policy allows students to earn points back on a certain number of failing grades. Hard copy grade sheets allow me to keep a record of a student’s original score, even though it has been updated in the online system. I simply divide the box diagonally, with the original score up top and the updated score down below.
It’s a great resource when discussing grades and averages with my students (and their parents). I’ve found that hard copy grade sheets let me keep a more accurate reflection of my students’ progress and is an important tool in helping them be successful in my classroom.
I could go on and on about all of the things we can do as teachers to be well-organized. But you have to start somewhere and for me, it begins with these 3 things. Without them, the rest of my classroom organization falls short. Students need structure, and actually like it.
A well-organized classroom improves student-teacher interactions and can actually save you time throughout the year. I’ve found that it allows me and my students to work more productively and efficiently.
I’d love to hear your tips on your favorite classroom arrangements, seating chart strategies, and methods for grade books in your own classroom organization.
Comment below and let me know what works best for you!
Thanks for reading!