Classroom Library (Summer Project #5)

The next Summer Project I'll be working on is a cosmetic upgrade in my classroom library.  At the end of last year I was feeling really proud of my bookshelves, and at the end of the day, they do work!  They look all right, the kids can find things to read and they can find where to put them back when they're done. But here we are at the end of this year revisiting them.  Like I said before, there's always room for improvement!

What works:
  1. Those new book bin labels are beautiful and they held up just fine!  I don't want to change them at all unless it's to add to them (the kids will decide that when they organize the books at the start of the year).
  2. The location.  With closets and a sink on the right wall, window shelves on the left wall, and whiteboards in the front, the back is the only logical place for our library.
  3. The basic system.  I mainly have fiction on the left and nonfiction on the right. 
  4. Having the kids fine tune the organization the first week.  I offer loads of guidance, but the bottom line is I still feel it's important for the kids to get to know our library that first week, and the best way to do it is to dig, sift, and sort through those books.
  5. I think I'll keep the leveled readers where they are on the adjacent wall on the window shelf.  They just "felt" right there at the lower level, near our reading group area even though it's over the math area instead of on top of the library.  There's also the added bonus that kids don't get confused and take them for independent reading. 

What doesn't work:
  1. There are too many different colors of bins here.  I want a more cohesive look.  Since I'm taking the shoeboxes from the book shelves to use on the math manipulatives shelf, it's time to decide what style is staying, and what goes.  The first step is to measure and the next is to think of cost.  I have more black bins than anything else, so if I can find more of those, all the better! 
  2. The white containers can then go on top to hold "special collections" like the social studies trade books.  The white will blend right into the wall anyway. 
A quick fix, except it's one of the few that will cost a little money. 
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Students' Paperwork Area (Summer Project #4)

I hope you've been enjoying my Summer Project series so far!  I've been looking at different areas of my classroom, photographing the "before" and analyzing what is and isn't working before diving into improvements.  We're halfway through the series already!  This week I'm focusing in on the "Kids' Paperwork Table."  This should be an easy one.

What works:
  1. This space mostly works!  Once again, I'm giving you a true look at this table at its worst; the week before school got out.  And other than a few stray items and a bunched up tablecloth, it's very functional.
  2. The Morning Meeting Kit has changed our mornings.  Seriously.  (Link brings you to a previous blog post).
  3. The extra worksheets bin is great for kids who lose papers and need to start again.
  4. The "Finished Early Tasks" system is usually introduced around January, once the kids have settled into our first round of routines and are ready for extra responsibilities because they're growing up.
  5. The polka dotted table cloth from Target was the inspiration for my classroom color palette (link brings you to a previous blog post).  Well, actually the existing furniture and paint job were the inspiration for my classroom color palette; this piece just tied it all together into hues that are attractive together.  Love it; it's a keeper.  I just recently created a whole bundle of items in this color scheme available for purchase (some old favorites, some new to me this coming year). 
What I want to fix:
1.      Not much!  The job chart task strips will get an update in order to match my colors.  Adding the printing and laminating to my Back to School to Do list (free for you to download and editable).   
2.      The extra worksheets bin will get a coordinating label as well.
3.      I wish I could think of a way to make the kid's "Share Items" look like a neater display, but I'm at a loss. 
4.      The addition of student "mailboxes."  I am SO excited about this idea.  I'm not proud of it, but I'm kind of bad about handing out notices and the like.  When we get back from lunch I'm usually balancing getting the kids settled into, you know, working, or else dealing with a social issue that started at recess.  The stack goes into my "pass back bin" and I forget to get them out to the kids.  By the time I remember I think, "Now's not a good time; they're in the middle of something; I don't want the notice on their desks/I don't want to stop them and remind them to get these into their folders."  Eight years ago when I taught third grade we had mailboxes.  But they didn't hold up well and they were expensive.  A fellow blogger let me know that the do it yourself cereal box ones on Pinterest are NOT durable enough for a year.  I don' t have a great space in the room for them (I'm scared of them falling on top of someone).  So instead, I'm planning on setting up this style "mailbox" for my class (link brings you to Pinterest)!  Genius!  It can go right behind the extra worksheets bin.  I can arrange the folders into hanging folders by group.  Then early finishers can put 4 papers into each group folder, and one person from each group can get the hanging files at the end of the day for their group! 

