The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

On Having a Work Space

I have a desk in my classroom. Lately, however, it seems that more and more teachers are choosing to “ditch the desk.” They have all sorts of reasons for doing so (usually something along the lines of the four points in the linked article that I will address below) and I firmly believe that they are well within their rights to make that decision. However, I have found that none of those reasons apply to me because I don’t use my desk as a work space during the day. As a result, it tends to get piled high with papers, books, folders, and other odds and ends. I do have a chair at that desk but it is rarely used by me. (In fact, I think that my wife spends more time sitting in that particular chair than I do!)

So where is my work space in the classroom? It is the small group table. I keep my computer there so I can easily access information when working with students, I have a water bottle within arm’s reach, and any papers or manipulatives or books I am going to be using with the students during small-group instruction are on the counter behind the table. What I don’t do is leave things scattered all over the table. Why? Because it is my work space and that means I need, well, space to, for lack of a better word, work!

I try very hard to model this for my students because I want them to make sure they have a work space, too. Their work space is usually their student desks, which are only 60 x 45 cm (approximately 24 x  18 in). For the first 12 weeks of school, I constantly found myself battling with students to get them to keep their desks neat and orderly. Many days found the desks and floor covered in papers, books, pencils, markers, tissues, and other assorted junk. I would encourage students to keep their spaces clean.

But the messes always returned.

One day I pulled up a random picture on Google Images and showed the students an elementary classroom that was clean and had them compare it to our room. They expressed awe at the clean floor, neat desks, and orderly bookshelves and dismay at the less-than-ideal appearance of our room.

But the messes still returned.

So then I took the time to clean the room by myself, lining up desks, putting away papers and books and other materials, and I took a picture of the room. I told the students that our goal was for the room to look that way at the end of every day. At day’s end, we cleaned the room and then I put up the picture again. The students saw some things that needed to be taken care of and then we compared again and they were satisfied and pleased. And so it was for a few days.

Then the messes returned.

I had parent/teacher conferences last Thursday evening. I learned that many of my most unorganised students were also unorganised at home and their parents were going crazy trying to help. So I offered an idea: we used “APPAWS” tickets in our school to reward students for different positive behaviours. Each month we have a focus on a specific character trait (integrity, respect, responsibility, cooperation, perseverance, and compassion. But teachers can hand out other APPAWS tickets for any reason. So I gave a bundle of small white tickets to some of these parents and said, “Try using these at home and I will use them at school. When the students have their materials and other things put away, they can earn tickets and cash them in for prizes each month.”

I started today with the white tickets. I will be giving them out each morning and each afternoon for one week and then only in the afternoon starting next week. The goal is for the students to be better stewards of their work space so that they can find and use materials as necessary. And even though this was just the first day, I was so pleased to hand at least one white ticket to every students! Hopefully this will have a direct impact on their organisational skills and will lead to fewer headaches for them, their parents, and me!

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