Last school year, I started playing around with student choice regarding classroom assignments. I teach 10th grade English in Texas, and that means A LOT of STAAR testing prep for my kids. After the test last spring, I decided to give as much freedom as possible the last few weeks of school. I noticed a significant increase in engagement and productivity from even my most reluctant students. Toward the end of the year, I began to ask my kids about my classroom space and what changes I could make to it for it to be more student-friendly. A lot of them told me they would get rid of the desks, bring in comfortable seats, allow people to stand or spread out on the floor, and have space to move things around. I took a lot of notes and did more research on #flexiblespaces over the summer.
I traveled a lot during the summer and before I knew it the school year was banging on my door, ready to begin when I was not. I was disappointed I hadn’t followed through on the research I had done but decided I could work with what I had in my room. I began to rearrange my classroom by stacking all the extra desks around the walls of my room, because I was afraid admin would say no to my new approach. I wanted to make sure I had desks readily available for testing days, so I stacked them and covered them up with sheets (not aesthetically appealing but it got the job done). I made 5 groups of 6 seats; one traditional desk with chair attached, one comfy chair (discarded rolling desk chairs, stools, camping chairs purchased from Goodwill for $5, etc.), and 4 portable stacking chairs that almost every school keeps in closets for assemblies and classrooms. Then in a corner by my bookshelves, I brought in extra pillows from home and body pillows purchased from Target ($10). I brought in rugs purchased from Ikea and some from home. My room for the first week of school looked something like this (before and after)
(I also purchased about 15 clipboards from Goodwill ranging from 50 cents to $2 each so kids could have a solid writing surface.)
I was ready for the first day of school and loved my new students’ reactions to my classroom! Many admitted they were surprised I had no desks but all of them said it was a good thing. My kids from last year that stopped by to visit were mad that I went through with my idea AFTER they’d left my class. They asked if I would teach English 3 so they could have me again and enjoy the new arrangement.
On the first day of school, my classes sat in groups for the first part of class and had small discussions about their summers and our new principal and school rules. Then we easily moved into a large circle to have a whole class discussion about the school year. My students responded to an exit ticket about first impressions/reactions to my classroom and this is what a few wrote:
“I’ve never had a teacher that did something like this to their room. I’m excited to come back to class.”
“I really like the different options of where to sit. I feel cramped in desks all day.”
“This was the first class all day where I actually felt relaxed and didn’t mind talking about school stuff.”
“Please don’t change your room!”
I knew that I was on to something good and decided to keep the arrangement, but not before getting more feedback from my current students. After our first week together, I asked them to tell me how they like the set up of my room or what changes needed to be made. Again, I got multiple responses that said they felt more relaxed and ready to work. But I had a few that said they actually prefer to have a desk because they feel more productive and enjoy “normalcy” as one kid called it. I also realized a lot of students in my co-teach classes that are high-needs require a more structured environment with traditional desks. Because I teach both advanced and special education classes, I compromised; I kept one pod of traditional desks for one group and then had tables available for all the other groups. In order to cut down on my own spending, I created my very first DonorsChoose project. I asked for portable tables, durable camping chairs, giant bean bags, and large throw pillows. As of today, my kids at all levels still enjoy coming to my classroom, know my expectations, and do their work.
My most recent update to my classroom was for myself. I want a standing desk but know they are pretty expensive, and wanted to make sure I could adjust to not having a traditional desk. Again, I used what I had in my classroom and made my own:
We almost NEVER use the textbooks in my classroom and they added the perfect height to my computer and keyboard. I have been using this set up for two weeks now and can attest to the decrease of shoulder and neck pain and the increase of productivity and alertness.
I haven’t enjoyed being in my classroom this much since my first year of teaching. It’s been a nice way to rethink how I teach and what works best for both my students and myself.