Can it be to good to be true?  Time will tell! 
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Rules, Consequences and Rewards Area (Summer Project #3)

This is the third installment of my Summer Projects to do list!  The next section of my classroom that I decided to examine and update is the "Rules, Consequences and Rewards" area.

 What works:

  1. The content says what I want it to say.
  2. The kids love their "Gingerbread men."
  3. Not so much "what works" but "what is required to stay the same" is the Kelso anti-bullying poster.  I'm allowed to move it of course, but I can't take it down and create my own.
 What I need to fix:

  1.   *Cringe*  I am keeping it real with these photos!  So ugly!
  2. Okay, seriously.  Those manilla posters have got to go.  If I only redo two posters this year, I am redoing those.  On white.  With doodle borders.  I'm thinking of typing them up and doing a more vertical list like the cute ribbon projects I've seen on Pinterest, just with the content I need.
  3. Kelso kept falling down all year, but it's finally been secured thanks to a top border of Duck Tape.  I'm thinking I just need to move it to the far left to make room, continue the border all the way around it, then fit my vertical project on the right.  It's going to require measuring, I but I'm sure I can do this.
  4. The calendar math countdown underwent an improvement this year, (link brings you to a previous blog post) but is by no means perfect.  I don't love that it stretches all the way to the door there.  I just don't know what else to DO with this thing.  It can't be made smaller; those little pieces came with our math kit and I'm not redoing them all just so they can each be 1/4 inch smaller.  I can't think of another wall to put it on because they are all covered in shelves or closets.  I can't raise it up higher or the kids can't reach it.  I'm kind of stuck!!  It's very low to the floor, (about 2 feet up, so it's under the front whiteboards) so I might just have to keep it the same (then again, being that low, it's not very visable). 
  5. I'm rethinking the stoplight behavior management system.  I love it for many reasons (I made it myself out of felt, durable wooden figures, and Velcro).  I file down the little guys every year to repaint black and then carefully handwrite my new students' names in white paint on the head of a pin.  It's just one of those rituals that I love to do because it feels more personal.  However I do always feel a little guilty putting that first kid of the year in "red."  I give a verbal warning and reminder of the rule that they break again before I do it, but still.  Those 5 step charts I've seen on Pinterest are so much gentler and positive sounding.  The music teacher in my school uses one, so the kids are familiar with it.  The numbers on clothespins instead of names would be less humiliating.  I dunno, I'm kind of torn!  Anyone have an opinion?

Oh, and one more piece to this area.  We created these posters for our classroom rules (link brings you to a previous blog post) this year.  It was a great lesson that's evolved over time, one that now requires them to sort and reorder sentence strips.  The result was a whole window-shade beside my desk that has been taken up by rules.  I don't mind the space, but it's NOT attractive.  I'll need to think of a prettier way to frame these sentence strips once the kids finish with their end of the project.  This may involve some combination of colorful poster board, commercial bulletin board borders or Duck Tape.

Like most teachers, I spend so much time on classroom rules at the beginning of the year (and throughout the year!)  There's no excuse; this area of my classroom needs attention so my kiddos can tell the importance of it.
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Organizing the Math Manipulatives Shelf: Summer Project Series Kickoff!

Is it just me, or is it a lot harder to think of things to write about on a blog for school when school isn't in session?  It's cruel; we've got all this time, but no kiddos to keep us on our toes.

Well, after some thought and lots of Pinterest browsing, inspiration struck.  Pictures of other people's classrooms have given me so many great ideas this year.  So maybe pictures of MY classroom could give me ideas this summer!  I don't mean pictures of my classroom perfectly staged, like it feels at the beginning of the school year.  I mean pictures of the "decay" that eats away at my classroom for 175 days while being inhabited by a couple dozen children.  What does my classroom look like when it's been used?  What are the areas that stick out like a sore thumb?  Because if I can hone in on those, I can really figure out what I need to do to make the organization more efficient.  And since I have the whole summer to do it, I might as well do it with style.

