Flexible Seating, Student Choice

Flexible Seating: Year 3

What a difference a year makes! My group last year adapted to flexible seating after maybe two weeks. They all used the furniture appropriately and I never had any issues. Fast forward a year, and it’s mid-November and I’m pulling my hair out. My new group is extremely inquisitive, yet they are struggling with all the choices. They literally push/steal each others seating when they get up to sharpen a pencil (true story), fall off stools daily, and are choosing seats next to their friends repeatedly… which drives me nuts. I refused to pull out the spooner boards and bike pedals for all of September and half of October, but realized maybe this group needs more movement.

While it has taken a while, I finally am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I had to set some parameters because the class is boy heavy (17 boys and 11 girls). Last year the rule was two boys and two girls at every table and they had to sit diagonally across from each other. This year I had to get creative: there must be at least one girl at every table, and no more than two girls. I even had to have students select their seats in the afternoon for the following day to cut down on fighting over seats. Students with good behavior got first choice.

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Some of you may have followed my journey with flexible seating. I first dabbled with varying tables. Then I added yoga balls (and hated it)! I went back to stools, and added stationary bike pedals, a standing table, and bean bag chairs. Finally, I added crate seats, spooner boards, and now IKEA Snille ($6) seating with lap desks. Here’s what is working well and what I will adjust for next year:

Standing Tables – This is a popular choice. It has taken a while to get the students to understand the expectations for this table. There is no spinning or ‘surfing’ across the room on the spooner boards. They are only for rocking back and forth. I have stools under the table in case the kids get tired of standing.

Lowered seating – My crate seats are hugely popular. For about $100 I made eight seats. The only complaint is the kids would like some back support like a pillow.

Lap Desks – These have held up for a few years and I’m happy with them. The kids love them too because of the cup holder, etc. These have not held up as well and I will not be purchasing them again.

Foam Squares – These are so simple, yet so effective. While I did “steal” a giant rug from an empty classroom, these foam squares are used when kids have to work on the floor. Students love these and I got them for free on a mom-swap website but are similar to these.

Stationary Bikes – I think these are the most effective for wiggly students. The kids are calm from the waist up, but are peddling away underneath. The only problem is that most are broken after only two years of daily use. I’ll be ordering these again but maybe a different brand for more durability.

What’s working well in your room? Anything you absolutely hate?

Back-To-School, First Day, Flexible Seating, Inquiry-Based, Student Choice, Uncategorized

Reflections from Day 1, Year 8

I was very excited to start school this year. I have a new teaching partner, a new class theme, and 28 newly minted fourth graders. I wanted my first day of school to look different than previous years. I wanted to build excitement and focus on fostering individual relationships with the kids. While I have always greeted my students at the door every morning, I made an effort last year to have the biggest smile and greet each kid by name, and a positive comment. Even on my most exhausting mornings, by the time the ninth or tenth kid came in my room, I really was happier and that rubbed off on the kids (and me!). Fake it until you make it. 

While I have flexible seating, I chose to put name tags on the seats today. I have several students who are new to the school and I didn’t want them to feel isolated or left out. The first day in a new classroom is overwhelming as it is, so I wanted there to be as little distractions as possible.  It really does pain me for the first, maybe month, of school as students run down the hall to pick the “best” seat first or grab a table with only their besties. They just aren’t ready to handle that much freedom and choice after four years of assigned seating habits. I clinch my teeth, let them sort it out, intervene when necessary, and wait for it to pass. Around mid-September they start to realize they will get to sit in all their favorite places, and the novelty wears off.

I had a packet on each desk with some coloring pages, crossword puzzles, etc so there was something there to do when they finally settled on a seat. There were directions (dry erase markers on plastic picture frames…genius!) at each table and colored pencils available as well. The packet had one blue page with some personal questions about how they learn best and what they hope to get out of fourth grade. This was on colored paper and I collected it at the end of the day. (It also did double-duty as I modeled how I collect all my papers for the year…calling them in reverse alphabetical order).

I went over my expectations for flexible seating next. I described how I want the students to select a seat for the hour/day/subject and I have a student model how each seat would look when used appropriately  (and what it would look like when used inappropriately). Finally the students signed their “Flexible Seating Contract” and went to foreign language class. I like to follow my schedule as closely as possible even the first week of school. During my math period, we set up our math notebooks, during science, the same. It is my belief that students thrive with structure and routine. When they know what is expected of them (every morning after the bell rings, we do math…therefore they anticipate and have math notebooks ready) the easier it is for them and me.


