I enjoyed my first day at the Illinois Reading Council Conference. I planned out my day the night before, but I had no clue how intense and exciting the day would be. I attended four different workshops: one on teaching reading as a new teacher (pretty dull; all presenters did was read from the PowerPoint) and one on Guided Reading (which was actually pretty practical). The highlight of my day was the afternoon because it was a DEBBIE DILLER afternoon! I attended another workshop during her first morning session, but I made sure to go to the first one after lunch. The workshop was Spaces and Places, based on her most recent book about organizing the classroom for effective learning. My student teaching program provided me with an opportunity to set up the classroom at the beginning of the year, so it was nice to have some working knowledge of classroom arrangements.
One of the most interesting pieces of advice that I plan to use in my classroom is the importance of setting up specific places in the room in a specific order: whole group, small group, classroom library, writing station, word wall and other stations, classroom math corner, and portable work stations (in that order). The absolutely last things she said teachers should organize are student and teacher desks. Diller believes that desks are not the optimal learning space for students and should be used primarily for independent practice work, not for whole-class, small group teaching experiences. She also said that the “teacher desk” is a magnet for “visual noise” (clutter). The teacher desk should not take the prime position in the classroom.
I always thought it was best to get the students’ desks situated first. However, after hearing Diller speak, I am thinking more about my use of desks and the message that sends to my students about learning. My students do spend the majority of their time at their desks, restricted from natural, fluid interactions with their peers. When I have my own classroom, I want to create an environment of collaborative learning and one that values the knowledge and experiences of each student. I would love to see in my classroom the whole-group learning space on the carpet, where students can be closer, feel more connected and more engaged in the learning experience. This does not happen in the classroom that I am in now, but Debbie Diller has given me a vision and a plan to put it into action.