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Curriculum Q & A Blog, Question 17

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    Katie Shenk

Do you have questions about teaching the EL Education K–5 Language Arts Curriculum? We've got answers!

Come back every week for the latest from the Curriculum Q & A Blog.

Question: How can I manage space, students and materials during K-2 Labs to maximize student learning, engagement and independence?

In this two-part post, we will answer the question “How can I manage space, students and materials during K-2 Labs to maximize student learning, engagement and independence?” To find out, we consulted Heidi Batchelder, kindergarten teacher at The Odyssey School in Denver and Kelly Fernee, kindergarten teacher at West Park Elementary School in Leadville, Colorado. They both offer helpful insights and tips for implementing Labs successfully (and working through the tricky spots too!). Read on for some words of wisdom and artifacts from their classrooms.

First, let’s start with a little background about the K-2 Labs.

What Are the K-2 Labs and Why Are They Important?

Primary learners need exploration (active learning rather than passive), independence (a sense of mastery and accomplishment), wonder (an authentic need to answer a question or solve a problem), and collaboration (the ability to talk with, and learn from, their peers). This is why the K-2 Labs exist. One hour per day of content-based literacy instruction in the Module Lessons—even very strong literacy instruction—is not enough. The additional hour spent in the Labs is an important part of accelerating literacy learning and ensuring equity for all students. The Labs address a different, and complementary, way of accessing complex ideas, content knowledge, literacy skills and habits of character than the Module Lessons can do on their own. This point of access is vital for the success of all primary learners. Although most teachers see the value of giving primary students time and space to apply what they’ve learned in the modules, many find it challenging to manage materials and students effectively so that all students are building independence, deepening content and literacy skills, and having fun in a safe and productive environment.

If you’re looking for more information about the K-2 Language Arts curriculum in general, see this introductory post. Or, if you’d like to dig into the  K-2 Labs more deeply, check out this video or read more in this document.

Part 1: Room Organization and Materials 

In Part 1 of this post, Kelly and Heidi give us insights into how they set up their classroom space and organize materials for Labs. 

EL Education: How do you set up your room for the Labs?

Heidi: I have four distinct areas in my room set up for Labs—one for each of the Labs that students are engaged in at the moment. This way they always know where to go and my Lab Assistants know where to set out materials (read more about the Lab Assistants below).

I created a Labs rotation chart that hangs on the front whiteboard just above the long-term learning targets. We start our Labs time at this spot to review the learning targets and rotation schedule, and then we return to the carpet at the end of the period so we can reflect together.

Heidi uses a pocket chart to display her Labs groups and rotation schedule. The colors beside each lab group correspond to the folders in which they store their Labs work. 
Kelly: It’s really important to provide spaces for students to sit, stand, kneel and feel comfortable as they work and play.  I think about the space required for each Lab and what a group of 5-6 students needs to be comfortable and successful. For example, I set up a large standing table for the Engineer Lab. We store the materials in baskets below the standing table so students can easily access what they need. Students need more space to spread out for the Imagine Lab, so I chose a larger, more open space for their imaginative play. I continually reflect on this question as I set up and revise Labs work spaces throughout the year: Do students have the physical space to work happily, safely and successfully during Labs?

Students in Kelly’s class use a stand-table for their Engineer Lab work. 

EL Education: How do you organize materials for Labs?

Kelly: I organize materials for each Lab in a designated spot within the classroom. I snap pictures of each type of material and those become the labels for the storage bins. This helps students know exactly where materials go so they can be responsible for both set-up and clean-up.
 Also, the material requirements vary based on the type of Lab. I find that the Create and Explore Lab materials are more transportable, so they are often organized in bins and students take the materials to their designated workspaces. On the other hand, the Engineer Lab materials are less transportable, so we organize them below the standing Engineer Lab table. 

The shelves below the Engineer Lab table house materials.  Kelly uses digital photos of  create labels so students can independently access what they need (and clean up after themselves!).

 Heidi: I have a lot of built-in shelving in my room and decided, at least for Module 1, to use this shelving to store the “beautiful junk” (everyday found materials) for the Engineer Lab. The kids helped me sort the donations from families and I used some inexpensive felt cube containers I inherited from another teacher. Lidless storage means that there is more room for beautiful junk overall. I also have one bin which houses the toys and drawing paper for the Create Lab. Kids store their drawings in a folder which matches the color name of their Lab group.

Students in Heidi’s class store their drawings in a folder which matches the color name of their Lab group.
I have a bookshelf in a closet designated as storage for other Lab and Module materials. Using clear, stackable, plastic totes helps me save a lot of space. And, this means the kids can access the materials independently and help me set up Labs and put things away

Because primary students love to help, and there can at times be too many helpers, I assign two students as Lab Assistants as a rotating classroom job. These two kids go in and out of the closet to take out bins and put them away. I have one new student on the job each week so that way there is always one veteran to teach another kiddo about how the job works. Again, this frees up time for me. What drove my storage decisions is my belief that the students should be doing more and I should be doing less when it comes to set-up, clean-up, and material management.
Check back next week for Part 2 of this post in which Heidi and Kelly offer insights into how they establish and reinforce routines and practices that support student engagement, independence and learning.