So for the next 6 weeks I'm running a "Summer Project Series."  Think of these as the "before" pictures, all of them taken right before the end of the year packing and organizing began.  I'll go over what worked in each space, what problems I plan to fix, and if I get stuck I'll ask for suggestions on how to solve those issues.  Then at the end of the summer I'll take some "after" photos.

The first area I zeroed in on when flicking through my camera roll was my Manipulatives Shelf.  Be warned.  These pictures are not pretty.

What works:
  1. I just created those fun "curtains" in my classroom colors to hide half of the stuff.  I made sure that the items we use the most are on the open shelving in the middle, and the items we're not currently using are under the fabric.
  2. All the items are grouped together according to the units they are needed for.
  3. A year after I "inherited" all these treasures and the various containers that housed them, I got rid of a few and got several plastic shoeboxes to replace them.
  4. That same year I made labels for just about every box on the shelf (that coordinates with the Measureworks labels on some of our kits).
What I plan to fix:
  1. That Fluff container has got to go.  But why stop there?  I feel like I'm ready to splurge and get rid of all the miscellaneous shapes and sizes and invest in uniform containers.  Maybe not every single item will fit, but most of it will, I'm sure.  I have a few shoeboxes in other areas of the room that I'll swap out.
  2. Update the labels.  I've been working on some labels to match my classroom color scheme.  Getting new containers is a good excuse to swap those out too. 
These will be small cosmetic changes but hopefully they will project a nicer image.  Examining this shelf also sparked a lot of ideas regarding changes to other shelves, since I'll be swapping out those Sterilite containers.  So if you're interested in classroom organization and decor, stay tuned!  Or if you have ideas for my shelves here, answer in the comments below.
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Teacher's Bulletin Area (Summer Project #2)

The second installment in my "Summer Project" list is the "Teacher's Bulletin Area."

You know, that spot behind your desk where your schedules and meeting calendar dates go so they never get lost on your desk.  This space is pretty functional, and by nature I don't think it will ever be attractive.  Plus, since it's the only real bulletin board I have (other than 3 closet doors) I have to share my own organizational needs with the job chart board.  On the other hand, I think that there are measures I can take to improve this area for next year.

Here's what works:
  1. The job chart planets were new last year (I just started selling them on Teachers Pay Teachers), and I like how they go with the Trend stars I get every year for the kids' names.  I feel like stars will never go out of fashion, so I'll stick with them!
  2. The sparkly gold letters do not fade.  They've been there for nearly a decade and still going strong.
  3. The shower curtain matches my classroom theme, doesn't fade, and is very durable.  It's a keeper.
  4. The paperwork on top of the filing cabinet has been a REAL success this year.  I might want to create a "cover page" at the very front to hide it a little, but it's been too functional to ditch, even if it's a little cluttered looking.
Here's what I plan to change:
  1. I feel like it's time for an update, in the borders department, even though the planets fit with the job area.  I'd like to have a more cohesive look with the borders in my classroom.  I may have enough Trend rainbow stars, but I'm really in love with some of the more modern colors to tie in more strongly with my lime green and teal theme that I just recently started selling on Teachers Pay Teachers.  I made a Pinterest board JUST for my border loves!  Anyone willing to weigh in below in the comment section?
  2. I suppose I could divide this section in two by using borders to create a dividing line.
  3. I would love, love LOVE to update my filing cabinet!  Although the front is cute, with a fabric cover, border and magnets, the first thing you see when you come in the classroom door is the grey drawers.  If the thing was just somewhere else in the room I wouldn't mind, but it's so conspicuous.  And since I can't foresee reorganizing my classroom layout this year, I am thinking of painting.  I'm sure you've seen the Pins on how filing cabinets can be turned into the highlight of a room, but I'm very afraid of my effort turning into a peeling mess.  *so nervous*
  4. Finally, I'm just going to have to promise to really think about what paper work MUST go up there, and which can be tucked into a binder.  It's gotten better over the years, but it's still not pretty.  I might even want to invest in a prettier calendar (or cover the advertisement) since that one is so conspicuous.  
This is a taller order, and purely cosmetic!  None of this is going to help my fourth graders next year in any way, so if I have to let a project go, you know it's going to be that filing cabinet.  We'll see how things go this summer.

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Upgrade: Kids' Materials Shelf (Summer Project #1)

Hooray for summer!  Time for us teachers to have fun and get ready for next school year!

