Sunday, May 3, 2015

21st Century Learning Space: no seating plan required

When was the last time that you were a student?

At my last teacher P.D. session, I reflected on the learning that was happening in the room. I felt like I was back in high school all over again.

Hard chairs.
Sitting all day.
Directed through every activity.
No choice as to how I learned or what I learned.
Sitting in the same spot. Not with my friends.

Ok, it wasn't actually that bad. But, by the end of the day I was sore, tired, cranky, and didn't feel like I learned the best that I could have.

My own classroom has moved toward being a 21st century learning space. We no longer have a seating plan. Students move and sit where they need to for each learning activity. As I sit here and reflect, the behaviour issues during class time have decreased. It isn't perfect, by any stretch, and I have a couple of students who need to be redirected. They still have an assigned seat because they can't manage themselves. I have had to give them an assigned space because that better meets their learning needs. But they are no longer distracting others from learning and they are more productive and on-task this way.

We don't have all of our new furniture in place, and are in a transition stage. We have some traditional desks in the room still, in groups. We do have a carpet area, benches and standing height cafe tables and stools. By making the changes gradually it seems to have made for an easier transition.

My own children testing out our new classroom cafe tables after school.

The students now enter my class each day and choose where to sit. I have noticed that they tend to sit in the same spot at the beginning of each period. Then, once I set them off on an activity, they move to where they feel they need to.

What I have learned from this:

  • intermediate students usually prefer to work on the floor
  • they like to work in the most uncomfortable looking configurations if it means that they get to be close with their friends
  • sitting at tall cafe tables makes them sit more upright, speak more quietly, and collaborate more closely
  • it's easier to give feedback as I move around and mingle with the students at their different seating spaces, and it's a more relaxed atmosphere
  • sometimes it's noisy
  • there is more learning going on than what I see at first glance (thank goodness, because some days it looks and sounds like recess time)
  • standing-height spaces allows for the best on-task collaboration
  • having no front-of-the-room cuts down on the teacher-directed learning
  • wireless projectors, Apple TV and 2 projection surfaces are AWESOME
  • chairs and regular desks lead to slouching, laying on the desk, and more disengagement
  • when they are tired or disengaged they move back to the desks and slump
Once I have the rest of my furniture in place, I am planning to get feedback from my students. We did a pre-survey a while ago about our classroom, before I made changes.  I am very curious as to what their thoughts are about the new learning space. I do feel that some of the students prefer to be told where to sit. Is this a product of years of seating plans in school, so it's a comfort thing? A confidence issue? Or is it personal learning style?

I have just learned that I am going to get a new student on Monday. I am a bit worried that he/she will be completely shell-shocked, if they come from a more traditional classroom. My classroom is noisy, in constant motion, and to an outsider it likely looks like sheer chaos (and admittedly, some days it is).

Perhaps a transition plan will be necessary. #somethingIneverthoughtabout

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