Flexible Seating

Research has shown that providing students with different seating options helps them feel more empowered in the classroom and increases academic performance. But making the switch to flexible seating can be daunting. ATPE members weigh in on flexible seating and discuss how they’ve addressed problems in their classrooms.

Where did you find the materials for your classroom?

Don’t feel like you need to spend a ton of money to get started. There are cheap options and lots of teachers use DonorsChoose.org to get their classrooms started.

--Sarah Williams, First-Grade Teacher, Shackelford Elementary, Waxahachie

I can't afford to buy all this stuff! I posted something on Facebook, and friends and family donated items they no longer wanted. I looked at garage sales, Goodwill, thrift stores, Five Below, the side of the road. I am constantly on the lookout for anything I can repurpose to make a seat. This summer while working at my husband's pool store, I created bucket seats out of the chlorine buckets. My rule of thumb is to not spend more than $5 on a seat, it will eventually break. Some seats were not made for the amount of kids I have. Duct tape is a good fix, and kids enjoy patching up gamer chairs, yoga balls, and bean bags.

--Brittany Templeton, Seventh-Grade Math Teacher, Creekwood Middle School, Kingwood

My principal was very supportive, but clearly stated that she did not have any extra funds to assist me. The school was able to provide me with half desks and tables, so that really helped me get started. We were able to raise some of them high enough my students could stand up to work, and then we took the bottom part of the legs off for some to allow them to be low to the ground. I did spend quite a bit out of pocket to buy cushions, but I think it was worth it because it not only makes it more comfortable, but it helps to define their space for them when they're on the floor. My long-term goal is to have enough cushions and clipboards available so that if everyone wants to work away from a desk/table they will have that option.

--Jennifer Jones, Third-Grade Teacher, Knowles Elementary, Leander

How did you set up your classroom to incorporate flexible seating?

I teach a resource special education class and wanted to bring more structure to my classroom. I made my room into various workstations, some which allow students to sit in chairs, some on the rugs, and some in bungee chairs.

--Katie Rendon, Special Education Resource/Inclusion Teacher, Amelia Elementary, Beaumont

I have four sections: Balance Your Mind (tables/desks with exercise balls), Standing Up for Learning (high tables/desks so they can stand while they work), Kneeling for Knowledge (tables/desks low to the ground so they can sit on cushions on the floor), and Sitting Like Scholars (traditional desks/tables with chairs). They can also choose to grab a clipboard and sit anywhere on the floor.

--Jennifer Jones, Third-Grade Teacher, Knowles Elementary, Leander

How did you introduce your students to flexible seating?

The first day of school, I had the seats out, but we didn’t use them. We talked a lot about how our classroom looks different and how special it is. I introduced the seats on day two and we talked about my expectations, the rules for using special seats, how important it was that they choose seats that are comfortable for them but also work best for their brains. We practiced using them and we have gradually increased the time we spend in flexible seating each day. They are amazing at it. They take care of the seats, clean up after themselves and I haven’t had to move a child from a flexible seat (even though they know I can if I need to).

--Sarah Williams, First-Grade Teacher, Shackelford Elementary, Waxahachie

From day one, kids will walk in my room and quickly check their schedules to see if they are in the right room and in a seventh-grade math class. For the first week, I hand out rational number cards and they find the matching card on their seat. We play a round of “Goldilocks” for the week as kids test out chairs that work for them and note the ones that don't. I don't allow them to change a card until they have tried it once. At the end of the week, they give me their top three and the and the one seat they hate. I have the need for a seating chart, so this allows me to give them choice and me a little structure. We change seats every grading period or so.

--Brittany Templeton, Seventh-Grade Math Teacher, Creekwood Middle School, Kingwood

How do you handle seating assignments and transitions?

Make sure the process for choosing a seat is clearly labeled. Students choose a specific spot when they first come in the door. There is a chart with Velcro circles and they all have a name card and will move their name to the spot they choose. They are allowed to move at any time during the day to any open seat, and then at the end of the day they move their name back to "Gone for the Day" so we can start fresh the next morning.

--Jennifer Jones, Third-Grade Teacher, Knowles Elementary, Leander

Allow choice. Seating charts work well, too (see above for how I do it). You will find your bouncing ADD kid does quite well on that Goodwill yoga ball.

--Brittany Templeton, Seventh-Grade Math Teacher, Creekwood Middle School, Kingwood

I have procedures for who gets to choose their preferred seat for whole group first, and how they select their seat. I post on the board what they need to bring with them to whole group. Then, when we transition to independent, group, or partner work from their whole group spot, the group that didn't have preferred seating gets to choose first. I never assign their whole group seats, although I will move students if they are off task or not sitting safely. My students get to choose a new work spot at least twice a day based on our activities, and then they return to their chosen whole group spot for mini-lessons. They love the independence!

