Sunday, April 19, 2015

No Assigned Seats?! - With Students!

Well, it's been a week...and I LOVE my new setup!  It is absolutely, 100%, the change I needed to get my students learning and me teaching in ways that are better for all of us!

One of the most important things I learned in my credential program last year is how much time and attention should be given to teaching new things (routines, etc.) in the classroom.  I knew this definitely wasn't going to be one of those times where I could quickly go over the new things and move on...that would lead to disaster!  We were going to need to talk about it.  A lot.  We were going to need to practice it.  A lot.  We were probably going to need reminders.  And that's ok!

On our first day back from Spring Break I sat the kids down before we even went inside the classroom to give them a little heads up of what was to come.  While talking through my ideas with people over break I heard a lot of "well, that sounds great, but in reality..."  I have a group of students who like a challenge and like to prove the naysayers wrong, so I addressed other people's concerns with my students before we even went inside.  I told them that there are people who think that our new setup means that they'll stop working and be really noisy but that I KNOW our new setup will allow them to work harder than they used to and actually be quieter.  Talk about suspense, my students couldn't wait to get inside to see the change and get to work!

The more prepared you are, the less time you're going to have to spend on it.  I came in ready to spend a lot of time getting this to work.  My students came in ready to learn and get going.  And it just happened!  I'm not saying we didn't have to practice, and that there weren't any bumps along the road, but my students picked it up way faster than I anticipated!

Although I have my ideas on which work spaces are best for different activities, I decided to let them try what they wanted and decide if it worked for them or not.  That way, my students are the ones choosing what's best for them instead of me telling them what's best for them.  As much as I'd like to think I always know what's best, it's their learning opportunity not mine, and they learn differently from me.  I can guide them, but I can't always do it for them (nor do I want to!).  We talked about how there are different places that work better for different types of work (individual, partner, group) and about how hard it is to write a lot if you're laying on your stomach but other than that, it was basically up to them.  They also know that if they aren't making a good choice, I get to make the choice for them.  However, they still have choice, it's just more of a "pick a spot other than that one" choice.  If I notice a student hasn't made the best choice of where to sit (talking, etc.), I have begun to hold back before stepping in to see if maybe they will change their minds on their own.  Many times, they do!

In talking about the different work spaces we also set a "maximum capacity" for different areas and different activities.  The class library is small so it maxes out at 2 (sometimes 1), the round table maxes out between 3 and 6 depending on where it is, the low square table maxes out at either 4 or 8 depending on the activity, and there is no max for the desks (because while they don't have to use one, I don't want them to think the can't).

Here's what it looks like:
Partner/group discussion
Working together...but independently!
Working on a variety of things in a variety of places!
Making great use of all our work spaces!
A typical day with my new arrangement goes like this:
  • Students unpack and grab a seat at a desk when they first come in.  We fill out our agendas (they can move to a better spot if they can't see well).
  • They may choose to work anywhere while working independently on Front Row (GREAT math site:!) - ~30 mins
    • Although we are working independently, students are welcome and encouraged to help each other
  • Math groups: I work with one group at the low table in the middle of the classroom while the other group may choose to sit anywhere while working independently on ST Math (then we switch)
  • Independent Reading: students may choose to sit anywhere
  • Students take a seat at a desk when we come in from recess.  I give directions for our Guided Reading Rotations and then they move.
  • Guided Reading Rotations: one group works together at the low table (but students may work independently anywhere they choose), one group meets with me on the floor, one group works independently wherever they would like (then we rotate)
  • Students take a seat at a desk or on the floor when we come in from lunch for a short read aloud.
  • In those same spots I give directions/mini-lesson (they can sit on the floor if they'd like) for writing and then they can move and get started on their work.
  • Same thing happens for Social Studies/Science but there's more group work occurring.
  • PE
I've found that my students are sitting where they want to sit for a large chunk of they day, and that I'm actually able to teach more than I was because they are more engaged and paying attention.  There's more buy in now that they have a say in where they work.  I'm noticing that my students are more comfortable in class and it's showing up in how hard they are working, the quality of work they are producing, and the conversations they are having.  I've also noticed that they are leading so much more of what we do now.

