If you read my last post you know that flexible seating has not exactly gone off without a hitch in my classroom. It has been a learning experience in so many ways. While I still love the idea of students being able to choose where they work throughout the day, I also value the idea of being a responsive teacher. Really, really value it. So in light of some recent feedback from parents and students, as well as an awareness of the behaviours in my classroom and knowledge of my own personality (whew, that sounds like a lot of things to think about all at once!), I am moving away from the model of flexible seating that I have been using up until now. Why, you ask? Read on to learn more...
We need a home base.
Imagine showing up to work every day and knowing that you were going to have to pick your seat several times throughout the day. No office, no desk of your own, no corner that belonged just to you. Imagine that every time you got up to go get a drink or sharpen a pencil someone snagged your chair because they didn't realize anyone was sitting there. Imagine not having a place to put the things that you brought with you to make you feel comfortable. Doesn't sound like much fun, does it? In fact, for many adults this situation would produce a fair bit of anxiety. And yet, this is what flexible seating does to kids.
Over these first few months of the school year, I have seen a rise in the anxiety level of some of my more sensitive kids. I have seen more conflicts arising with those that lack self-control. In general, the feel in my room is not the feel that I was hoping for at all. Kids crave structure and knowing where they are starting and ending each day helps to instill this structure.
There is way too much movement throughout the day.
In the primary grades we change activities frequently, which means we change tools frequently. In the model of flexible seating that I currently have, our tools are not at our fingertips. Our book boxes are stored in one area of the classroom, our notebooks in another. In order to change activities we have to completely tidy up from one, move around to put things away and then move around to proceed to get out the new items. Movement is good to break up the day but this kind of movement is not what we need. My class is very social and getting up to put things away means 23 opportunities to stop and chat along the way which equals a lot of wasted time. I tried timing them and that helps but it still doesn't solve the problem. I have designated students to hand out materials but 2 kids handing papers out to an entire class is way too time consuming for me. Having materials at our fingertips (in our desks) will make it easier to eliminate a lot of wasted time.
There is a lack of ownership of space and place.
One of the things that I really want to instill in my class is a sense of shared ownership and responsibility for our materials and classroom. What I have found with this particular groups of kiddos is that there are a few who will happily clean up after the majority and a majority who will happily let that happen while they chat away. Unfortunately, this does little to instill a sense of shared ownership and more directly results in kids believing that they can drop pencils on the floor, leave garbage lying around and not tidy up their work space because someone else will always clean it up for them. So. Frustrating. I have tried making them stay at their workspaces until all is tidied up but again, 3 group members stand around and watch while one group member tidies. I have played ``magic spot`` many times and, hey, it works, but, honestly, bribing kids with a small prize in order to tidy up really doesn`t sit well with me (at least not on a regular basis. I don`t object to it as a once in awhile thing after a big art project, let`s say). No, I want to be able to say ``Joe, please tidy up your space`` and know that it is probably Joe who made the mess. I also think it will be easier to support students who struggle with being messy as I will be able to give them a concrete space to monitor and clean as necessary.
I dislike being a nag...and they dislike it too.
Of all that I have read about flexible seating, the key seems to be an unwavering commitment to moving students the minute they lose focus on the task at hand and begin talking to their neighbours. In my very social class, this has become a never-ending nag fest. They don't like it and neither do I (it's exhausting!). One of my boys actually said to me "Madame, can't you just assign us seats?!" He is aware of the fact that he regularly makes the choice to sit with friends but can't seem to help himself in the moment. He knows that no matter how many times I remind him and move him, he's just not at the point where he is able to make choices based on his learning needs rather than his social ones and he's sick of hearing his name 4000 times a day. And he's asking for help. Yes! That's awesome. As a responsive teacher, I want to meet his needs and help him be the best learner he can be. Ball's in my court.
Lack of flexibility.
While this might seem odd - flexible seating causing a lack of flexibility? - I do find that having only tables, a few desks and couches is very limiting for this group of kiddos. For the most part, they don't like to stand, so the standing table very rarely gets used (except during art, they love it then) and they don't really like to work on the floor, so mainly they choose to sit at the tables or on the couches. Here's where the lack of flexibility comes in - if you're a kiddo who prefers to work alone and at a table, I don't have a lot of options for you (I have 3 solo/partner options). If I had desks, we could easily change our classroom setup from groups to partners to solo and back again; with tables, I have no flexibility. When we discussed our seating arrangements as a class, about half of the class said they would prefer desks. Unfortunately, storage is limited at our school and all of the desks have been hauled away so we will have to wait and see if we can get some back.
In the end, what I've realized is that I believe in the power of student choice when it comes to empowering them in their learning. I believe that being responsive to student need is one of my utmost priorities as a teacher and I need to make sure that I have the tools accessible to do that. The model of flexible seating that I have chosen does not work for this particular group of students and so I'm abandoning it, for now. Who knows what next year's group will be like?
Want to know what I plan to do instead? Check out my next post in this series, here. Missed the first post? Check it out here.
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about literacy, collaborative teaching and finding new and innovative ways to engage & motivate all kids. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!