Six years of teaching at the same school meant I needed some serious change this year. Which is why I decided to FINALLY try flexible seating in my classroom. It’s been on my mind for the last two or three years but I always chicken out right before the year starts and stick to my usual groups of desks clustered together to make teams.
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This year has been a completely different year. I don’t know what has caused it but I finally am at the point where I don’t care.
Let me explain…. I DO care! But I don’t care about the little trivial things that don’t matter. For the past six years I have been so “controlling” of my kids. This year I finally decided that the little things I would be so controlling over don’t really matter.
Like where they sit.
Don’t get me wrong. I think it is SUPER important that students be grouped appropriately so that high and low students are mixed together. I think it is important that they have a sense of “team” with the people they sit with. In fact, I still have cooperative learning teams and we meet and work with them often.
But I have finally loosened the reigns a little bit and allowed my students to choose a spot that works best for them when they are doing partner work or working independently.
In this week’s blog I’ll be covering how flexible seating looks in my room, how I combine FS with cooperative learning, and sharing some of the struggles I’ve encountered as I have rolled out flexible seating.
Flexible Seating Ideas
In years past when I contemplated implementing flexible seating, I started the year with my traditional seating in place with the plan to incorporate flexible seating as the year went on. Well….that never happened
This was how my classroom was set up in the past.
This year my room looks fairly similar, with a few exceptions.
I have one set of traditional desks set up.
I have another group of desks with yoga balls. (I use these yoga balls!)
The standing desks are my personal favorite…but my students least favorite :/
The last team I have is a table lowered enough to where they could use cushions and sit on the ground (which they don’t) or sit on a chair/yoga ball.
I also have cushions and lap desks available for student use.
Flexible Seating + Cooperative Learning
When I was in grad school I was trained extensively on Kagan Cooperative Learning and I am a firm believer in cooperative learning. Which is why I had such difficulty getting started with flexible seating. I wasn’t sure how to incorporate the two. It’s been something I’ve thought about for years…literally…. And I have finally figured out a way to marry the two.
My students have “team spots.” These are their assigned seats. Students are grouped in teams of four with a high, high medium, medium low, and low student at each team (which is what’s in the photo below). They have a shoulder partner and a face partner. This works out great because I have all the components of cooperative learning- they just aren’t always sitting in groups of four at a team.
When I set up a lesson I tell them if they are sitting in “flexible seating” or their “team spots.” This alerts the students as to where they can physically sit. If we are doing team work, they are always in their team spots and at their desks in the traditional cooperative learning structure. However, when we do partner or independent work, they usually sit in flexible seating because they are still able to work with their shoulder partner who is assigned based on academic level. They are still getting the benefit of working with a student that is either coaching them or that they are coaching.
If we are doing independent work and I allow them flexible seating they are working in a spot that they enjoy. This builds more engagement and trust leading to more accountability *usually*.
Flexible Seating Troubleshooting:
I have, of course, encountered several problems as I have rolled this out and am troubleshooting them as I move along.
Problem: Kids always sit in the same flexible seating spot
My solution: Luckily this has been an easy fix simply by talking to them about trying out all flexible seating options and allowing other students the opportunity to sit in each FS spot. I have also found that just reminding them of all the options helps them to remember some of the places they can sit that they forget about (i.e. the cushions on the floor at the low table).
Problem: They want to sit next to their BFF
My Solution: I just keep an eye out for patterns. If they kids are working and producing quality work sitting next to their friend, then I don’t sweat it. I have two girls that ALWAYS sit next to each other when doing independent work but they ALWAYS complete their work. I have two other girls that just like to sit and talk when they are able to sit by each other so I have to monitor, coach, and sometimes move them apart if it becomes too distracting.
Problem: They don’t complete their work while sitting in flexible seating
My Solution: Flexible seating is very much a privilege in my room and I have taken it away when I feel that students are abusing the privilege.
Problem: The kids at the standing table don’t like standing when we are in our team spots
My Solution: I don’t really know…trying to figure this one out!
Problem: Storing team materials for the team without desk cubbies
My Solution: I’ve tried a few things:
I tried just storing them in a milk crate– too messy.
Then I tried one of these hanging file things….not strong enough. (BUT! Makes a perfect place to store colored paper!!!)
I have settled on a milk crate with a hanging folder for each kids stuff…This seems to be working, for now…..
No matter how you choose to seat your students, the important thing is that they are getting the opportunity to work with students different than themselves- academically, culturally, racially, etc. Cooperative Learning and Flexible Seating are what work in Room 152. But I encourage you to seek what works best for you andÂ your students!
Mid-Year Flexible Seating Update
This is me checking in in the middle of the year to let you know how flexible seating is working out in our classroom.
Currently, I am using yoga balls, lap desks, cushions and clipboards, lowered desks, and standing desks as options for kids to sit. You can click any of those links to see which ones I am using specifically!
Flexible Seating Struggles
The first problem I encountered with flexible seating was how to manage all of their materials. I finally figured out that the students sitting at actual desks could use their cubbies just like in years past. But my table group that sits at a lower table, I had trouble figuring out how to store their materials.
I tried using one of these hanging file folder things and it broke within like twenty-four minutes…
I finally settled on a milk crate with hanging file folders for each kid. I put a piece of tape on each folder (four green and four purple, four for each color group I have) and numbered them 1-4. This way students could easily see their materials
The other biggie I am dealing with right now is kids making a choice on where to sit. They either just want to sit with their BFF or want to sit in the same spot. The yoga balls are the favorite and everyone wants those. (AND THEY ARE SO DAMN LOUD!)
The third problem I encountered was how to handle testing. Because my desks serve as their “home spots,” I had kids sit in them for testing. But this meant a table of four was standing the whole time and a table of four was sitting on the ground. I let the lowered table sit at my u-table but the standing table was still standing and maybe that wasn’t the best situation for them.
How I’m Changing Things for the Spring
The great thing about teaching is you get to “start over” a lot. We just got out for a two-week break! Over break is the perfect time to reevaluate how things are working and adjust.
I took my problems to Pinterest and, of course, found a plethora of ideas within a matter of minutes and I feel like I finally have a plan of how to move forward.
My first step is to have a class meeting about flexible seating. I want to talk about what the purpose of it is and the benefits of each of the seating arrangements. An anchor chart detailing the expectations and the choices we have in flexible seating will be a great way to document our meeting. I got this idea from reading about Ashley’s experience with flexible seating on her blog, Teach Create Motivate blog.
The next step is to create a choice board for flexible seating options. Currently, each morning is a free for all and kids choose the same spots over and over. So instead, I want to try a management board like the one Dianna at Sassy, Savvy, Simple Teaching. Each morning she has her kids use a magnet with their number on it to show which seating option they are using for the day. However, she goes through her roster each week and each week a new student gets to be the first to pick their spot- this ensures that each kid always gets their “top choice” for flexible seating every few weeks.
I would also love to change up my seating options and add some more flexible seating options, but right now it isn’t feasible economically. So this Christmas break I will be hitting up garage sales and online facebook groups looking for some alternative seating options- even if it is just one or two small items!
You can snag your copy of The Simply Organized Classroom to find ideas and inspiration for creating a warm, welcoming, and organized classroom! I talk more about cooperative learning and how I group my students in the ebook!
Click the photo below to learn more.
Until next time,