My youngest is a 5th grader this year. The start of the school year was rougher than previous years have been. When I checked in with her one morning recently she was talking far more positively about school. I was surprised and tried to dig a little deeper to see what I was missing. One thing struck me: her teacher had just changed their seats.
My daughter is one of those kids for whom school (typically) works. She is well behaved and does well in the structure of schooling. As a result, I think she is often seated with children for whom that is not true. I presume this because I can remember doing it to students as a teacher.
For the first six weeks or so of school this year she talked multiple times about her frustration with the kids at her table. When she was no longer sitting with those students that seemed to ease some of her frustrations and challenges at school.
Not long after realizing that, I had a conversation with a colleague in my district who was visiting my classroom for the first time. She remarked on my flexible seating and asked how it was going. As I’ve been doing this for a decade that question was a bit unexpected for me because flexible seating feels normal to me now. However, this colleague works with new teachers in our district so she’s looking at flexible seating through the lens of it being a popular new thing to help teachers try. Her question made me stop and think about how it is going.
As we talked I realized that some of the reasons I like flexible seating are the reasons some teachers are afraid to try it. (I’m not sure that’s really saying what I’m trying to say…)
- I believe flexible seating helps students learn self-advocacy. If my daughter had flexible seating in her classroom she could get up and move when students were making it difficult for her to focus and learn. She could advocate for her own learning needs and problem solve for herself.
- I believe flexible seating helps students learn self-monitoring. If they are busy chatting with a friend and not able to focus on the task at hand, they can move. Of course, they have to realize they should move, an important skill for them to learn. Giving them control over where they work and learn in the classroom means they have to be thoughtful and responsible about it. (If they aren’t, I do step in. First with a question about whether or not they have found a good place to learn and, if that doesn’t work, with a direction that they need to find a better place for learning.)
- I believe flexible seating helps students solve problems independently. I think many teachers are afraid to try flexible seating because they feel like they need to keep certain students away from one another. So they assign them seats. As a result, students don’t even learn to solve that sort of problem. I’ve found kids solve that problem pretty well on their own and I don’t have to step in too terribly often once we’ve identified it and talked about it.
- One of the other benefits of flexible seating also solves the problem of space. Every teacher can tell at least one story of frustration with trying to keep some students apart in order to keep distractions down and focus up. It may be that there are just too many students to keep apart or that one or two students can cause distractions no matter where they sit. If students only sat at tables in my room this would be an issue. It would be tough for everyone to find a spot removed from others who will distract them or whom they will distract. But when kids work sitting on our couch, or stools, or beanbags, or just on the floor, we have so many options everyone can find a spot that works for them.
Some examples from this year: