Flexible Seating: What I've Learned part 2


Well I wrapped my first year in 4th grade and my first year implementing a "form" of flexible seating. The final verdict... I LOVED it all! Part of my love for 4th may be that I got to work with some of my students for 2 years and seeing the growth and the relationships flourish was amazing and inspiring! Also, I can proudly say that flexible seating worked pretty well for the first year... enough that I'll continue to do the work next year too!

In the fall, I did a post on how flexible seating was going at the beginning of the year. I'm here to share a bit more insight now that the year ended to help those who may be considering it too, as some of my colleagues in my building have started to ask how I started the transition. But first, I feel the need to do a little defining and clarifying.

I am NOT an expert like some people here in blogging land on flexible seating. I've also heard the term alternative seating thrown in there too. So I'm not sure if what I did even constitutes what some would say is flexible seating. And that's the first thing I've learned and wish to share about.

What would you consider to be flexible seating? What does that even mean? I've seen some teachers do a sign up for a specific chair or location in the room. Students come in in the morning, move their name or number to a certain chair and then they use that chair for the day. In other classrooms, I've seen them completely eliminate desks and traditional chairs for lowered or raised tables, cushions, and wobble stools. I'm here to say that this is not the definition in our classroom (but if it is in yours, you do you, boo! No judgment here).

My definition of flexible seating may be different from others.


For me, having a flexible seating classroom means having a variety of options for students and being flexible in allowing students to move, advocate for themselves, and allow freedom of choice during independent work times. That means, some of my students would prefer to sit in a traditional chair in a traditional desk. Some would prefer to sit on the floor for reading, but at a table with peers during writing. That means giving some students an assigned space in the classroom to call "theirs" because the choice creates too much anxiety for them. So what did it look like exactly?


We still had a seating chart... kinda.


Well students had a "home" spot. That's the table spot they would come in to each morning. This changed a few times a month. I simply would pull everyone together, pull sticks to see who could pick their spots first, and they would pick their new home spot for the time being. They knew if they weren't following our flexible seating expectations, that I could move them. I only had to do this a few times the whole year. A few students wanted a permanent spot. I let them come to that determination on their own, but I selected the spot. They could still change out the actual chair. So they all had a spot to call theirs as they came into the room each morning. They could however, come in and swap out seats with one another. They made sure to ask before just swiping someone's chair choice and they also knew to share with others who were interested. When it was independent work time, students either went back to these home spots or moved to a different spot. When we do whole group instruction, we are all together up on the carpet and sometimes I let students bring a chair, while other times we all just sat on the floor.

More things I thought would be a problem but actually weren't.


After my initial worry about fighting over chairs proved to not be an issue, these were some of the things I thought would create my biggest problems: subs, damaged tools, and having some desks still instead of all tables. Here's why I worried and why it turned out that these weren't an issue at all really:

Subs: I was worried that since our "seating" chart changed constantly, it would be hard for subs. Students didn't have name tags that stuck to their desks, but rather moved with them. Not to mention I let my students move spaces depending on the task and part of the day.

However, I never really had an issue. I simply put a little blurb about how it works in our classroom at the beginning of my sub plans for the day and give the sub the freedom to move students or have them change out their chairs if they struggle with control. I had a few kiddos get extra chatty in their self-chosen spots with subs, so when the sub mentioned this in their notes, we had a conference and laid out expectations again as well as consequences.

Damaged Tools: Some of our new seat options were not cheap. I got some wobble stools and foldable on-the-go chairs through a  Donors Choose project. I also got some Ikea chairs that were a little spendy too. Only one of my on-the-go chairs got a bit damaged this year (the zipper ripped on it and foam is a bit exposed). The chairs are little scuffed up, but nothing got busted. The wobble stools are holding up great. We didn't pop a single yoga ball. No Ikea stools busted (although two stools had their screws come a bit loose). We modeled how to use them properly and if someone wasn't, we lost that chair for a day or two before we reintroduced it. I would love to add some taller wobble stools and some standing option space, while also buying a few more yoga balls, but I think we have a good balance, as I also have a lot of students who do like the traditional chair.

Still having some desks: I wanted all tables. So I was bummed when my school didn't have any more for me other than the few they scrounged up for me at the beginning of the year. However, the desks proved to work great. Students didn't put their stuff in the desks still, but I could use the desks to store more materials. We kept science team materials in certain desks; I kept mentor texts in them as well; I also kept partner books that I didn't want on the book shelves in there too. So it actually worked out better for some of our storage needs. It also allowed me to break up groups. I was able to make a longer groups of 6 or a smaller partnership table of 2s. I liked having the freedom to change out our layout based on our tasks and the students liked being able to either be sitting in a group or having some quieter spaces. Not giving up all my desks actually turned out to work in my advantage.

More things that are still a problem and need to be reworked.

There's still a few things that I need to work out for next year. One being my class size is going to grow. I was lucky with only 21 students this year. I'll be up to 30 next year. That means I need to find seating options for at least 34 students as I like to have space for kids to move to. Because of this, I've been decluttering some of my larger furniture that I'm not really uses best and getting creative with desks and table placement.

Material storage is still an issue. I wish the Ikea book boxes were their older size, as folders don't fit in their new size. I had to bring back my book bags which are great, but since students don't have all traditional chairs, we can't hang them on the back of chairs. They started to be hung on our curtain, but it became a bit messy. I'll be investing in some clear bins from The Container Store this summer and will have students keep their folders, planners, and notebooks in there. I'll still use my drawer system for their reading books as the home bases worked really well (but I'll need to buy at least 1 if not 2 more for my class size increase).

I'd love more options for my students, but it can be spendy. I would love some of those taller Hokki stools for some of my taller tables. But I don't have the funds. I could do another Donors Choose project, but I feel bad as the same people always donate to them (thanks Mom and Mom-in Law). As much as I appreciate them for doing that, I don't want them to feel obligated to help. I may look for some other options for funding some of these tools or just need to settle on some less expensive options like more yoga balls. However, I noticed that a lot of kids liked the Ikea stools, but they want to rock on them.


If you are considering giving flexible seating/alternative seating/a-mixture-of-both, I'd highly suggest giving it a try. Check out my previous post listed earlier to help with some other possible worries you may have if you are on the fence. I'll for sure write another post closer to the start of next school year with my newest additions!




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2 comments

  1. I think you're so brave to have tried flexible seating. I can't believe you'll have 30 students next year. For 4th grade, it's 24 students max. in my district. Will you have a para. to help? Happy summer ~ if you're on vacation now!

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    1. Thanks Susan for your word of encouragement! What a lovely "cap" you have at 24! Our cap goes into the 30s and nope- no para support here (they are actually cutting our para support- we have 2 for SPED right now)! And I will have an English Learner cluster, but *should* get about 20-30 minutes of support a day to help with that. Trying to stay positive as that's all I can do. :)

      Happy summer to you as well! Enjoy a well deserved break!

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