Revising the Classroom: Adventures in Flexible Seating

My new furniture in the days before the students arrived.

95 degrees

The first day of school

3rd Grade

Brand new furniture

Blue, yellow, green chairs

on wheels

Gray trapezoid tables

on wheels

Wobbly cushion seats

Everything moves in here

Seats at the tables

for 18 children

24 students enter

Backpacks bursting 

Books, binders, more.

No place to put them.

No space for gathering

as a class on the floor.

A student implores impatiently:

“Can’t you turn on the A/C?”

(Of course we don’t have any)

Looking around the crowded room, 

sweat dripping,

The teacher says to herself,

“Revisions must be made.” 

***

 

As writers, we know that revision is an integral part of the writing process. We are always looking for ways to make our writing clearer, crisper, smarter and memorable. As teachers, we also revise constantly. We look for ways to make our teaching clearer, crisper, smarter and memorable too.

This year, I found myself often revising my classroom set-up. I was fortunate enough to be part of a flexible seating pilot in my school district. My classroom was outfitted with new furniture. Trapezoid tables that together made a hexagon grouping; a large, low round table; ottomans and low wobbly cushions; a comfy green couch; seating that also doubled as storage and a lovely portable dry erase magnetic board. I set everything up, knowing when the students came in, tweaks would need to be made.

Reading area with a comfy couch to sit on in the early days of the school year.

After the first day of school (that 95 degree one referenced in the poem), I realized “tweaks” wasn’t the right word- I needed to make changes to be able to teach my students effectively. I needed:

  • enough floor space for students to form a sitting circle for our Morning Meeting; also enough floor space to gather for minilessons and read-alouds
  • a place for students to put their individual notebooks, folders, and other various supplies
  • home-base seating for each student
  • a system for introducing the “special” furniture and allowing students to use it in a way where everyone got a turn
  • lessons on the proper use of furniture that moves on wheels

Some solutions:

  • My principal kindly allowed me to order portable cubbies which were the perfect place for each student to store materials
  • My students and I had discussions about the safe way to use rolling chairs
  • During lessons, students did not sit on special furniture. I found it was too distracting. They were allowed to use it during independent working time.
  • I needed to get another table to accommodate all the students so each child had a place to sit as a “home-base” seat.
  • We pushed furniture back to make room for all of us to sit during the Morning Meeting. We returned it to the right spot after those times. (The bonus of furniture on wheels!)
  • Students were allowed to sit in special seating as a reward or when they were the “Thoughtful Third Grader.”

Floor space was created by pushing tables and chairs back when we needed to sit in a circle or together for a lesson

 

 

I needed to add another table to the classroom so each student had a space at a table.

For the last couple of years, I had no teacher’s desk. I removed it from my room since I never really sat at it and didn’t like the idea that I had a big desk that took up a lot of real estate in the classroom. This year, I began the year without a teacher’s desk but something was different. In the past, I had a u-shaped table where I put some of my files, plan book, grade book, etc. This year, the table was removed to make space for my new, larger furniture. There was no place for my things. I tried a few different ways of organizing my materials, but the truth was I needed a place to put some of my teaching essentials. Just a few weeks ago, I begged my amazing custodian to help me find a teacher’s desk again. She was skeptical because the teacher’s desks are large and rather unattractive, but I was sure it would help. She found a desk I could use and we put it in a spot that wouldn’t take up a lot of room. Though it is messy at the moment, it has made a huge difference in how I feel in the classroom. Having a space for my materials is a must.

Keepin’ it real. This is a picture of my desk that I took on Thursday of this week. As much as I didn’t want a desk, I had to be open to getting one again because I needed a place for my things.

For those who are going to try flexible seating:

  • Realize you will revise your classroom and ask students for input and ideas on making things flow more smoothly
  • Partner up with a colleague or friend who can help you troubleshoot what doesn’t feel right about your set-up
  • Think about the essential areas you need in your classroom (a whole group area, enough floor space, areas to store belongings) and design your room with these key spots in mind
  • Be flexible in your approach and don’t say “NEVER” (Like “I’ll never use a teacher’s desk again!”…You just might find yourself begging your custodian for one too!)
  • Set up expectations for using furniture safely and appropriately
  • Slowly allow students to use different pieces of furniture instead of letting everyone use everything from day one
  • It’s okay to not use fancy furniture during teaching time

I believe that students should learn in an environment that is comfortable, stimulating, and provides space for collaboration and creativity. I believe that classrooms need a gathering area where students can all be together. I believe that organization helps everything run more efficiently. I believe flexible seating can be a way for students to have more choice and ownership over their environment, but it doesn’t all come together easily. Teachers have to be willing to revise, rethink, and make changes. Teachers have to be flexible thinkers and be willing to go back to the drawing board to find ways to make the classroom environment work for all learners.

What have been your experiences with flexible seating? What lessons or tips do you have for teachers who might want to give it a try?