I know I’m an English teacher, but I like a good hypothesis. I love trial and error. And flexible seating is all the rage in the “Personalized Learning” conversation, so I figured I’d do an experiment.
So I began doing research at Edutopia and read articles like this one and this one, and trolled Pinterest for articles, images, and design ideas like this and this. The idea is a “Starbucks-like” environment, where students are able to learn in comfort rather than sitting in desks all day. And sitting is the new smoking! I want to provide stand up desks and opportunities to move so the kids don’t all get some disease of the derriere.
Then I started acquiring the necessary equipment, some donated, some I paid for, some that required me to rent a Uhaul and call friends to help me unload. All without receipts! The IRS is going to have to trust my deduction at face value. I’ve become preoccupied with trolling Next Door and the Torrance Trash and Treasures group on Facebook for seating options. I don’t really know what will work, so I’m figuring it out, and revising, as I go. I’ve moved furniture around several times, and it seems like every weekend I acquire something new to add. I’m still looking for a stand up table and stools, an area rug, and a coffee table that will fit student legs beneath it.
Next came planning the procedure; instruction has to be different– independent and personal learning centered, since all the seats don’t face a teacher center. I have to use my LMS (Learning Management System) so that any student can access what would have traditionally been on the board or projector. I need to use websites that update live so that students can share information with each other, or work independently as needed. Lessons and activities are being tweaked to allow for more collaboration, and learning goals are based more on growth and skills attainment rather than completion and knowledge.
The experiment begins with planning how to get students seated so that they don’t fight and make choices that are conducive to their individual learning– not that are conducive to their complete relaxation or friend time. I tried to introduce this seating strategy in a way that would eliminate jockeying for seats, running into the classroom, and student combinations that are uncomfortable sharing a couch. I have done this by randomly selecting 4 students to enter at a time and insisting that they all sit together in a group, deciding amongst themselves where they will sit. I have tried to allow all students who want to sit in the various types of chairs to do so, but I haven’t kept track, so I can’t be certain.
Now I have been using observational data and frequent communication of my own learning to manage the seating arrangement. I can often see what seating works for different students, and the products students create gives hints as to whether they are working effectively. I have taken many notes on which students have required reminders to be on task. I tell the students when I notice something does or doesn’t work for them, and often they agree.
This week I am assigning groups and seats for a week and then will re-evaluate. I am considering a rotation– having whole groups move to a different seating arrangement every few days until everyone has tried everything– I wish I had done this the first weeks of school. Now, however, I have some information about how students work and which students work well together or not, and I will use this data to create the groups.
For more data, I plan to have them fill out a survey that asks them what they prefer– if they prefer flexible or traditional seating, what type of flexible seating if so, and where in the room they prefer to sit. I will have them justify their choices with their own data from the past 3 weeks.
What I have found so far is that the seating has created a renewed excitement about being in the classroom– an honorable first step! I have had no discipline issues so far. Reminders that off task behavior causes immediate on task behavior, and I have had many students come in during nutrition to finish work they could have finished in class– remembering of course, that maybe they couldn’t finish in class because students work at different paces. They want to finish so they have their seating choice!
And as this seating arrangement creates more collaborative learning and discussions, the further hypothesize that the learning itself will become more independent, and require more self-sufficiency, following of directions, and problem-solving.
I hope to update this blog as further data comes in.
Please email me with concerns or questions: firstname.lastname@example.org.