“What she wanted was a classroom where students could move around freely, sit comfortably, and work together. The more she thought about it, the more she knew she wanted her classroom to have a similar feel as the children’s section in Barnes & Noble or a creative play space in a museum.” –Erin K, Teacher and Technology Expert
A couple of years ago I started seeing a lot of posts on Instagram about #FlexibleSeating or #AlternativeSeating. I was intrigued by the idea, so I started researching a bit more about it. I had a lot of questions, but I knew that my heart was sold on this idea right from the start.
Edutopia: Learning Environments
Cult of Pedagogy
A Principal’s Perspective
Teaching with Intention by Debbie Miller
The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity by George Couros
Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student By: John Spencer and A J Juliani
My first year teaching, 20 years ago, I had my desks in rows, but that just never felt right to me, but I didn’t know what to do about it. My 9th grade students would turn their desks to form groups almost every day. It never occurred to me to leave the desks in a group setting.
I have come a long way from those cemetery rows in my classroom! The past few years I have used The Daily Five approach in my reading instruction and it has expanded to my math instruction as well.This allows for a lot of flexibility of where students sit and learn. Our main space “The Gathering Place” is a constant, but where students sit to read, write, and share does NOT have to be at a desk.
As I became more and more immersed in The Daily Five philosophy I realized how important student choice is. I also saw that by giving student’s choice I was getting back much more quality work and engagement. Kayla Deltzer (@TopDogTeaching) says “The more power I give up in our classroom. The more I get back.” #TRUTH
At the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year I knew I wanted to dive into Flexible Seating options, but I also knew I wanted my students to be a big part of the process. We started the year with our desks in groups, but students ALWAYS had the option to sit where they wanted. We spent MUCH time at the beginning of the year creating expectations for the different options in our room. We used the approach of “What Does it look Like, What Does it Sound Like, and What does it Feel like” when I working in this space.
We did this not only for spaces, but for ALL THINGS: Read to ME, Read to Someone, Technology, Math Centers, and the list goes on and on. There was not a question about the expectations as we could refer to our charts we created at anytime.
I tend to do most of my whole group teaching at The Gathering Place (no more than 15 minutes at a time) and then let the students head off to their individual work or group work. This is where it became so much fun! We talked a lot about how the whole purpose of this was to find the BEST PLACES for you to work. We talked a lot about how that could be different for different assignments. I picked five students to track where they sat during the year and it was so interesting to watch. One student ALWAYS sat a table/desk when she was doing math, but for writing she had ALWAYS had a clipboard, a blanket, and a pillow, and for reading you would ALWAYS find her in one of the comfy chairs. Whereas another student was all over the place for things and he did just fine!
|This is the day we found out we got the grant! The kids went CRAZY!|
Remember that at this point I still had 22 desks in my classroom, but also let students be where they wanted to be when working. In October we found out that we received a grant from the McPherson Education Foundation for $1,300. The kids were JUMPING UP AND DOWN. We decided that we would do a SLOW process of #DitchingTheDesks. We took five out that first week and added in four IKEA tables and some stools along with some more pillows, and bins.
Over the next few weeks we added in more options and took away desks. Please note that the students did NOT have to get rid of their desk. Remember this was ALL about having the BEST SPACE for learning for each child. I had three students who kept their desk during the school year. They didn’t always sit at their desk, but they liked having THEIR space.
By January all, but four desks where out of the room. We got more bookshelves for #ALLTHEBOOKS and also went back and forth on how to store our supplies. We purchased bins from Really Good Stuff that we loved at first, but changed over to the 10-Drawer Carts from Sterlite by the end of the year. They seemed to work better for us. WE also used a Community Supply model for pencils, pens, markers, scissors, etc.
We did have a BIG challenge with the Fire Code! My classroom was written up in January for having to many flammable items such as blankets, pillows, furniture, and rugs. I was in a bit of a panic as I knew what I was doing was the BEST decision for my students, but I also needed to follow the law. We worked to find places to store our pillows and blankets so that when we were not using them they would be in a cupboard. We got rid of a few chairs that we were not using very much. A few of my teaching colleagues helped me greatly with looking at different ways to organize things. The students helped as well. It was a total community effort. In the end it worked out, but I do have to admit there were some moments of panic!
I am teaching the same group of students again next year as I loop up to 5th grade with my kiddos. At the end of the year we did dream and discuss changes we wanted for the upcoming school year. We use the app SeeSaw A LOT so the students would like to have a recording booth of some sort. Also they want to have an additional bungee chair (the most popular seating choice in our room). We wrote a Donor’s Choose grant from some wobble stools, I am really hoping to get them! Students also wanted to be part of setting up the room from the beginning!
We will for sure have some new friends join us this next year, so we will need to do a good job of going over expectations and helping our new friends understand the reason WHY we have the different seating options. I think at the end of this NEXT year I will have students make movies about how to use the different seating options for my new group of students coming up! I love that idea from @mrvesco from #KSEdChat.
I am looking forward to August 10th when students come in from summer break and help set up the classroom. I have a feeling it will be the easiest classroom set up yet! Can’t wait to see what they decide and how our classroom changes throughout the year!
I am SO GLAD I took the risk to try this. I am a better teacher because of this. I think about my students FIRST now, I use to think I did that, but now I know that I do. I have learned so much more about teamwork in the classroom and how to create a culture of learners and team players. I love watching the creativity of the kids just blossom because they are not confined to a desk. I can't wait to see what happens next year!
Have you jumped into Flexible Seating? What have you learned? What has been the best learning for you in this process? Share in the comments below! Let’s help each other!