Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Flexible Seating...What is it?

Buzz words come and go so when I heard "Flexible Seating" I did a little digging. What did I find out? It really isn't anything new! Flexible Seating has been around A LONG TIME! Recently it has been given a lot of attention on blogs, Instagram and other social media platforms. It makes my teacher heart happy to see so many teacher embracing this concept! It's a concept that I embraced many years ago.  As my friend Deanna said, "Kim was doing flexible seating before it was cool."

Here's my "flexible seating" journey...

When I began teaching kindergarten...it was REALLY kindergarten. We ate snack, we took a nap, we had recess twice a day, we learned our letters, we played in centers, we finger painted...and we didn't have an assigned seat! It was the way I learned to operate a classroom, it was the way my mentors taught me to teach. The children moved around the room into different areas sometimes at a table, sometimes on the floor, sometimes on a couch, sometimes in a bathtub. The classroom was a place where learning didn't require a desk with a name plate for each child.

Times changed and we have slowly moved to a kindergarten where children learn to read, add, and subtract.When Common Core came out, many teachers gave up the things that had worked for them as they turned their focus to the standards. They moved to more seat assigned work, more directed instruction, more "sit and get" type learning--"sit there and I hope you get it". Teachers moved to more of a "print and go", reproducible, no prep type of instruction where the standards where written on the paper so it must be the best way to teach. 

Thankfully many teachers are now seeing that flexible seating doesn't mean you have a "loosey goosey" classroom where the teacher loses control. Instead, they see it is a place where rigor is evident in every lesson. It is a classroom with very specific routines and procedures. It is within this structure that children can be more selective as to where and how they learn. It allows for differentiated instruction, multiple intelligences, and Bloom's taxonomy to all occur not as separate lessons, but as the way the learning is delivered on a daily basis.  In today's classroom, the instruction might be a little different. The standards might be a bit more rigorous.  But the way children learn best hasn't changed!

What does flexible seating look like? It can look different in each teacher's room. Here are a few pictures of what it looks like in our classrooms. The true goal of seating it to maximize instruction.  Flexible seating is different kinds of seating for different kinds of instruction.

Flexible seating doesn't mean that you have a "tableless" room. 

As a matter of fact, I love my small group table. This is a table I use to meet with a small group of kids while the other children are working around the room. My kids know that this is the spot where we are going to meet together! It is also my desk! I don't have a teacher desk. This is it.
If I am doing a messy craft that involves paint....I would never want to do that on the carpet. I like to use my table for crafts, painting, cooking...things you would use a table for if you were at home! I also have a few small tables around the room. Here are a few that I have used over the years.
Sometimes I do my activity on the floor. Talk about excitement! Crazy, right? Just because we did our shaving cream writing on the floor they were super excited. Why did I do it? I wanted them sitting in a row instead of around a table. I wanted to be sure they were all seeing the word left to right! That is what flexible seating is REALLY about. After we decide what standard we are going to teach, we think about what resources we are going to use, which materials are going to be the most successful in helping our children achieve mastery. But, another decision that needs to be made, what seating environment while be most conducive.
Where's "Their" Spot?
My kids do have an assigned spot on the floor. To be honest, this is for my own sanity. I like for them to know where to get on the rug. This keeps kids apart that I just don't want together. It keeps all the kids in the right spot so that the instruction is most impactful.  It makes it where I can establish share partnerships with intention.
See those red bags? That is one of the smartest things I ever did as a teacher. It is their "carpet bag". This is where they keep all of the supplies that we use for large group instruction.  In the morning they get them out of the baskets and place them on their carpet spot. They stay there all day! You can read more about the carpet bags here. This eliminates the need for that desk to hold all those supplies! ALL, every single minute, of large group instruction is done with the kids sitting on the rug. They use a lap board for supporting their paper as needed.  With all the kids right there, I can easily see who is getting it and who needs to spend a little more time with me. It keeps the pace moving quickly as there is no need for me to walk around all those crowded tables. 

