Whose Classroom Is It?

Photograph by Jeff Woodward.One way the Responsive Classroom approach has changed my teaching is that I have learned to think of the classroom as a space that belongs to all of us, rather than as “my” space. In practice, what that means is that while I am still in charge (I am, after all, the teacher!), I do quite a few things differently now than when I started teaching.

For instance, rather than telling students what my classroom rules are at the beginning of the year, I now lead them through a process of creating rules for our community together. I used to set up the classroom so it would look “ready” when students arrived on their first day, but now I start out with mostly blank walls and bulletin boards and let students’ work make the room come alive. I’ve also shifted to opening up areas of the classroom one-by-one and introducing materials gradually instead of having everything available at the beginning.

Although a sparsely decorated room with limited supplies is different from what many people expect to see at the beginning of the year (and I do get questions from students and parents!), I’m convinced by the benefits of this student-centered approach. Building our classroom community together in concrete and meaningful ways is deeply engaging for children, and the deliberate, step-by-step teaching I do at the beginning of the year enables them to quickly become independent and take proper care of our shared space and materials.

However, until this year, there was one classroom space that I always set up myself before school started: the class library. My rationale went like this: “It’s too much, there are so many books . . . it’s taken me years to find ways to categorize all the books . . . I want all the books to be available right away,” etc. The bottom line: I felt like that piece was too big to let go.

The turning point came when I read an article Caltha Crowe wrote a few years ago for the Responsive Classroom Newsletter, “Opening the Classroom Library.” In it, she describes her students reorganizing the library into categories that made sense to them, and what she and her students gained from doing it that way. I was intrigued, and I decided to try having my third grade students sort books and build our class library.

The results were amazing! You can read more about the process and the benefits I saw in these two blog posts: “Building Our Classroom Library” and “Our Classroom Library: Reflections.”

Susie Cook teaches third graders at Graland Country Day School, an independent preK–8 school in Denver, CO, that uses the Responsive Classroom approach schoolwide. She is a Responsive Classroom consulting teacher.

Tags: Bulletin Boards, Classroom Library, Classroom Organization, Decoration and Displays, Joyful Classrooms

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