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Classroom Environment. Michael C. McKenna University of Virginia. Sharon Walpole University of Delaware. Today’s Goals. Examine how classroom environment affects literacy learning. Think about suggestions for improving the environment.

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Classroom Environment

Michael C. McKenna

University of Virginia

Sharon Walpole

University of Delaware

today s goals
Today’s Goals
  • Examine how classroom environment affects literacy learning.
  • Think about suggestions for improving the environment.
  • Consider a checklist for ensuring a positive environment.
back in school
Back in School . . .
  • Make an informal survey of classroom environments.
  • Develop an action plan for how individual classrooms might be improved.
  • Plan grade-level presentations on effective environments.

The Architects’ initial visits to Cohort 1 schools this year have revealed vast differences, both within and between schools, in the neatness and organization of classrooms and in the quality of classroom libraries.

In fact, the Architects have added classroom environment to the characteristics they will ask coaches to observe …


Yes. The physical layout can exert a surprisingly powerful influence on literacy learning. Let’s find out how.

But can the classroom environment really affect achievement?

what does research tell us
What does research tell us?
  • Research has clearly linked the quality of the classroom environment to literacy learning (Neuman & Roskos, 1992).
  • Children read more when more print is available inside the classroom (Morrow, 1990).
  • Immersion in a print-rich environment is conducive to literacy growth (e.g., Reutzel & Wolfersberger, 1996).
4 classroom design principles
4 Classroom Design Principles

Research has shown that children’s literacy learning is affected by

  • the presence or absence of literacy tools
  • the arrangement of space and the placement of literacy tools within the arranged space
  • social interaction among children as they use the literacy tools
  • the authenticity of the context into which the literacy tools are placed

– Reutzel and Wolfersberger (1996)

these principles suggest
These principles suggest …
  • Stocking the classroom with print, but
  • Aggregating most literacy materials in one area
  • Including a variety of writing utensils and surfaces
  • Changing literacy tools and displays frequently
  • Creating a library corner (literacy center)

– Reutzel and Wolfersberger (1996)

tips for creating a literacy center
Tips for Creating a Literacy Center
  • Remember that the size of the center varies with the classroom and that in smaller classrooms the center may simply house materials, which are taken elsewhere to be used
  • Position “quiet” centers away from “active” ones
  • Use furniture to create a sense of privacy and physical definition
  • Consider including a “private spot” (but one that is always visible to you)
  • Display children’s writing prominently
  • Display posters that promote reading

– Morrow (2002)


Ask yourself if it contributes to literacy growth. It’s better to prominently display posters that accompany your core, such reminders about comprehension strategies.

What about that poster of Tahiti?

more tips
More Tips
  • Try to create a homelike environment (include pillows, rugs, rockers, beanbag chairs, stuffed animals, etc.)
  • Include both fiction and nonfiction books, labeled by type, topic, and/or level
  • Introduce the class to new additions to the center throughout the year
  • Include manipulatives (puppets, props, felt board, headsets and tape players, word study materials)
  • Include functional print, such as
    • Labels (“Books about Science”) and
    • Directions (“Quiet please,” “Please put materials away after using them”)
  • Include environmental print (e.g., word walls) and give children chances to use it

– Morrow (2002)

types of book storage
Types of Book Storage
  • Traditional shelves with spines facing out
  • Open-faced shelves to show covers of featured books
  • Tubs, crates, stacked cubbies, “cereal box” containers
  • Wire racks (stationary or swivel)
two safety considerations
Two Safety Considerations

1. Avoid using furniture to create blind spots that prevent you from monitoring all children at all times.

two safety considerations17
Two Safety Considerations

2. Avoid stacking heavy materials on top of shelves – especially materials that children might try to obtain.

possible activities in a literacy center
Possible Activities in a Literacy Center
  • Responding in writing to what has been read
  • Listening to recorded or electronic books
  • Rereading previous selections for different purposes
  • Partner oral reading
  • Applying graphic organizers to selections that have been read in class
  • Listening to a small-group teacher read-aloud
some garf assumptions
Some GARF assumptions . . .
  • Exposing children to large amounts of high-quality literature is a Reading First priority.
  • Each classroom must also facilitate whole-class and small-group instruction plus independent practice.
  • The classroom design must allow smooth transitions between activities.
  • Research on the best way to arrange a classroom environment can be useful to coaches and teachers.
  • Existing research provides some clear lessons.
coaches corner
Coaches’ Corner
  • What advice can you offer other coaches based on your attempts to prompt changes in the way classrooms are set up in your school?
Morrow, L. M. (2002). The literacy center: Contexts for reading and writing (2nd ed.). Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Read Chapter 2 of Morrow’s book. In it, she focuses on the literacy center but in the process reviews the logic of the entire room set-up and ends with specific suggestions and a checklist.

what have we learned
What have we learned?
  • How would you judge Morrow’s design for K-1 classrooms? (See Figure 2.1)
  • Are there ideas here for improvements at your school?
  • What about her design for grades 2 and 3? (See Figure 2.2)
  • For Morrow, the books a teacher includes and how they are stored are part of the classroom design. In what ways is this true?
  • Is Morrow’s checklist (Figure 2.4) likely to be useful in your school? Could you adapt it?
let s plan
Let’s Plan . . .
  • Think critically about Morrow’s checklist.
  • Decide whether and how to modify it for use in your school.
back at school
Back at School . . .
  • Take stock of classroom environments using Morrow’s checklist (possibly modified).
  • Plan grade-level presentations on effective environments.
  • Develop an action plan for how individual classrooms might be improved.
  • Come prepared to share your experiences.

Morrow, L. M. (1990). Preparing the classroom environment to promote literacy during play. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 5, 537-554.

Morrow, L. M. (2002). The literacy center: Contexts for reading and writing (2nd ed.). Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Neuman, S. B., & Roskos, K. (1992). Literacy objects as cultural tools: Effects on children’s literacy behaviors in play. Reading Research Quarterly, 27, 202-225.

Reutzel, D. R., & Wolfersberger, M. E. (1996). An environmental impact statement: Designing supportive literacy classrooms for young children. Reading Horizons, 36, 266-282.

Wolfersberger, M. E., Reutzel, D. R., Sudweeks, R., Fawson, P. C. (2004). Developing and validating the Classroom Literacy Environmental Profile (CLEP): A tool for examining the “print richness” of early childhood and elementary classrooms. Journal of Literacy Research, 36, 211-272.