Is there anybody out there who feels like you never get it right in your class? I’ve been teaching for 12 years, you’d think I’d feel sort of like an expert in the field. But every year there’s new research, new ideas, new methodologies, new curriculum, new programs, new everything. And yes, that’s part of life and that’s how we are supposed to evolve as human beings and as professionals, by embracing change. But sometimes if feels like everything changes too fast, especially in education.
I moved to fourth grade this year after having taught 3rd grade for 10 years. I needed a change, I’m glad I asked for it and it happened. Year after year, this idea of flexible seating has been on the rise. The idea behind it, I love. I do agree every student has different needs and the more we can meet them the better. I also agree that students learn best when they have choice and control over where they sit, how they sit, who they sit with. But being able to successfully make these choices requires a great deal of responsibility, self awareness and self management. As I embarked on this new grade level I thought it would be the perfect place and time to give flexible seating a go. I was excited and really looking forward to it. I new I would have to be creative with what I had, but I would do it anyways. My plan was to start slow, baby steps.
My students were coming in being used to sitting on regular desks and most being used to having assigned seating. That’s how it had been in my class for the last 10 years. Back then, I would regularly change the seating arrangement, I would ask students where they’d like to sit, but in the end it was me who made the final choice. This would be as big of a change for them as it would be for me. Beginning of the year was as usual. We focused on developing routines and expectations, building relationships and so on. I assigned spots with the hope of having them get to know each other and get a feel of the class. For the first month or so I made sure to regularly assign them different spots. Once I felt like there was a sense of community and responsibility around learning I introduced the term Flexible Seating and what it meant in my class. We made a list of agreements and expectations. We were ready. Like I said, I had nothing and had to be creative. So I asked for their feedback first to see what they would like in regards to sitting. Some students said they liked working in groups, others working on single desks and others said they liked partnerships. So I arranged my class into those three types of sitting arrangement. I would then have students write their choices in order of preference and I would try to give them a spot based on their choices. A few weeks later then I introduced a few more choices. Some students said they’d like to work standing up and others not using a chair at all. So I went out shopping and bought some bed risers to raise a few tables and bought some cushions for the low deks.
A few months ago, I thought they were now ready to decide on their own without me intervening. I was sure they’d be ready to make responsible choices, choices that would elevate their learning. Everything seemed to be working ok, except that as I gradually allowed them to decide on their own, the complaining and the bargaining every single time I make a request or intervene or ask them for something specific, they are all now experts at complaining and even refusing to do as I ask. It has turned into a power struggle and into a constant battle. For example if we have read aloud and I ask them to sit on the carpet, they’ll complain. If we have a mini lesson and I ask them to sit together as a class, they complain. If I ask them to turn and talk with a specific partner, they complain. If I ask them to do a specific activity in the morning meeting, they complain. If I ask them to pick a different spot because they are not able to complete assignments or listen during lessons, they complain and they refuse to follow through with what I ask. I feel drained and exhausted from the constant arguing. The choices are not at all responsible and are not setting them up for success with their learning, and as I try to intervene and help out the best way I can they seem to undermine me every single time.
I thought I had a plan that worked. I thought I had carried out the plan successfully. But I was wrong. And so here I am, trying to figure this out. I still have three months to go, the most difficult ones and I am tired and frustrated. I know though, I can’t give up and I need to figure this out. So today I was determined to find a way. I walked around classrooms, talked to a few teachers. It was then when I came into a colleague’s class and saw a complete different layout in his class. I moved everything around today. I have bruises on my knees from pushing heavy furniture but I am hoping that Monday, I’ll start all over again. The carpet (which students HATE) is no longer the center of my class. I don’t blame them, every single teacher in every single lesson asks them to sit on the carpet for the so famous “mini lesson”. And so I hear them, I listen and I’m hoping Monday will be another attempt to figuring out how to make this work. Wish me luck.