Alternative classroom seating can really change your teaching. Flexible seating for classrooms doesn't work for everyone. Don't beat yourself up when flexible seating doesn't work for you. Here are 5 reasons why it didn't work for me!
Let’s turn back the clock to this time last year. I was gearing up for what I thought would be the BEST TEACHING YEAR EVER! Why you ask? Flexible seating was going to make my classroom soar to new heights. The entire summer I shopped for different items to put in my classroom. First it was a new couch, then side tables, then desk lamps, next coffee table, add recliners, plus a dining room table, add 25 misc vintage chairs, don't forget a high top desk (old art table) with bar stools, yes even new shelves, one kidney shaped table – and I really could go on and on. My class looked the part but we fell short, and I quickly realized I had to fix this problem.
The first day of school was a success. The students thought I was awesome and had the coolest classroom ever. I had mixed emotions about that. My job isn’t to be awesome and have the coolest classroom, it is to be the best teacher I can be. I felt like my teaching efforts were already being overshadowed by my amazing classroom decor. This didn’t make me feel good inside. Day 2 – students were quickly becoming very territorial about their seat. I had a huge sign on my board directing students to choose a different seat every day for the first 10 days. They could care less. They knew where they wanted to sit and they made sure they got to class first to make it happen. Needless to say, I spent the first ten minutes of every class rearranging students.
Keep in mind I teach 8th grade, but I think these issues could arise in any classroom. I used flexible seating from the first day of school until Christmas break. When the students got back from Christmas break my class was 100% full of my desks and arranged in an OCD person’s paradise. My teaching game changed that day. As crazy as it sounds, I was back in charge and the students were happy about it. Students want you to lead them. They want structure and order. I didn't’ have that with flexible seating and here are my top 5 reasons why.
This meant that during lessons and instruction I was having to redirect students way more than usual. They were talking, playing, texting, cheating way more than I had ever experienced. I brushed it off at first as “oh this year the students are different” but quickly realized it was me that was different, not them.
It was super hard for me to monitor my students properly with this new seating arrangement. Usually during formative or summative assessments I have the ability to see all screens or papers simultaneously. I couldn’t do that with a couch, high top tables, and recliners. Students could easily sneak something by me when I turned my back to check other students and they did. Every. Single. Test. Luckily, I usually found the problem and dealt with it accordingly.
Don’t get me wrong. I am all for student lead instruction and I’m not your typical teacher that lectures all day but I ALWAYS have a solid 25 minutes of instruction in my classroom before flexible grouping, independent learning, or anything else. I have fun in my classroom, but they weren’t as engaged. I’d ask questions and they would look over at their friends puzzled because they didn’t pay attention. Often, they weren’t even filling out their bell ringers because they were too engaged in conversations with multiple friends. In desks, they don’t have that luxury.
I am on top of my students like sprinkles on ice cream when it comes to behavior, learning, and engagement. I don’t allow sleeping in my class. If they sleep, we (the entire class) get up and stretches – go outside – or something to make sure we are all engaged. Students found themselves a little too comfortable in the recliners and couches. I’d look over and they would be dozing off during instruction. Something I’ve never had happen before.
With all the other reasons listed above, my heart knew my students weren’t learning to their maximum potential. My summative and formative assessments proved that as a whole, my students weren’t to the level of understanding as they should have been. When that happens, I always reassess my teaching. I know that when I bring learning back to the basics, that’s where the magic happens. So we did just that. We took it back to the old school. On the last day before Christmas break I had a student accidentally step through my coffee table. She thought she could step on it to get to the couch and when she did she broke it in half. I won’t lie – I was super mad but I really had a moment in that time of weakness.
I told myself I didn’t fail, I just found so many reasons why flexible seating couldn’t work for me.
On the first day back from Christmas break my students were speechless. I removed everything from my classroom but the walls and lamps. I placed desk back in the U shape my room was notorious for. Learning began that day. Students weren’t disappointed. They were happy. I saw that fire in their eyes again. No one slept. No one cheated. Everyone was engaged. I knew then that flexible seating isn’t for everyone and to be honest – I knew it would never be for me again. I need structure in my classroom and so do my students. If you’ve struggled with student engagement or achievement and you currently have flexible seating in your classroom, I encourage you to make a list of the pros and the cons to better assess how your new school year should go.
Thanks for reading! “I have not failed. I just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” -Thomas Edison