There's been a lot of discussion recently about flexible seating in the classroom. Many teacher bloggers have posted articles about different ways we can alter our environments to make students most comfortable and successful in the classroom. Because of this, I recently had a conversation with my class about what they feel they need in order to learn best.
We started the conversation with a few key questions, researched different learning environments, and visualized what our "dream classroom" might look like. I made a point to note which aspects of our environment we CAN change (seating, lighting, noise) and which aspects we CAN'T (no recess or lunch all day, no playground inside the room, etc), then I had them write or draw what they feel they need. (We also reviewed the difference between a need and a want.)
There are so many different teaching styles and learning styles. I want to give my students the best experience I can each day. In order to do that, I needed to know their preference. Do they like it loud and exciting or do they prefer a more soothing environment.
As a class, this year's group is L-O-U-D. I, personally, prefer a quieter environment. After being with them for the last six months, I wondered whether I needed to come in dancing and cheering everyday or if they needed the zen feeling I've been trying to achieve.
They overwhelmingly said they liked it quiet. Go figure.
The whole argument for flexible seating focuses on the fact that not everyone works best sitting at a desk. We have an increasing amount students in our schools today who feel the need to move more and who crave extra sensory stimulation. A table and chair just doesn't cut it anymore.
When I posed this question to my class, they were pretty evenly split among everything EXCEPT sitting in a chair. No one wanted to do that. NONE. Keep reading to see how I addressed this issue.
Music has a powerful impact on environment. It can make you calm or energize you. It can make you feel hopeful, nostalgic, angry, depressed, happy, or any number of emotions. Classical music has even been proven to increase test performance. The background noise you hear everyday can make or break your classroom and your mood.
Being that I teach 1st graders, when I asked them about music in the background, they all said they liked fast-paced, loud music. When I reminded them that the focus is on how to help them learn and work best, all but one changed their preference to calm, quiet music. The entire class agreed that music of any kind was better than none at all.
When I asked my class what they needed, they (almost) unanimously said calm. Good to know.
Sound and stimuli is an easy fix. The radio stays on almost all day to the sounds of nature CD I purchased almost 20 years ago. We have simple decor without a lot of clutter, and we practice using our quiet voices all the time. (Yes, practice. We have not mastered this skill yet. Have I mentioned this group is L-O-U-D?)
Seating was a little more challenging. I talked with my principal and, luckily, she was completely supportive of this endeavor. The custodian came in and adjusted my desks for me. He even swapped out four of my desks for a group table. (The room looks so BIG now!)
We lowered a table group all the way to the floor. The girls in my class love this area. I plan on adding rugs or pillows for seating soon. In the meantime, they're in heaven here.
We raised six desks as high as they could go. My high-energy boys love this space. They have been more focused this week than they have been all year here.
Five Below had stability balls for $5 each. I picked up two to try it out. I'll be getting more this weekend. For my movers and shakers, this has been a dream come true. They are still able to focus and get their wiggles out at the same time.
How do I manage it? We made an anchor chart of Smart Choices and Sad Choices. We talked about choosing seats that work for our needs, not our wants. We talked about how to safely use each of the table heights (not hanging on the high tables or crawling/sitting on the low ones), and how to safely use the ball chairs. I made it VERY CLEAR that the balls are tools and seating, not toys and basketballs.
We included on the anchor chart consequences for both Smart Choices and Sad Choices. If they make a smart choice, they get to pick their seat. If they make a sad choice, the teacher chooses their seat. Period. This is your warning. No monkey business. I moved several people the first time they picked their spots. I haven't had to move those students since.
We're three days into flexible seating and it's been a total game changer. I hope I never have to go back. I love the stability balls and I love all the options my students have. There are a lot of big personalities in this class and a one-size-fits-all approach was just not working. With the new arrangement, my kids can choose what works best for them.
If you have this conversation with your class, please tell us about it in the comments below. And let us know if you've taken the leap to flexible seating in your class and how it's going. I love to hear what's working for everyone and what's not working.