Today I was invited to participate in a focus group looking at ideal room designs for classrooms serving low incidents populations (autism and intellectual disabilities). The story behind the focus group was that our district is predicting a decrease lack in physical building space as our whole population continues to grow. This leaves everyone in schools to be faced with how to best conserve space, including our low incidents rooms. It was frustrating to hear about the problem and to listen to the district's architect explain the ins and outs that go into decision making. Yet I appreciate that they pulled a group of teachers together to ask our opinions about what we can do to conserve space but also meet the needs of our students.
We spent a lot of time talking about our physical room design, our use of tables, chairs, work areas, and how we store the equipment our students need (the walkers, standers, wheelchairs, adaptive seating, etc). If you don't work with a low incidents population you have no real understanding of the amount of physical materials that are required to get through the day, nor the amount of space those materials take up. Finding a spot to store my slant boards alone just about kills me. Let's not talk about extra wheelchairs and standers.
They asked us to reflect on how we plan to use our space this year and to continue reflecting throughout the year. They hope to be able to document our thoughts as we make changes to our rooms, noting what we find is and isn't effective. Of course, I reflect by blogging, so you'll have to bear with me as I use this space to think intentionally about my room design.
As of Monday I *think* I have my room pretty much set up. Here's what I have so far.
These pictures were taken when my room was still in the bare bones phase, so they don't fully show my current thought process. In the first picture you can see the meeting area (carpet area) where I do most of my large group instruction in front of the smartboard. The calendar is off to the side and on the other side of the smartboard (not pictured) is the word wall. The teachers desks (all 3 of them) are pushed to the back. I'd like to get rid of them all together... still toying with that idea. They are so big. When I taught gen ed I got rid of my teacher desk, but I find special ed is a different ball game because of the amount of paperwork.
I have three tables for small group work in the classroom, along with a large circle table in the back for my reading group. I also have a small table in the back of the room for independent work. Last year I had enough space that I could reasonably spread everyone out around the room in an independent work space if some children worked on the floor and one worked at the computer table.
I don't have any designated center areas. Instead I store centers in boxes and crates in the shelves in the middle of the room. The students are able to get the center materials and take them to a specified work area. This allows me to use the tables for more than one purpose, spread out students when I need to, and helps the students become independent with getting out their own centers.
This of course is beginning of the year ideals. More pictures and my idealized thoughts will be coming soon. As the year goes on I'll compare my beginning of the year ideas to what actually gets happens and we'll see what works and what doesn't.