As a literacy specialist, my goal is to create a classroom environment where my students can be immersed in literacy experiences. When students walk through the classroom door I want the atmosphere to entice them to explore the elements of reading, writing, listening, and speaking.
From the anchor charts I hang, to the genre posters in my classroom library, I always ask myself whether the decor element facilitates language and literacy opportunities.
It wasn’t until I started implementing elements of a 21st century classroom that my classroom became the literacy-rich environment I always dreamed of...
It has taken me several years to perfect a classroom environment that I feel supports engagement with text in the form of reading, writing, listening, and speaking. It wasn’t until I started implementing elements of a 21st century classroom that my classroom became the literacy-rich environment I always dreamed of creating for my students.
So, what is a 21st century classroom?
As technology has advanced and become an integral part of students’ every day lives, educators have had to reevaluate curriculum and the conventional classroom model. Teachers can no longer teach 21st century kids in classrooms designed for an era of students in which the Internet, tablets, smart phones, live streaming, 3D printers, etc. weren’t available.
When the educational practices of the traditional classroom became less effective, teachers started implementing strategies that ensure 21st century students get the instruction and support they need to be successful. In order to support these instructional strategies, the classroom structure and environment had to undergo a transformation.
The 21st century classroom structure aims to create a productive environment in which teachers are facilitators of learning and students can develop the necessary skills to be successful in the workplace.
Essentially, the 21st century classroom encourages teachers to try new things, and work with students to find where learning is most comfortable for them to succeed.
Personally, I think the key to having a successful 21st century classroom is being flexible. The flexibility in a literacy rich 21st century classroom is intended to increase student productivity, and encourage collaboration and communication.
The layout of your classroom should be adaptable and easily changeable based on what the students are working on.
The days of desks in rows—or even having desks in the classroom at all—are long gone. Most diagrams of 21st century classrooms include tables rather than desks. High tables, low tables, round and square tables—a variety is preferable. Arrangement of desks or tables should promote collaboration!
Ideally, the various arranged workspaces would support students whether they are working in small groups, pairs, or individually.
Now, if you are like me, you like everything to coordinate—so how is that possible with an assortment of mismatched tables? The solution is simple: tables can be purchased at garage sales and spray painted to match or you can tie everything together using your seating.
Another aspect of the adaptable classroom layout is a designated space in the classroom where students can gather for mini lessons, read alouds, and group discussions. This space is separate from their workspaces and should reflect that in its design. Laying down an area rug is a great way to establish the meeting area!
Flexible seating gives students a choice of where to sit and what they will sit on. The 21st century classroom promotes students being able to act on their natural instincts to move their bodies and sit on variety of seating options when they feel the need.
Children naturally get very creative when it comes to where they sit and how they sprawl their bodies! If you’re a parent you know exactly what I mean! At home it’s not uncommon for me to find one child laying on the coffee table reading a book and another child quietly coloring under the kitchen table.
When you take note of how children instinctively move their bodies and then compare that to the amount of hours they spend at school it’s easy to see where the traditional classroom always missed the mark. A classroom where hard chairs and desks are the only places for students to work, has never been conducive with effective instruction and learning.
Stools and chairs painted to match your tables are an easy, visually appealing option. Large pillows, couches, and bean-bags in a color scheme similar to the tables will bring your classroom to life. Yoga balls used for seating are a huge hit with kids, too.
Remember, you don’t need to incorporate all seating options at once. Do it over a period of time! If you are worried about the cost of creating a classroom like this, visit Goodwill, the Salvation Army or, as I mentioned above, garage sales in order to get a good deal. You can also ask your personal family, friends, and neighbors for donations.
Get rid of your desk!
Teacher desks take up a tremendous amount of space in a classroom. Instead, try to consolidate your supply storage on a small rolling cart. Use a kidney- or U-shaped table as your desk. This table has multiple purposes, serving not only as your desk, but also as a place to teach, meet with students, or where students can collaborate.
You may also want to have a small bookcase behind the table for additional teaching materials; however, this is the time to consolidate. Remember, 21st century classrooms tend to use a minimalist approach to design. No clutter!
Classroom materials should be easily accessible to students.
Rather than storing math manipulatives or dry erase boards in hard-to-reach cabinets, put them where students can reach them.
If you have decided to use tables rather than desks, you will also need to have an area for student supplies (pencils, markers, crayons, paper, scissors, glue, and so on). I prefer having community supplies instead of independent pencil boxes, but you need to decide what will work best for you. My students each have a book bin where they keep their reading books and a binder.
Organization of materials is a personal preference and will depend on the size of your classroom, and its storage options.
Make technology available to students!
Students should have access to class computers, laptops, iPads, and/or Chrome books. Students are accustomed to using devices starting at a very early age and having information right at their fingertips.
The usefulness of technology and ways to incorporate it into your classroom could take up a blog post (or several posts) in itself. In short, technological devices support instruction, digital literacy, and are a vehicle for students to research their interests.
Of course, it is important to set up monitoring systems and strict guidelines that will keep your students safe (these guidelines will depend on your district policies).
A literacy-rich classroom gives students access not only to digital literacy, but also to library that includes a wide variety of books at various levels and incorporates many genres.
A classroom library should be organized so students are able to use it independently. Books are kept in leveled bins/baskets with only one level in each basket. It is important to have books at EVERY student’s reading level. I like to organize my non-leveled books by genre, theme, featured author, and mentor texts. All bookshelves should be at a kid-friendly height and the area should be inviting.
A literacy-rich classroom also means there are “anchor charts” hanging around the classroom for students to reference. An “anchor chart” includes strategies or information pertinent to what the children are studying. Often, this chart is made ahead of time and added to during a mini-lesson. There can be multiple “anchor charts” hanging in a classroom for students to use as a guide.
A 21st century classroom is not decorated with a variety of pre-made, ready-to-hang posters. Any print items hung in the classroom should be meaningful and should clearly support learning.
A 21st century classroom design has several key elements including adaptable layout, flexible seating, a small teacher work area, materials that are easily accessible to students, available technology and is literacy-rich.
I promise, you can create a 21st century classroom that will make colleagues envious of your learning space and students desperate to be on your class roster.