Rethinking seating: The un-seating arrangement

The Idea

One day, I had this great idea that students shouldn’t be confined to one specific desk. With groupings always changing and the need for flexible learning spaces, I figured Why not just keep all desk spaces as common spaces, and use them for your current needs? I was really excited when I first got the idea, and I suggested it to my 5th grade students… But the majority of my class didn’t like the idea! Was it because they liked having their own personal space? Was it because they had been through a school system that taught them that they should have their own desks? Some other reason? Who knows. Either way, I was superbummed that they didn’t want to try this new, revolutionary (okay, maybe not revolutionary) idea I had.

Trying It Out

So this year, after taking over a second grade class for the remaining 3 months of the school year, I was still stuck to this idea. And this time my class liked it! I was superstoked! I got to work quickly, simply moving the desks against the wall, allowing them to be used as storage for paper, pencil crayons, and used as computer desks for our two classroom computers. I moved the long table (that was previously the computers desk) into the centre of the room as a collaborative learning space. I left a few desks with chairs as independent and/or flexible seating spaces. Now, instead of having a classroom full of desks and chairs and little other space, we had the following learning spaces:

Floor – standing or sitting

The Palapa (a covered outdoor space with desks and chairs which, lucky for us, is located directly next to our classroom)

The long table (seats about 8 students around it)

Regular desks

Reflection

It’s been going GREAT!

When students are engaged in a group activity, the setup promotes learning, collaboration, and independence. They have the autonomy to choose a space that will allow them to succeed, and the freedom to sit, stand, or kneel on the floor, a chair, or a desk (well, maybe only sitting on the chair and desk). We are lucky enough to have the “palapa” (covered space with tables and chairs) right outside our door – almost like an extension of our classroom. Students use this space when they need a desk, whether learning alone or with others. I think I can speak for all of us when I say this arrangement has been great for our learning community! When students are learning alone, they are encouraged to choose a space that will allow them to be successful during that time.

There’s still room for improvement.

On the other hand, we are really struggling during mini-lessons (teacher-directed lessons generally last 5-10 minutes). Students need time and guidance to figure out what to do with themselves during a mini-lesson. We’ve brainstormed some possibilities: they can sit on the floor, on a desk, on a chair, or stand. They can sit on their hands, squeeze a squishy ball, or put their hands in their laps. They can cross their legs, stretch them out, or sit on their feet. They can lean against a wall or stand up straight. They can do any combination of these or a strategy of their own that allows them to be engaged and learning during this time.

It’s a big change for all of us and we’re all learning together. As with anything new we try in the classroom, we always need to reflect and modify to improve.

Some Wonders

I wonder how an un-seating arrangement experience would be different if implemented at the beginning of the year… I wonder how it’d be different with older grades… I wonder how and to what extent one’s previous experiences and beliefs about education impact one’s openness and opinion to something like this (both children and adults)?

What do you think? What kinds of (un)seating arrangements have you seen or experimented with?

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