Having the bookshelves has been great because they are easy to keep organized.  Instead of having one turn in basket for the whole class (which usually looked like a massive explosion of papers) I not have one turn in basket on each bookshelf (5 total) and my students always turn their work in to a specific one.  This has made collecting and checking work so much more manageable and less daunting.

Yes, this was a big change in my classroom, but it seems small compared to amount of change it inspired throughout the week.  It's nice to have your crazy ideas work out once in a while (so you feel a little less crazy!), but it's also nice to have the ideas that seem so idealistic at times work out.  Education isn't stuck.

(Not sure if I really got all my ideas down or not, but there's more to come someday!  Let me know if there's anything you want to know more about!)

Sunday, April 12, 2015

No Assigned Seats?! - The Setup

I started Spring Break feeling excited about not needing to work in my classroom much and actually giving myself a break...but the longer I was home the more Pinteresting I did, and the more Pinteresting I did, the more I wanted to get back into my room!  It didn't take long before I decided that I was bored with assigned seats.  I loved my most recent desk setup, but having assigned seats just wasn't catering to the kind of learning I want to see in my classroom.  In my searching for something that felt right I came across two blogs (linked below) that were very inspiring but left me thinking my room wasn't big enough but that it was still something I wanted to try.

In making my first move toward creating this new setup, I discovered that I did have enough space in my classroom, I just had too much unnecessary furniture!  Relocating some extra furniture led me to a classroom that seemed bigger than it was when I moved into it last summer.

My main goal in changing my classroom setup was to create work spaces for my students and provide them with opportunities to choose where they wanted to work.  I kept enough desks for every student to have desk space if they needed/wanted it, but also created different areas for my students to work so they don't feel confined to their one desk.
  • None of the desks are assigned. 
  • I lowered a few tables so I now have some that are low enough for students to sit on the floor but still have a table to write on. 
  • Another small desk I have is now more accessible and students can use it without asking.
  • There is more space for students to sit on the floor and clipboards are even more accessible now than they used to be.
  • The bean bag chairs are open for use at all times and students no longer have to ask to use them.
Realistically, my students will be able to sit anywhere they want to in my classroom during work time.

I also let go of the idea that no student should have their back to the front of the classroom.  I don't want my classroom to be teacher centered, I want it to be student centered, and everyone facing the board is not promoting that.  And when I really think about it, I walk around while I teach so there's no reason to have an entire desk setup that caters to everyone facing forward at all times.  Yes, there are times where I need everyone's eyes on me and the board (direct instruction, etc.).  In those times, my students who are not facing forward know to turn their chair around and grab a clipboard (if they need to write).

Here's what it looks like now!

From the "front" of my room
From the back corner
From the front corner: class library on left
From other back corner: round table moveable workspace on left
Bookshelves across back of classroom
Wow, this is one of those times where I'm trying to write something I'm so excited about that my mind is jumping all over the place!  No assigned seats means no rat's nests inside our desks!!  But that also means...where in the world will we put our rat's nests?!  For the last few years my mom has used bookshelves like these in her classroom: each table group had their own bookshelf at their group to keep their supplies on.  One of the blogs I came across (Setting Up for Second) also utilized bookshelves but used them in the back of her room instead.  I love how neat and organized they look in the back of my room!  Although my students won't have the insides of their desks anymore, the bookshelves will allow an even more organized way for my students to keep their supplies and avoid rat's nests!

It's incredible what you can create when you let go of what a classroom is "supposed" to look like!

I am so looking forward to kicking off the last 10 weeks of our school year together with this huge change!  It is going to take practice for us to really get it all smoothed out, but I'm excited and I KNOW they have it in them to succeed!

Next post?  No Assigned Seats?! - With Students!