In between setting up notebooks for each subject area, (this takes a while…gluing in an index page, writing our table of contents, numbering every page), I put some posters on each table. Each had a question or sentence starter. I got many of the ideas from the blog Making Good Humans which was posted on the Making the PYP Happen Facebook page. Even if you don’t teach at an IB school, this page is worth the “follow”. My questions were as follows, and students responded with markers:

What stops you from learning?
What helps you learn best?
What does it mean to be an inquirer?
What was the most fun day you had all summer?
Last year I….
This year I’m going to…
The answer is “Mrs. Biggs”. What could the question be?

The students rotated from table to table, adding their response until they had visited all six tables. This also was important because it showed the students we move around a lot in my class and it gave each student a chance to try each seat, even if just for a minute. Some of the responses were silly (Last year I… was in 3rd grade) but we discussed those and modeled new ones, which were much better (Last year I struggled in math; Last year I loved science because we did hands-on experiments), etc.


Some of my other first day go-to activities involve index cards. On one, I have the students write 3-5 questions down that they may have. It could be a question about my personal life, our classroom, or the year as a whole. Throughout the day, I read a few and answer them during transitions or if we have a few minutes to spare. This is a safe way to let students anonymously ask me anything. I obviously only read and answer the appropriate ones. On the second index cards, we play “Two Truths and a Lie”. I ask the students to write down two true things about themselves and one lie. I always read mine first and see if the kids can spot the lie. I also pull a few index cards throughout the day and have the class guess. By the end of the day, they are begging to me read a few more. I know this game gets old in the upper grades, but fourth graders have always loved it.
This has been a longer-than-expected post, but I had such a wonderful first day. I’m really looking forward to this year. What are some of your favorite first-day activities?

Flexible Seating, Personalized Learning, Student Choice

Back-to-School & Student Choice

I am five days away from heading back to school. Five days. I’m not sure where summer went, but this one flew by. Maybe it was the constant playdates and pool time with my toddlers, or my brother’s wedding, or the IB training in Austin, Texas, but either way, I’ve been doing some reflection and trying to figure out how to give my students more choice this year. Here are three ways I will include choice in my class this year:

Flexible Seating:
My class has had flexible seating for two years now. I did a small blurb on my seating choices in a previous blog post “Top 5 Reasons I Use Technology in my Classroom” (see #2). Previously, it looked like this: My students may sit/stand wherever they like as long as they are on task. I have seats with stationary bikes, standing tables with spooner boardsHokki stools, and bean bag chairs. I noticed that once a student picked a seat for the day, they sat there and wouldn’t move. I wanted there to be more movement between subjects and throughout the day. This year, I am removing two large desks (each desk seats two students) and I am making crate seats. Four will be placed in a semi-circle in the front of the room, and four along the back wall for a “couch/bench” like seating area. Below you can see how large the tables are and I’m looking forward to the extra space this will open up. I found lap desks at Hobby Lobby and students can bring them to the crate seats or to the floor. I would like to offer some incentive for picking more than one seat in a day.

 

Morning Work:
I stumbled upon this blog about “Rethinking Morning Work.”  I love the idea of morning work choice! My daughter’s preschool teacher offers this for four-year-olds, why wouldn’t it work for fourth graders? Every day when she walks in, her teacher has set up a few tables with arts/crafts, small toys, Play-Doh, etc. She can choose which to engage with after she hangs up her book bag. I’m interested in this Suspend Game and Legos for a collaboration station. Since we are 1:1 ipads, we could have a technology station, a game station (hello task cards and sudoko!), and an artistic expression station focusing on an artist or genre each week or month. I am hoping to have this fleshed out soon but would not start it on the first two days of school. (Our district starts school on Thursday, we have class Friday, then three days off for the weekend and the solar eclipse.)

Choice Boards & Novel Selection:
I have used choice boards for many topics, but especially math. I give students a “Must Do/May Do” list where they have certain things that are mandatory to complete and others are optional. I would like to be more creative with academic choice this year, for example, offering my students more than one summative assessment for each IB unit. I do many station-rotation models in my classroom, but I would like to offer maybe six stations, where only four or five need be visited.  I usually select two or three novels for each IB unit based on the topics covered. I always group the students by ability, but would like to offer the students a choice in which novel to read (as long as I have sort-of evenly numbered groups). I’m thinking I will read the jacket covers of the books out loud and have students record on a note card their first choice. I want the decision to be independent of their friend’s choices. It is always hard at the beginning of the year, since these students don’t know my routines and procedures. They also don’t have experience being given so much choice in a classroom. Hopefully, I’ll have them whipped into shape in no time!

A very special thanks to the blogs who I’ve borrowed/stolen from today. And my dad, who I begged to help me make these crate seats!

 

Inside the Trenches
The Apple Tree Room
The Science Penguin