Annehurst teacher creates Harry Potter-themed classroom to inspire reading, learning

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One look at the entrance to Chelsea Baer’s fifth-grade classroom at Annehurst Elementary should offer a hint of what’s to come when students step inside.

The door is covered with brick wallpaper with the numbers 9¾ plastered on the top — much like the platform at King's Cross Station in London that serves as a magically-concealed barrier where Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry students boarded the Hogwarts Express in order to attend school.  

When they walk into the classroom, which now mimics the stone walls of Hogwarts Castle, they are stepping into a space inspired by the world of Harry Potter — and one that Baer hopes will foster a love of reading among her students.

“This is an ELA reading classroom,” Baer said. “I want them to be excited about books. I want them to know it can take you into a whole other world.”

Characters, symbols and decor from J.K. Rowling’s popular novels can be found all across the room: Banners hang from the ceiling featuring Hogwarts’ four houses — Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin — as well as one representing Hogwarts professors. There’s also a Sorting Hat, a broomstick, wanted posters for Sirius Black and Bellatrix Lestrange and two Hedwigs.

Baer brings students further into the world of Harry Potter by connecting classroom procedures and practices to what students have read in the novels.

For example, tables are assigned to Hogwarts houses where students can win house points based on their behavior, collaborating, listening and how well they meet Annehurst’s All-Star 5 principles (Strive to do your best. Take responsibility. Always have integrity. Respecting others and staying safe.). 

At the end of the month, students in the house with the most points can receive a prize. They will also be able to switch houses at the beginning of the month so every student can experience being in all houses during the year.

To help students explain their level of understanding of concepts and lessons, she created a scale using Harry Potter language: 1 is Muggle (“I don’t understand. I need help.”), 2 is Hogwarts Student (“I’m starting to get it. I would like more practice.”), 3 is Wizard (“I understand. I feel comfortable on my own.” and 4 is Hogwarts Professor (“I really get it, and I could teach this to someone else.”).

Baer credits her mentor teacher when she was a fourth-grade ELA student teacher for inspiring her Harry Potter-themed class.  

“It is magical,” said Baer, who is a first-year teacher this year. “I fell in love with reading by reading these books. But you have to know how to read to be able to experience something this awesome.”

She also infuses her lessons with another passion: American Sign Language. 

Baer, who was an ASL interpreter for five years before becoming a teacher, wants to introduce students to different languages, especially with the diversity in the district. She hopes the visual language can help her connect with students who are English Learners and give them a better understanding of what she is trying to say in English, she said. 

During a recent lesson, she taught students how to sign the words “amazing” and “applause” as well as “bathroom” as a way to tell her the need to use the restroom and “same” when they have a similar thought or answer as a classmate.

“Kids love it,” she said. “It makes the lessons more engaging, especially if I’m teaching the whole group. I want to incorporate anything that will create high-level engagement, and ASL accomplishes that.”

As for her classroom, fifth-graders have embraced the world Baer has created. Word has started to spread about her classroom across the school and Baer has gotten visits from students in other grade levels to see the space. 

She recalls a fifth-grade student she met during the school’s Meet the Teacher event who marveled at the environment that he brought the book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, to school on the first day.

“He was so excited,” she recalled. “I want them to develop that love of learning, but specifically reading. It’s a world from a book. You have to be able to read to be able to experience something like this. I hope that hype gets everyone excited to learn.”