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.
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.
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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 and your students!
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