How Do I Introduce This to My Students on the First Day of School?
We chatted over on our Twitter last week about what some of the “must haves” for flexible seating are. Head over and see what teachers in various grade levels are saying about their favorite options. We will be compiling some of the favorites and blogging here soon. While you are in the midst of gathering your alternative seating options, making IKEA runs, and stalking Wal-Mart for scoop rockers, many teachers are curious about what the first few days will look like, more specifically the first day of school.
Let’s chat today about the very first day of school and some ideas that might work for your learners. I think the beauty of flexible seating in general is that we are able to capitalize on the abilities of our learners. In the same way, flexible seating isn’t going to look the same for each class. In the past two years, I have had to make some tweaks for each class, just because of the personalities, abilities, and areas of growth for each class. I hesitate making this a space where I share what works for me, or only a few teachers. I want this to be a space where multiple ideas are shared. Our students across the nation aren't the same. Their classrooms shouldn't be, either.
What do students do when they come in the first day?
You have a few choices. Traditionally, I have had activities in areas where students probably know how to sit on the seating choices. The stools, floor seats, carpet area, and stand-up desk, were all safe options. The likelihood of students having background knowledge of sitting in them is likely. I would put puzzles, back to school coloring pages, Play-Doh, magnets, Lincoln Logs, you name it in strategic areas of the room - some on tables, some on the floor, and a basket of books by the couch. When students would arrive, I would name their options and instruct them to find an activity that looks fun to them. These activities could mostly sustain their attention spans until the rest of the students trickled in, parents were greeted and sent on their way, and we were able to start the day with our morning meeting.
I have not ever put activities over with our stability balls. This isn’t because I don’t trust students and their abilities; rather, I tell my students that my job is always the Safekeeper and there are certain things we need to learn about before we use them. It’s as easy as that to redirect a little one curious about them on the first day. “Those look so fun, but it doesn’t look like there’s an activity there! Let’s find a space with an activity.” There isn’t any negative connotation and you aren’t starting the first day off with a “No, get off!”
Another option is to have students choose their spots at Meet the Teacher, a few days before school begins. You could have a map of your classroom and small sticky notes, or a chart with a picture of each option and a clothespin with a child’s name on it. Students could write their name and place it on the map, directly at their choice spot the night before, or use the clothespin to indicate their choice. Depending on the grade level, you could have a “grab and go” activity for them to take to their spot, or have options at the various areas. Maybe students stay at their chosen spot the entire first day, buying you time to chat about the expectations of each option.
During the first few days, I follow these key ideas to help make flexible seating a success in my classroom.
1. Develop names and expectations together. Take the time to develop classroom ownership over the special seating options. It's our job as a classroom to use them to help us learn. What do you think will happen if I'm not careful with a pencil around the "balloon chairs" (stability balls)? Guide these discussions. Explain where these resources are from and how your classroom was lucky enough to get them.
2. Model, model, model! Think aloud your preferences (“I think my body works best standing up during math practice. I really like to lay on my tummy while I’m reading.”), problem solving strategies, and expectations.
3. Praise! Ask students to model their great decision-making (“I noticed that you both wanted to sit on the ball chair, but you chatted about it and both of you chose different spots. Would you all like to model that problem solving skill during morning meeting?”)
4. Get your parents involved. While they might be a bit apprehensive at first, they LOVE to see their students thriving. Broadcast it on Twitter, send home pictures, have students blog about their favorite spots, email complimentary things like problem solving skills or productivity that students demonstrate.
5. Work to have students verbalize their choices. Students learn from students. Utilize technology to broadcast their preferences. Will you allow the space that the student initially chooses to be the one they will be the "expert" on? Could they develop expectations and guidelines to keep everyone safe and productive on that particular spot? Could you turn this process of "expectation building" into one that integrates technology and student-directed learning? Yes! Let them own the classroom.
Sidenote: Depending on when you choose to start this or what scale (during guided math only or totally ditching the desks), you are going to want to pretend like it is the beginning of the year. Think through all of your procedures. If students can learn the various procedures of your classroom, they will most definitely be able to learn the procedures that come with flexible seating.