An Honest Review of Alternative Seating
Hello, friends! May is here, May is here! That means one thing in my world; the countdown to summer break is underway! I can't wait to be able to kick up my feet and relax a bit! Okay, who am I kidding? I've already started planning for next year.
Actually, it was about this time last year when my co-teacher (aka the best friend) and I sat down with our principal and asked her if she would be open to the idea of us trying alternative seating in our second-grade inclusion classroom this school year. We printed off a few research articles stating the benefit of alternative (or flexible) seating in the classroom and how it was documented that it was beneficial for ESE children and students with ADHD. Without hesitation, she gave the go ahead!
Fast forward a few months to the end of summer break. My co-teacher and I started setting up our classroom about two weeks early so we had plenty of time to get our set-up just right.
Here is what we came up with:
Welcome to our classroom! We've spent the last 160+ days in this room so it's definitely well lived in at this point. This is the view from our front door. As you can see, we have six rectangular tables with adjustable legs. Our class is home to 37 second-graders so we need plenty of workspaces! We would have LOVED to have fewer tables but we needed a backup plan in the event that this experiment wasn't successful.
Each table features a different type of seating. We have the Chair Table (traditional seating), the Standing Table, the Stool Table, the Crate Table, the Ball Table and the Pillow Table.
In our class, students do not have an assigned seat. Students enter the classroom each morning and select their workspace for the day. This gives the kids an opportunity to figure out which style of seating works best for them.
This is the view from my table.
Here is the view from my co-teacher's table. We opted to get rid of teacher desks and work from tables this year. We love it! With 37 kids in the classroom, plus 2 full-time teacher and a part time ESE teacher, we wanted as little clutter as possible. 40 people = one heck of a party!
The Chair Table
This is our only traditional table in the class. Initially we thought we would use it for students who couldn't handle the alternative seating but honestly, our kids did great with the concept.
We thought for sure that kids would avoid sitting at this table, but that wasn't the case at all. There were quite a few kids who wanted to sit here regularly. Most often, this table was filled up with girls.
The Standing Table
We introduced the Standing Table after Christmas break. Before that, this table was another traditional chair table. We got a student mid-year who was a bit of a wiggler. We noticed that he would often stand while doing his work and pace back and forth as he read. Rather than get on to him about staying in a seat, we created a table with him in mind. We ditched the chairs, adjusted the legs and viola; the Standing Table!
The Standing Table was a huge hit with the kids. The first week that we got it we had about 8 kids standing around the table each day. After the excitement dwindled down, this became the home to 6-7 boys who preferred working standing up. A couple of times a week a couple of girls will join them as well.
This is our chattiest table. It is strategically located next to my table so that they can have reminders about their voice levels. Despite the fact that they talk quite a bit they still get done what needs to be done.
The kids favorite thing about this table: They get to move around! A few of them will actually migrate over to the counter behind this table to work or pace back and forth. If they get tired they have a seat at my table.
Our favorite thing about this table: No clutter! Since we ditched the chairs we have much more space in our room!
The Pillow Table
Welcome to the Pillow Table! This is another table that is preferred by the boys in our class. Occasionally the girls will take over this table as well. This seems to be a class favorite. We removed the legs on this table so it sits low to the ground. We placed matting under the table so that the exposed leg doesn't scratch up the floor. It also provides extra cushion for the kid's bottoms. There are six pillows for the kids to toss on the floor and sit on although they aren't always used. Many of the kids prefer to just sit on the mat.
The kids favorite thing about this table: This style of seating is a favorite for the kids because they can adjust their bodies many ways. They can sit criss-cross, stretch their legs out in front of them or sit with their legs underneath them.
Our favorite thing about this table: Again...no chairs! Also, since this table is lowered, the students that sit at the table behind them (the chair table) can still see the front of the classroom. With this table being lowered, it gives the illusion of more space.
Our least favorite thing about this table: Sometimes the kids leave the pillows on the floor, instead of stacking them on top of the table when they aren't in use, like we've asked. This means that the pillows get trampled on from time to time.
The Stool Table
Our girls love this table! It is made up of 4 stools and 2 regular chairs. It used to have two balls, rather than chairs, but we had to replace them with traditional seating (more on that in a second).
The kids favorite thing about this table: The table is in a central location. The stools allow them to turn their bodies and face the board or swivel in the opposite direction.
Our favorite thing about this table: The stools fit neatly under the table to allow for a clear pathway when they are not in use. When the chairs are slipped under the table it gives the illusion of more space.
At the end of the day, the kids turn the stools upside down and stack them on the table. They are the perfect place to store the balls at night so the custodians can clean our floors.
Our least favorite thing about this table: These stools are light and they have a tendency of toppling over when the kids tuck them under. When they do fall, they make a loud clattering noise since they are made of metal. Luckily, this only happens about once every week or so.
The Ball Table
This is where our concept all started. The kids were so excited to see these on the first day of school. For awhile, this was the "It Table", the table EVERYONE wanted to sit at. As the year went on, and the novelty of sitting on a giant ball wore off, this table became home to a group of boys.
As you recall, our students do not have assigned seats. Each student chooses where they want to sit each day. Interestingly, this table became a favorite with two of our gifted students, and three of our ESE students. The sixth person at the table is typically one of our highest students however when he isn't there one of our other ESE students sits there as well.
Believe it or not, this table is rarely used by the girls in our class. They prefer the Chair Table, Stool Table or Crate Table.
