New furniture in ELA classroom supports curriculum
There is a buzz at Port Chester High School, and Room 132 is drawing a lot of interest from faculty and staff.
A peek into the room shows a typical classroom: whiteboard, bulletin board, shelves filled with books. The difference, however, is the desks that students use.
Gone are the hard attached table-and-seat desks arranged in neat rows. In their place are desks with kidney-shaped tables and chairs that can be moved. A large table is set up in the back of the room too.
Students now sit in clusters of two, three and four.
“I love it,” English Language Arts teacher Stephanie Watts said. She uses the shared classroom throughout the day.
The students were really excited, she said, when they returned to school following Regents exam week and found their classroom rearranged.
“They feel they have a say in it,” Ms. Watts said. “It brings a different motivation.”
The new desks and tables support a district initiative.
“Our environment is now collaborative,” Diantha Barone, 6-12 ELA supervisor, said.
When collaborating with Math and Science Supervisor Michael Ritacco, Ms. Barone said they created a Venn diagram of what is important for classrooms. In one circle is what teachers are teaching, the second circle is how teachers are teaching, or the pedagogy, and the third circle is the where teachers are teaching. In the center of all of this, Ms. Barone said, is the ELA writers workshop initiative adopted by English teachers.
“The writing workshop is the structure in which writing instruction is happening,” Ms. Barone explained. “There are different dynamics that go into a writing workshop lesson.”
For example, teachers may use a combination of mini-lessons, time for student writing and conferences with the teacher or peers during a class.
“It’s doing away with ‘Do you know this?’ and more of ‘Show me what you know,’” Ms. Barone continued.
The furniture supports the initiative by creating an environment conducive to student learning and more opportunities for students to collaborate with one another.
“We really focused on what we wanted out of our classroom, which is collaboration. We needed an environment to do that,” Ms. Barone said.
The ELA department received a grant from the Tamarack Foundation and some funds from the district for the furniture.
“We really want to make sure we are providing our students with opportunities to have hands-on learning by providing them an ELA classroom to instill our students with 21st century skills, like critical thinking,” Ms. Barone said.
The new arrangement allows for students to work together and for students and teachers to meet in small groups to discuss material.
“The traditional classroom setup can only take you so far,” Ms. Watts said. “It was a want we always had. You can’t do that with traditional rows.”
In her classes Ms. Watts said she regularly sits with students to discuss what it is they want to learn, and these discussions are now easier because of the change in furniture style.
“It’s definitely more collaborative with them working with each other,” Ms. Watts said.
Not only have students responded positively to the new furniture, but Ms. Watts said her teaching is transitioning too.
“We are just really happy to have this opportunity,” she continued.