Thursday, May 5, 2016

Flexible Seating for All Learning Styles

So I came across this article from Edutopia on Facebook the other day.  Needless to say, I was intrigued.  I sent it to some friends & lots of texting ensued.  We all loved the idea but didn't know what resources we had available to us.  I thought about that article all night long and, in true "me" fashion, decided we'd be making it happen ASAP!  I spoke with my principal and was given the "go ahead" with some places around the building to look for tables options.

I talked with the students about the change, idea behind it, and their thoughts. It was shocking to hear so many that were unsure or not willing to give it a go.  (I assured them that we could bring the desks back if they hated it and we were ready to begin.)  We started with desk clean-outs--a MAJOR undertaking.  If your students are anything like mine, they LOVE origami and have all kinds of paper, creatures, figures, etc. along with snacks, wrappers, pencil sharpeners, etc.   It was quickly decided that THIS was the reason that they didn't want to give up their desks and cubby space.

I collected student textbooks since we rarely use them anyway and kept the one subject that we do use easily accessible on a roll-away cart.  (A book shelf is a great option if you don't have a cart.) Students have one bin each in my storage cabinet, so we reassessed what was being kept there and added to it as needed.  Each person also has their own magazine bin at their desk.  We placed reader's notebooks, math journals, writer's notebooks, sticky notes, headphones, and IDR books in these and set them aside.  Desks were moved out of the room and tables were moved in.

Next came the set up.  I really loved the idea of a large gathering area in the center of the room from the Edutopia article. I placed the tables around the room so that I could achieve this space.  For several years, my team has been using these stools from IKEA at our small group table and students LOVE them.  I had more than needed at that table, so it was an easy decision to use them at one of the student tables.

Four stools fit at this table--
just the perfect height!

     Students have more than enough space to gather 
        together for a whole group mini-lesson now.

My kiddos like to work on the floor, so having a hard surface on the ground was important to me. After assessing the tables that we had, it looked like maybe a low-to-the-ground table would be good rather than all the way on the ground.  I found cheap body pillows at Target to place on either side and then used two outdoor patio cushions for the end.  (This ended up being the students' favorite option.)
Rectangular table lowered as low as it can creates just the right height for students.

Another important seating option for my students was something with movement.  Some of the KORE stools that swivel would be ideal; however, they're way out of budget for now, so some stability balls were the next best thing.  I found these at Dicks on a BOGO deal, so I made out pretty well for eight of them.  We definitely needed to set up some ground rules (keep reading) for these before students used them, but I was very impressed with the self-control shown.

Stability balls (one of two places I have them in the room) with room for a library/reading area.

I do have a few students that like to stand.  No matter where they're working, they stand.  You know what I mean.  I created a little standing work space for those friends on the counter.  This way, they're not blocking the view for others if I am teaching while they're at seats.

The Standing Workspace--our counter

So how does this work on a daily basis?

We first set up some ground rules and expectations together.  I used an anchor chart found by a colleague on Pinterest and made it "fit" our classroom needs.  As with anything new, procedures are key and MUST be practiced & encouraged often initially.  Here's what we ended up with:

We recently added "DO keep feet on the floor" and "DON'T POKE THE BALLS".

Students keep their magazine bins at the front of the room (in alphabetical order) overnight.  When they arrive in the morning, they choose their desired learning spot and move their bin to that spot.  This helps me better see who has arrived and who hasn't.  Students can stay at this spot all day or choose to switch with someone else if needed/desired.  At the end of the day, tables are cleaned and bins are placed back at the front of the room.  Each day is a new day and a fresh start in a very neat & tidy room.*I have to add in here that I encourage lots of movement throughout the day. Students never had to stay at their desks to work prior to this desk change.  This just gave them a better option when they are at their seats.  Students move from their chosen seat to other places in the room throughout the day.*  The little bit of whole group instruction that I do have now happens in the large center space of the room.  We also have our morning meetings here  and now have more than enough room to "circle up".  The center space is used as a "sprawl out" place when we are working in groups, doing IDR, or completing workstations.

 Bins get lined up at the end of each day along the chalkboard.  Students pick them up and place them wherever they're going to start working...bins are easily moved throughout the day as needs change.

When we started this change, I did as the article suggested and had students choose a new type of seat each day and encouraged them to spend the whole day there so they could get a feel for it during all subjects. At the end of the week, we talked about where everyone felt they were most productive (not what was the most fun) and charted the results. Students were encouraged to choose the seating option that they felt best helped them throughout the day, so everyone kind of has an idea of where they're going each day.  It was brought up that students felt they needed something different during one subject over another--YES!--so we talked about how great and easy it is to move and switch as the day progresses.

My students feel great about how focused they've become.  "I noticed I'm not walking around during reading anymore.  I used to move a lot because I just needed to move, but now I can just bounce or rock and I read a lot more!"  These are the reflective attitudes that I love to see in my students that will benefit them in their lives.  I'm so glad that I jumped in and made this change for them.  While I'm still getting used to the arrangement and different types of movement, it's clearly benefiting my kiddos and that's what it's all about!

What do you do that helps meet the different learning styles?  Curious about other pieces of this process that I didn't talk about or want more explanation about?  Comment below.


  1. Great post! Question for you: do you find kids ever argue about certain types of seats? And have there been any behaviour issues (I mean more than you would typically expect on a normal day)?

  2. Behavior issues have actually been minimized since this change.

    There haven't been arguments but concerned students if they don't get to the room first. We are at the end of trying everything out and I have maybe two more people who prefer the balls than I have seats for. I reminded students that they would be open at different times during the day and have thought about getting two more balls since I wanted 10 to begin with (but could only find 8). You could always do an A/B schedule for students if necessary.

    I found that I agree with the Edutopia article when it said you should have more total seats available than students. This will help with choices and allow more freedom of movement throughout the day.

  3. First of all, congrats on your new adventure and taking the risk! You will learn a lot about your students and their learning. I have a completely open seating classroom with not enough what I call hard surface seats for every child. I can't even imagine teaching with assigned seats and desks as I used to do. When we've had arguing problems about seats ( like last week) I had my class meet to solve the problem. I gave them 10 minutes to find a solution that did not require me drawing names, creating a schedule or anything else. My little second graders solved the problem and have developed an agreement they are all following. I think students need to learn this skill. We all know how much this happens in the adult world. Open flexible seating is a personal responsiblity to honored. They get it and love that I am confident in their abilities. FYI- consider breakfast lap tables with legs. I used to do the lower table but some kids want the floor and personal space. HUGE hit. When they want to sit to collaborate, they simply huddle up with their lap table. Quite cute!

  4. Love those suggestions! Thank you!

  5. Love the floor table was wondering where you got a table that can be lowered that height. Having trouble finding them.