A Beginner’s Guide to Alternative Seating
Introducing alternative, or flexible, seating arrangements into the classroom is the latest in a long line of steps towards more student-focused learning. As with all things, the success of alternative seating depends on your students and your teaching style. However, many teachers have found that giving their students more control over their learning environment makes them more invested in the learning process. By creating a space that they actively enjoy spending time in, you can encourage students to want to learn.
Accommodating their seating preferences also allows them to be entirely comfortable while working. Alternating how and where they sit is thought to help improve their health by encouraging movement without disruption; casual physical activity has been linked to all sorts of mental and educational benefits.
The first thing to consider when you are thinking about introducing alternative seating options to your classroom is: why? You are going to have to answer that question for your administrators and for the parents of your students, so it is essential to have a definite answer. Having a substantial reason for transitioning to alternative seating arrangements will also help you through the rough patches that come with any significant change.
The key to successfully integrating flexible seating into your classroom is creating a plan and setting clear rules for your students at the beginning. Despite the name, flexible seating isn’t something you can just dive into. Before introducing it into your classroom, you should create a plan tailored towards you and your kids. This plan should include rules around using alternative seating and strategies for enforcing the rules consistently as your students adjust to the new situation.
Just remember, no plan is perfect, and flexibility is the name of the game, so remember to embrace the changes when your plan encounters the reality of a class full of children.
The first and most crucial step of the plan should always be shifting your mindset. Bringing alternative seating into your classroom and giving the students control over how to use it necessitates giving up an element of control. You are now allowing your students to tailor their seating arrangements towards what suits them best and they will often end up creating spaces that as an adult you don’t understand or agree with. Changing your area to centre student needs can be tricky, but ultimately education should focus on the needs of the students.
Most teachers who have successfully transitioned to alternative seating suggest introducing new seating arrangements one at a time. For younger students, it can be a good idea to get them following fundamental classroom procedures before trying to present any alternatives. From the very beginning of the transition, it is important to make sure your students understand the rules around using the new flexible seating.
The rules don’t need to be overly complicated, and most of them will be similar to ones that already exist in your classroom. For example, ‘use the seat correctly’. The most important things for students to accept are that flexible seating is a privilege and the teacher can move anyone at any time and that they should choose a seat that allows them to learn the best. Most students are more than willing to follow the rules if it means they get to use their ideal seating options. Posting reminders around the classroom is an excellent way to help kids self-govern their behaviour. Modelling the correct usage of new seating options as they are introduced is another great way to help students choose to do the right thing without having to be explicitly told.
Now that we’ve addressed the most important things for the teacher, it’s time to mention the thing that will be most important to the kids: how to keep things fair? This is always a tricky one, and it may be helpful to brainstorm ideas with your students. If they participate in creating the rules, they are less likely to complain about fairness. Deciding how to make the system fair, and then stick to it, also introduces skills like problem-solving and conflict resolution. Coming to a decision collaboratively helps students to develop a sense of community within the classroom. The flexibility of alternative seating also provides ample opportunity for further collaboration and group work.
The amount and style of flexible seating you allow into your classroom will depend on a lot of factors including the age and discipline of your students. An easy starting point for kids of all ages is introducing some exercise balls into the classroom. These are often cheap (you may even get some for free from students’ parents) and are used in a similar context to a regular chair. From there your choices are limited only by your imagination (and your budget).
Remember, if you are feeling overwhelmed with planning, you’re spending too much time on school work and not enough at home with your family, your leisure time is non-existent…we give you all this free-time back by planning, preparing and creating teaching resources that have been developed by classroom teachers who have over 40 years’ experience teaching children in the classroom.
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