Today's guest post is written by Tess and Christine, the duo from Crazy Cool Classroom. They're sharing a fun and unique idea about branding your classroom to make it more engaging and authentic for students.
Usually by mid-summer, I’m done. I itch for my classroom. I’ve watched all of the TV I can, I’ve read a couple of books, I started a new healthy lifestyle, I tried to meditate a couple of times – but I’m bored. I miss the magical pit of adventure and chaos that is my daily life during the school year. Sorry, regular society – you just don’t cut it. I’m ready to go back. I knew the other night it was time to give in and start letting my brain wrap itself around all of the possibilities for my upcoming year when, instead of sleeping at 2 AM, I was under the covers in my bed sleepily scrolling through anchor charts on Pinterest. So now – basically all I do is harvest ideas for next year, and I’m chock full of things that I can’t wait to make and try. I started asking myself a lot of questions about what I wanted, and that led me to questions about who my kids really are and what they are engaged in, entertained by, and compelled by in our world. One of the answers that attached itself to my mind and wouldn’t let go was the idea of BRANDING!
Today, our kids have been so expertly trained by a series of powerful cues reminding them of what to buy, what to like, who to be, et cetera. I have noticed how quickly they recognize and identify characters, logos, images, scenes, fonts, silhouettes, and other visual cues from the games they play, the TV shows they watch, and the products they are exposed to. I see how quickly these cues lead to shared understanding and expression of interest. I have seen child after child show me time and time again that they have been fully assimilated into this visually stimulating and information-driven world. So…what if I used branding in my classroom to make the content and connections in my class easily and instantaneously recognizable and thus – engage-able (is that a word?!?). What if my classroom – its expectations, its content, its energy – could all be drummed up into the consciousness of a child by attaching it to a series of interesting and engaging visual cues? I definitely want to try!
First, I had to think of a theme that would be fun, engaging, original, and malleable throughout the year. After searching for a while through different classroom clipart sets and other such things to inspire me, I decided upon monsters! You may be wondering why I chose monsters of all things. Well, first I saw them and loved them, and honestly, I was inspired by them…or rather my teacher-self was inspired by them. They make funny faces and have different expressive postures. They grin and scowl at different degrees and elicit many internal reactions within me. I wonder what they’re grinning or scowling at, I wonder which monsters are friends with which other monsters, I wonder where they are from and what their world is like, and I want to create a physical environment full of opportunities for my kids to be asking the same questions about them. I want them to use the exaggerated expressions to make inferences about the feelings and experiences that the monsters have. I want the monsters to be the starting places for great stories and explosions of imagination, and I want the monsters to represent a place within a place, my room within this school, where anything is possible.
The monster set that I used, and centered this entire idea around, is very simple and is just a set of 16 funny-looking little guys…or gals. In addition to the simple set of characters that I would use, I also decided to incorporate color blocking of the different parts of my classroom to contrast with the black and white monsters. Each and every bulletin board that I make this year will incorporate the monsters and all of my classroom materials, from labels to exit tickets to name tags: All of them will have monster accents. This will be a challenge for me creatively and professionally, as I am also looking to find other ways to weave my little monsters into my daily classroom culture…for instance: I teach SpEd, as well as English Language Arts, and I work with children that face a myriad of cognitive, emotional and social challenges combined with the harsh realities of living in an impoverished urban setting. This often requires that I find safe ways for them to be able to express how they feel and move forward from that place each day. One monster-related idea I had recently, which I think will be really helpful for my less expressive kids, is to make a gallery walk of the various monsters and have children then place themselves next to the monster that they feel represents how they feel today. For me, it’s perfect! The monsters are so overly expressive and exaggerated that they are both ridiculous and truthful at the same time – making them a less threatening way for children of all kinds and levels of expression to identify and share what is inside.
I can see how some may think that this is ridiculous and that it has no point – that maybe it’s just decorating, and it might not have so much of an impact, but for me the point of trying this is very tangible and real. Eventually, quite quickly I think, these little guys will automatically cue the minds of my children to think of my class, and when they think of my class they think of what they LEARN in my class - and how they FEEL in my class. Jogging synapses and visually connecting their academic memory recall to artistic representation is an idea that excites me, and I can’t wait to put it to practice. I also can’t wait to start to analyze the effects that this idea will have on my classroom culture and ultimately on my students – and to write about it on my blog, Crazy Cool Classroom. Please stop by and check out my journey this year with my monsters and my kids!
One last thought: I know not everyone relates to monsters or to bright bold colors – that’s just what works for me. As teachers the best and most productive way to truly connect to our children is to open ourselves up to them, to show them what inspires us, and to invite them into the world we have created for them openly and with love. We ask our students to take the setting of a story or the surroundings of a character and figure out what that means about the person who created it – or who lives within it. After walking through my door I want my kids to want the story of this upcoming year.
Thank you for reading, and please check out our freebie gift for readers.
Entering our ninth year of teaching together in Brooklyn, NY, we are two dedicated and out-of-the box thinkers always looking to bring new and exciting ideas into our classrooms. Tess, who makes all of our products, teaches 6th grade Math, as well as Physical Education and Health to 6th, 7th and 8th graders. Christine, our writer, is certified in Middle Childhood Special Education and lead teaches 6th grade E.L.A.