Spaces & Places: Designing Classrooms for Literacy
Publication Type:Web Article
Year of Publication:2008
Debbie Diller has created an “incredible new resource” with her new book Spaces & Places, says reviewer Gail Ritchie, a K-6 school-based instructional coach. Using before-and-after photos and simple step-by-step instructions, Diller helps teachers de-clutter and organize classroom spaces in which every inch is being utilized thoughtfully. The goal is to create a purposeful, inviting literacy-rich classroom in just about any circumstances.
Spaces & Places: Designing Classrooms for Literacy
2008 (240 pp./softcover)
Reviewed by Gail V. Ritchie, NBCT, PhD
School-based Curriculum Leader
Fairfax County, Virginia
I have found an incredible new resource for my work as an Instructional Coach for grades K-6. Spaces & Places by Debbie Diller has created a visual companion to her ground-breaking books, Literacy Work Stations and Practice with Purpose. Using before-and-after photos and simple step-by-step instructions, Diller helps all of us de-clutter and organize classroom spaces in which “every inch is being utilized thoughtfully” (p.1).
Emphasizing the connection between the classroom space and student behavior, Diller helps teachers restructure their classrooms by considering such things as:
• What to keep and what to get rid of (her motto: “When in doubt, throw it out” (p. 168),
• Accessible materials,
• Placement and provisioning of work stations,
• Encouraging student independence,
• Involving students in decision-making so that they feel like they’re part of the learning,
• Traffic patterns,
• Furniture arrangement and down-sizing the amount of furniture,
• Double-duty use of furniture, and
• Packing up at the end of the year.
The book is organized into five chapters and a resource section. Each chapter has a step-by-step process to follow and numerous photographs of what a purposeful, inviting literacy-rich classroom can look like. The photos are from many different settings, including open classrooms and portable classrooms. The resource section includes a “Where to Find It” section, providing information about where the space-saving organizers and materials can be purchased. It also includes planning forms, checklists, and ideas for professional development with a book study of Spaces & Places.
Chapter 1 focuses on the importance of planning your space before school begins. This involves four steps:
1. Think about the teaching you plan to do within the space.
2. Think about what your ideal classroom would look like.
3. Assess your space for #1 and #2.
4. Make a map of the classroom arrangement that will allow you to do #1 and #2.
Chapter 2 focuses on actually arranging the classroom in a way that saves time and maximizes space. The steps involved here are:
1. Set up the whole group area and “big stuff.”
2. Set up the small group teaching area(s).
3. Set up the classroom library.
4. Set up the Word Wall.
5. Set up work stations around the perimeter of the room.
6. Set up the computer area.
7. Set up student desks/tables.
8. Set up the teacher desk (if you absolutely must have one) last.
Chapter 3 focuses on arranging the stations that are essential for the kind of classroom advocated in Literacy Work Stations and Practice with Purpose. For each station, there are three questions you should ask yourself:
1. What is the purpose of this space?
2. How does it link to instruction?
3. What materials will we need here?
Chapter 4 focuses on what should be displayed on your classroom walls, and what to do about displays if you don’t have walls. The steps are:
1. Think about the message you want to convey. What you display shows what you value.
2. Plan which space(s) you’ll use for what purpose.
3. Plan display spaces.
4. Create the spaces as you teach the material, leaving room for student work and minimizing “teacher store” commercially-produced materials.
5. Change the displays as the year goes on to reflect what you and your students have learned and are focusing on.
Chapter 5 provides numerous helpful hints for organizing your teaching materials for end-of-year pack-up and/or moving to a new classroom space. Diller reminds teachers to keep teaching up until the very last day. On the last day of school, invite students to help you take things down and put them away. After students depart, empty one space at a time, packing the materials in clearly labeled boxes/bins/crates. Before packing anything, ask yourself, “Should I keep this?” For teachers who are moving to a new classroom, Diller recommends:
1. Make a plan.
2. Take photos of the spaces you like and want to recreate.
3. Gather storage materials.
4. Put photos and labels on each box.
5. On the last day of school, invite students to help you take things down and put them in the labeled boxes.
6. Pack, place materials by the door, ready to be moved to your new location.
And that’s all there is to it! Spaces and Places is a quick read that teachers can use as a guidepost before school starts so that they can begin the year with an inviting and purposeful classroom space. Then during the year, when clutter starts to build up, one glance inside Diller’s book will motivate and inspire teachers to once again strive to make their rooms look like the “after” photos, and the step-by-step procedures will provide the easy-to-follow guidelines for doing just that.