Setting up a classroom is probably one of the most important —and sometimes stressful —things! With the variety of students and needs, it can be challenging to figure out how to best arrange to meet everyone’s needs. A high school classroom is no different. The structure and design of your room is key to having things run smoothly all year!
I utilize Structured TEACCHing from UNC. This is a system created to provide clarity and predictability which is very important for all students. Having structure and predictability can decrease problem behaviors as well. To learn more about TEACCH visit www.teacch.com
Here are some things I think about when creating my layout:
Stations/centers: I know it is challenging to do whole group the entire class period, so I do centers/stations. Depending on the number of students and paras I have, I have anywhere between 3-5 stations. I first go about determining what stations I need or would like to have. My stations typically look like this:
Station 1: my station; this is for one on one work with me, (IEP and curriculum), small group, and whole group activities (read aloud, cooking, etc).
Station 2: para led station for skill review and IEP goals. This station is for students to review previously mastered skills and to work on some IEP goals
Station 3: this year it is my pre-vocational station. It is run by a peer helper or a para (sometimes myself). At the middle and high schools in my district, peers from general education classes can volunteer their time (typically during their study hall period) to come work with students with special needs. They have a variety of roles: working one on one with students with their academic work, doing leisure activities with them, help them with pre-vocational and life skill tasks, etc.
Table Time: this is for pre-vocational work. In a high school setting, pre-vocational skills are a major focus of our curriculum. When 1 student is working at Station 3, the other students are completing individual prevocational tasks at their desks, facilitated by paras and a peer helper.
Station 4: para led fluency and binder station. This station rotates between doing fluency skill work and binder work. Binder work includes activities related to our monthly theme/topic (News2You, etc).
Independent Workstations: these are vitally important in my room. Often we are short-staffed, or need to address a behavioral need in the classroom and are not able to work with all students at once. Being able to have students work independently so you can address any imperative need is very helpful. It also allows the student to feel pride and success in being able to work on their own.
Group time: At the start of each period in my room, we do a short 10-15 minute whole group activity. This is typically a read-aloud or video that introduces our topic or activity, and then work is differentiated amongst the stations.
Once I know how many stations I want or need, then I determine where they will be in my room. If I have a small space, or don’t have much furniture, I use some of the same locations for multiple purposes. This is why I number my stations instead of labeling them by subject. Any activity can occur at Station 1/2/4 etc., and if a student is having a challenging moment and it’s technically supposed to be math time, if we are working at a station that just is numbered (or you can use colors, shapes, character names, etc), we can do any activity.
Schedules are next!
In a high school setting, we run on a bell schedule (45-50 min. periods). I break up that time into 10-15 minute smaller blocks and assign rotations to my students. We usually start in whole group, then rotate to different stations. Some students need more time to transition between activities, so they may do 1 or 2 stations, while other students may be able to do 2-3 stations (this is another reason why having independent stations can be so helpful!) The number of rotations per period can fluctuate at the start of the year as we determine how fast everyone can transition.
This year my students use a visual schedule on a wall. I have had students use written schedules in a binder, clipboard, or folder as well. I also try to give my students some input on their preference in type of schedule.
Students also have a “waiting area” for the times where another student is finishing up work at a station or is taking a little more time to transition away from a station, or if a staff member is gathering materials for the next activity and isn’t quite ready for the student/s to come to their station yet. Learning to wait and learning what to do while waiting is an important skill!
When arranging my furniture, I make it visually structured and clear as to where each area’s boundaries are. I like to use colored tape and other furniture to create boundaries. My students know that my desk area is off-limits to them, and having a visual boundary using colored tape is a great prompt to remind them without having to verbally tell them.
Structured TEACCHing has been the backbone of my classroom almost my entire career! It is TOTALLY ok to redo portions of your structure throughout the year if you are finding something isn’t working. It can take a lot of organization and a lot of time to teach it to students and paras, but once you have a system in place, it can almost run itself!