--Nicole Clark, Fourth-Grade ELA and Social Studies Teacher, AR Turner Elementary, Willis

What classroom management tips do you have for teachers who are considering flexible seating?

Be consistent. I have procedures that must be followed when using the different seating options, and I have to be mindful to use the same procedures every time. Students love the freedom that flexible seating provides, but they still need structure so they know what to expect.

--Nicole Clark, Fourth-Grade ELA and Social Studies Teacher, AR Turner Elementary, Willis

Step up your routine and classroom management instruction. Flexible seating can be amazing and work SO well, but without proper instruction on the routines and expectations, it could easily become chaotic.

--Sarah Williams, First-Grade Teacher, Shackelford Elementary, Waxahachie

There will be that kid that can't handle the flexible seating. You know the one, who is bouncing like he is going to fly through the ceiling. That is where the desks come in. They can always be bumped to those if they can't handle the responsibility that a flexible seating option requires. They have to respect your stuff.

--Brittany Templeton, Seventh-Grade Math Teacher, Creekwood Middle School, Kingwood

Let the students create the expectations for each seating type together and keep them posted in the room. This really helped my students take ownership and will help them hold each other accountable to using them safely.

--Jennifer Jones, Third-Grade Teacher, Knowles Elementary, Leander

Have a plan for your classroom. Know how will you decide who gets to sit where, if and how you will rotate the students, and how you will make transitions from your seating to other areas of the room. After I taught the routines and procedures for each area, students became independent and successful in transitions and worked much more effectively.

--Katie Rendon, Special Education Resource/Inclusion Teacher, Amelia Elementary, Beaumont

What special challenges have you addressed in your classroom?

The biggest challenge I faced was the question of how my students would take assessments. That was the first question that everyone asked when they saw my room (I have no desks). My answer was that my students would use what they have learned about how they work best to choose their optimal work space for assessment. We just took our first district common assessment, and it was amazing! Students were comfortable, they were easily able to keep their answers private, and I was proud of their results.

--Nicole Clark, Fourth-Grade ELA and Social Studies Teacher, AR Turner Elementary, Willis

A chair breaks and is out of commission. I hoard backups in the front of my room just in case something happens and I need an extra seat. Some kids just grab a pillow and sit on the floor. It doesn't matter to me as long as they are working.

--Brittany Templeton, Seventh-Grade Math Teacher, Creekwood Middle School, Kingwood

I had a really hard time wrapping my head around how to do “meet the teacher” night. For Meet the Teacher night, I decided to have everything put away so that the kids wouldn’t view the variety of seats as “toys” because they hadn’t been instructed how to use them as tools.

--Sarah Williams, First-Grade Teacher, Shackelford Elementary, Waxahachie

One challenge I had was what to do with all of their stuff, specifically pencils. I found an idea on Pinterest where someone taped large straws to the desks as pencil holders. This has worked wonders in my class! There is always a pencil at each spot. They keep their "tool box" of supplies in their book box along with a couple of books to read. They can either leave it on the shelf and go get things as they need it, or they can carry their book box with them to their spot. We have baskets for each subject's journals and students help pass them out.

--Jennifer Jones, Third-Grade Teacher, Knowles Elementary, Leander

What else should teachers considering flexible seating know?

Reach out on Twitter. There are TONS of resources through other educators available. They are a HUGE help. I follow the hashtags #desklesstribe and #starbucksmyroom. There are teachers all over the country willing to jump in and answer questions anytime you have one.

--Sarah Williams, First-Grade Teacher, Shackelford Elementary, Waxahachie

Planning is key. Before I implemented flexible seating, I brainstormed all of the obstacles I might face, so that I already had a plan in place. Because it was so different, my students were very excited! I had to intentionally plan every transition and scenario so that I was prepared. Some things to think about are how to handle transitions, supply storage, privacy for independent work, state and district assessments, etc.

--Nicole Clark, Fourth-Grade ELA and Social Studies Teacher, AR Turner Elementary, Willis

Have more options than number of students. I have several students that like to stand up for one subject but prefer to sit down for the other. Having more seats than students really allows them to choose where they will do their best learning for that subject. (I currently have 21 students and have 25 seats, plus they have the option of using a clipboard and sitting anywhere on the floor.)

--Jennifer Jones, Third-Grade Teacher, Knowles Elementary, Leander

It’s ok to keep desks. I have kids that prefer them, and I have kids that don't earn the flexible seating. I have a wide range of options. It was scary at first. It was a huge change. I had 32 perfectly good desks that matched and everything. I knew once I gave those up I wouldn't get that set back. But now I can't dream of having those desks back. My class looks and feels like home.

--Brittany Templeton, Seventh-Grade Math Teacher, Creekwood Middle School, Kingwood

Do you use flexible seating in your classroom? Add your own tips to the comments below.

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