The kids favorite thing about this table: Sitting on a giant ball of course! Originally, we had a rule that students had to have their feet flat on the ground when they sat on one of our balls. As the year progressed, and the kids got used to sitting on them, we phased that rule out. Now many of them will sit on the ball with their legs tucked under them. They love it!
Our favorite thing about this table: This table is the closest table to the board which is perfect for our ESE kids who sit there!
Our least favorite thing about this table: Since we have tile in our classroom, the balls make an annoying noise when the kids are wiggling on their balls. The wiggling is going to happen, you can't stop it. The slight bouncing movement is going to happen, don't bother fighting it. With each of these movements comes the annoying sound of rubber rubbing against the tile. Our plan is to have a rug under the table next year.
Remember how I said the Stool Table used to have two balls at it? Those balls became the victims of pencil stabbings. One of them was completely accidental- a kid was placing the ball on top of a stool at the end of the day (so the custodians could clean under the table) and it fell off the stool and on top of a pencil. The other ball... I'm pretty sure that was intentional.We lost a total of 3 balls this year due to pencils. I gave up my own ball to the Ball Table and started sitting on a regular chair around Spring Break. Luckily the balls were cheap so it wasn't a huge loss.
The Crate Table
Notice how there are only two crates at the Crate Table? This table was originally surrounded by six crates with padded cushions on top of them. I have no earthly idea how or why but the seams busted on four of the cushions. We would randomly find stuffing on the floor in this portion of the room. We got tired of repairing the cushions and trashed the four tattered ones and replaced them with these small chairs. Amazingly, after we threw those cushions away, we never had issues with finding stuffing again.
Pretty sure the kids got our point ;)
This table is a favorite for boys and girls alike (and no, the boys don't mind sitting in a pink chair).
The kids favorite thing about this table: Apparently, they enjoy plucking the stuffing out of the cushions. Kidding. The kids that sit here like the convenience of being in the center of the classroom and the natural light that comes in from the windows. And no...the boys don't mind sitting in pink chairs.
Our favorite thing about this table: Again, the fact that the chairs and crates fit underneath the table when they aren't in use is a huge plus!
Our least favorite thing about this table: The stuffing from the cushions.
The Other Options
Yes, there are more! The kids have other options too! During our Independent Reading, Literacy Centers, Math Centers, Literature Circles, STEM Projects and tests our students are allowed to sit anywhere in the room.
The kids love being able to sit in their teacher's chairs. We don't mind at all because we typically aren't using them at this time (unless we have a small group at the time).
Here are a few of our other options:
We have six Scoop Rockers which the kids love! I thought for sure they'd think they were too babyish when I bought them but the love these things! We also have a couple of more small chairs for them to use.
The kids love using these lap desks! The stools aren't very popular.
Another favorite is these cushions that we store in the library. They take these cushions anywhere in the classroom and relax. They usually don't sit on them... they prefer to lay on them.
See that giant yellow banana? That's Frank. Frank lives on the rocking chair (another kid favorite). The kids aren't allowed to lay on top of Frank but they love resting their head on him.
Our class is made of 37 students. About 15 of those students have been together since Kindergarten. My co-teacher taught them in kindergarten and first grade before she "looped" up with them to second grade.
Our class follows the Inclusion Model meaning that we have a mixture of ESE students and Regular Ed students. 8 of our students are ESE, 4 of our students are gifted and 3 more are in the process of being staffed as gifted. A majority of our ESE students have been together since Pre-K. I taught 2 of our students in Kindergarten and brought them with us to Second Grade.
Students that have had either of us previously were accustomed to the idea of being able to work around the room, however, in the past, all of this work was done on clipboards. The concept of alternative seating is new to all of the students.
Since we have had many of our students in the past, we are able to compare their productivity in previous years to their productivity this year.
Alternative seating was a success in our classroom. Our kids handled the responsibility of choosing their workspace each day very well. I can honestly say that we never had any arguments over who would sit in which chair.
We ended up giving 3 students assigned seats. One of our ASD students requested that he have an assigned seat. We allowed him to select the spot himself and reserved it for him each day. One of our students has difficulties seeing the board and focusing so we ensured he was at the ball table close to the board and close to a teacher table. The third student has focusing issues and needed to be placed near a teacher table so that he could be more successful.
Would I say that being able to select their seats increased their productivity? Our ESE students and our students with ADHD benefited from this concept the most. Our fidgeters were able to fidget, our standers were able to stand and our kids were able to move their bodies rather than sit in a hard plastic chair all day. The kids were able to get comfortable and put out some quality work.
Since our students were accustomed to working around the room and making choices, they were able to handle other responsibilities such as choice centers- where students chose their activity for the day. They were forced to make decisions about who they should sit by and whether or not sitting by a friend was worth the distraction.
My co-teacher and I plan on using alternative seating next year as well. I think that we'll move more towards our center/testing setup. During these times, our students are allowed to work anywhere in the room. This means that we have students scattered everywhere from the closet to the classroom library and tucked away in quiet corners of the room. This will help alleviate some of talking and allow the students to work independently with less distraction from their peers.
The concept of Alternative Seating was piloted in our classroom with permission from our principal. Many of our co-workers thought we were insane when they saw our classroom during pre-planning. 160+ days later, several of our co-workers have adopted some of our seating options although they have not adopted the full alternative seating model. Next year, however, our school will have more classrooms that look just like ours.