Why Did I Get Rid of Tables In the First Place?

To be honest, getting rid of my tables had nothing to do with any research! There, I admit it. Most of my decisions as a teacher are based on that "gut" feeling. That feeling that there has to be a better way. (It's only after I try things that I later find research to say it's a good idea!) I wanted to have the cute rugs, fun benches--the cozy places for kids to breathe! The problem--there wasn't enough room for the tables and the things I wanted! We hardly used our tables. So, one day after school I pushed a table to the workroom and put my name on it--in case I wanted it back! The next day, I pushed a second table. As you can guess, I never looked back. I kept two tables, one for me and one in case another adult was in my room doing a messy, fun activity with the kids! The rest of the room slowly filled with pillows, benches, clip boards, lamps, end tables, etc.

The Classroom is Your Day House

Now, my parents always ask at Open House where their child's desk is.  Here's how I explain it...School is our Day House. On Saturdays when I am home, I don't sit at my kitchen table all day...I would go stir crazy. Instead I move around my house--laying on the couch, sitting at the table, crawling around on the floor with the kids, swinging on the porch...different kinds of seating for different kinds of activities.

Pattern VS Novelty

We also know that the brain learns by pattern, but seeks novelty. So we divide our rooms into 5 zones. Each zone has different types of seating, different literacy centers, different math centers, different types of writing tools, etc. The kids visit one zone each day. The fact that they know the rotation, 1 zone each day of the week, establishes that pattern that the brain loves. But, the variety of resources and the different environment provide the novelty that the brain seeks.Within the zone they sit where they want! It depends on what they chose to do as to where they chose to sit...
...on their belly, leaning against the couch or using the storage unit as a table top! As long as they are working, getting the job done, being productive, working as a team, problem solving, then I'm good--sit where you like!

So that's it! Simple as that! Not a decision I made based on a research paper I read. Not a decision I made because it was the cool thing to do. It was a decision I made because I wanted to create an environment that was warm and cozy. A place where kids don't have anxiety. A place that I love to spend my Sunday afternoons.  A place where parents stick their head in the door and say "this is so cool".  A place where an academically rigorous curriculum doesn't cause tummy aches.





12 comments:

  1. I love the "Day House" comparison! Fantastic post!!!

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  2. This is so well explained. I'm a visual learner and could not wrap my head around how I could make this work in my classroom. Thanks
    Jessica
    Tales of a First Grade Teacher

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  3. This is so well explained. I'm a visual learner and could not wrap my head around how I could make this work in my classroom. Thanks
    Jessica
    Tales of a First Grade Teacher

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  4. Love this! Our "day house"!! YES!! It is our "school family" so why not "day house"?!! Thank you!

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  5. Can you explain the zones a bit? I love this and can see it working in my room!!

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  6. Stace...check out this post and see if it has the information you are looking for. http://kindergals.blogspot.com/2014/08/what-about-literacy-centers-classroom.html

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  7. I couldn't agree more! I love the "day house" reference. I feel this way about my classroom, but I didn't have a good way to explain it. Now I do. Thanks so much for sharing!

    ~Laura
    Luv My Kinders

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  8. Interesting ... you've got me thinking:)

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  9. I so love the feel of this environment. How many students do you have? I have 28 and am trying to brainstorm how I could adapt my classroom to be more flexible and zones-friendly. :)

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  10. Kiki! I have had as few as 16 kids and as many as 28. We use the same set up for both extremes. Good luck. I know you will love it!

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  11. I love this post - thank you for explaining exactly how you make this work for your class, and how to "sell" the idea to parents. Your classroom looks like a warm and inviting place for young children - just what they need, and so much nicer for the adults in the room too!

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  12. Hi! This article really helped me more on this concept..love how you say it's their house. .so very true. What do you think for prekinder? And do u have a post on how u start the year etc with it?

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