When I decided to change up my classroom earlier this school year (see March 2016 post), I got rid of three-fourths of the student desks. I began the transformation by surveying the students. I did not tell them why I was asking how they like to sit. Since this was going to be more about how they spent their day than me, the survey was very important. I used this information to determine what I was going to use as the new "desks". Some items were going to be pretty easy to bring into the classroom, but I wasn't sure what the students would want. I also had to think of the layout and flooring in the classroom. Half of our floor is tile, while the other half is carpeted. This presented interesting options for seating.
One Monday morning, the students walked in to find several large pillows and a large bean bag on part of the carpets. Students who had stated in the survey that they didn't like sitting at desks got first choice on the new floor seating. To avoid issues with lice, we discussed how to sit on the pillows and bean bags. They could lay down on their stomachs or sit straight up as long as no heads were on the materials. (Next year I am going to try to bring in more vinyl materials to get rid of this problem all together.) Two days later, (with custodial help), I lowered a long table and put the pillows around it as cushions. The class was thrilled. Every few days, the class would come in to find more desks missing and another seating option. There were campfire chairs (thanks to a generous parent donation of 8!), a step-stool, a rocking chair, a standing desk that fits two students, a large blowup chair, small stools, two rolling chairs, and a club chair. We still have 12 traditional desks. I brought in a couple of end tables to make writing and tablet work easier. Students on the floor were using clipboards (found cheaply at Walmart) for this purpose. I was scouring garage sales, facebook community sale sites, my friends and family, and any sales I could find. (There was a little money from a fundraiser through the school, but most had to come from my pocket.)
The biggest problem became how to store student items (pencils, books, folders, papers, etc...). Since I haven't used textbooks all year, they were placed on the back counter out of everyone's way. I finally found a small, stackable storage container that was big enough to hold the essentials. (Although several students have found a way to cram A LOT of extra "stuff" in them.) This is going to be an ongoing area of struggle for the class until I can find the "right" storage for student materials.
Now that we have various seating options, I decided to also get rid of assigned seating. Students may sit however and wherever they feel they can get the best work done and they are sitting safely. There are a few students who have even asked that they keep their desks. Occasionally I have to step in and remind a few that they shouldn't sit next to others that distract them from their learning. Since we do so much group work anyway, there are very few that need this reminder. Somehow the room seems less crowded than it did at the beginning of the year even though there are the same amount of kids. Fidgety students are no longer in trouble because they can't sit still.
I have a wish list of items I would love to bring in for next year (balance balls, chair cushions, wobble chairs) and a few I will probably take out. Many teacher friends think I am nuts. Parents are confused. Students are happy and learning. Most change where they sit throughout the day, giving them a different perspective for everything we do and a new way to position their body. This new flexible seating has created a classroom that feels more like a home and the students have been more productive in their activities.
What I learned about seating:
-not having assigned seats has actually been more freeing for me (not as much discipline needed for the students)
-students enjoy changing how and where they sit regularly
-flexible seating can be expensive (but what teacher doesn't spend their own money on supplies anyway)
-taking away desks allowed for more freedom in multiple ways
New seating has been brought in, including a toddler bed (now a bench seat for 2-3 students), a small table, and another rocking chair. I have been able to get rid of more desks and have more available seats in the classroom than I ever had with full desks. Can't wait to see the students' reactions to the new items.
20+ year teacher, mother of 2 kids and 2 dogs, wife, lover of all things M&M, interested in tech in the classroom, and changing up my teaching