The question do we balance those two things?

Well, like most teachers I've become pretty enamored with scrolling through Pinterest in order to get excited about how to improve my teaching.  So it got me thinking.  If all the eye candy in the form of other teachers' photos help us to see exactly what we want our room to be, theoretically, having photos of what the reality of my classroom is could help me to objectively determine what should be fixed!   

It can be difficult to be objective about how a space looks when you live there.  Areas of a room are all in context.  Photos help frame out areas, making them more manageable when it comes to creating dedicated sections. 

Plus, like most teachers, I had to pack up my room for the custodians to work their magic.  I didn't have the luxury of spending loads of quality time in the aftermath the kids left.  Therefore, a week before school got out and the visible organizing and packing began, I took a series of...let's call them "before" pictures.  Warning:  these will not be cute.  These are "lived in" pictures that accumulate junk and have slowly eroded into non-photogenic catch-all spots.  These are the spaces I want to change. 

So for the next 6 weeks here on Shut the Door and Teach, although there's no teaching going on, the door has been shut, so that the "reconstruction" can begin.  A few new storage solutions will be purchased, new labels will be created, printed, laminated, and adhered, and a few wall displays may get a relocation and/or makeover.  But it will all be at a relaxed pace so that I can balance some quality time with my family and local beach.  :D  

I have ideas for many of these projects, and I'm in need of your suggestions for others.  I'll go back at the end of the summer to update each post with "after" photos.  I hope you enjoy this series; if so I'll do it again next summer.  There's always room for improvement after all!

Summer Project #1:  Kids' Materials Shelf

This area has gotten SO much better over the years, I have to say.  Things that work in this space are:

  1. Maybe I'm not being objective, but I think at a glance, you can see where nearly 75% of everything is right away.
  2. Everything is at the correct "level."  The smaller materials (like paper clips and sticky notes) are at the top at eye level.  Commonly used paper is just below that because it's the most commonly used item; easily within reach. 
  3. The little crayon/marker/scissors crates are pretty, durable, and match my classroom color palette.  Keeping those!
  4. The paper trays separating the construction paper works.
  5. That round mini-trash has helped TREMENDOUSLY in the way of stopping kids from being too lazy to through out wrappers and junk when getting things from the shelf. 
Things I plan to change:
  1. I want more of those colorful little crates.  I really hope Staples still carries them.  I just need 2; one for glue bottles and one for glue sticks.  That would free up that Sterilite shoebox, which I need for another project later on.
  2. Labels, labels, labels.  I used to think my kids were too old to need every little thing labeled, but now I'm wondering if it might help a few take more pride in keeping this space organized.  I'll create for that little wooden box: masking tape, paper clips, black Sharpies, staples, sticky notes, index cards and erasers.  I need 5 crayons labels, highlighters, scissors, glue bottles and glue sticks for the little crates.  I'll also need something for the new staplers, hole punchers and rulers compartments.
  3. More letter trays.  I think if I could get the tape dispensers, staplers, and hole punchers and rulers stacked vertically, it might keep them from getting placed just anywhere.  It might also be more convenient when distributing them to groups; one person can just bring the tray around.
  4. Possible Duck Tape application.  I'm nervous about what it looks like after a year of wear and tear, but I think I can justify it on this shelf because the kids and I have gotten splinters from it.  I'll just mask the lip of each shelf to give it a touch of color and finger protection.  I may also give the "mini trash" a stripe or 3, and I'll have to think about those WB Mason boxes that contain the 11x17 papers.  Unless there are letter trays that exist in that size.
Questions for you all:
I'm considering a more drastic plan, and I'd love for you to weigh in.  I thought about buying a large bin for each group, and putting all the materials they need into it, instead of this more "communal" system.  Does anyone do this and like it?  What is the key to your success?  I worry about the fact that I switch up my groups each month; they might not feel the same sense of ownership.

That should do it!  Sounds manageable, I'll just add each component to my Back to School toDo List.  It's a free, editable list that you can get from my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  I update it a little each year and it really keeps me from spinning around like a top between all the printing, laminating and shopping (better to take 1 day to do each one of those things than do all 3 for each project each day)! 

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