A week prior to the start of school we got our rosters, and I realized that I would need 28 desks. Unfortunately, my room was different from the other rooms where it had a divider in the middle of the room that took up some of my extra space. With 28 desks and a teacher desk, my room was packed and didn’t leave room for my students to move around the room freely. Also, I only had 28 students in my room for the homeroom period (15 minutes) due to switching classes and would only need 25 desks for my other classes. Thus, after explaining this to my husband, he directed me to the article, “Avoiding the Cemetery Effect” by Thomas Murray and Erin Klein, which a few of administrators had retweeted. After reading the article, I liked the idea of getting rid of some of my desks to create a more cohesive environment for small group/center activities with the freedom of movement. I was able to find some great resources for how to design my classroom with very little desks, and thus created a design plan. This design plan was changed a few times throughout the year as I learned more about my students’ preferences.
My design plan was focused around the four small group learning areas in my room. These were the Promethean board for an interactive lesson, technology center for work with our laptops/netbooks, small group instruction area, and library area. For furniture, I had a few items that I kept in my classroom, but the rest I bought through back-to-school sales as well as a few additions later in the year with the help of a funded donorschoose project.
At the beginning, I set boundaries and rules for the students as to how they can use this nontraditional classroom furniture. I modeled what was the appropriate bouncing height on the fitness balls, and sometimes I had to remind my students of the height or ask to stop for a few minutes so they are not distracting other students. I arranged my students in 5 groups, and on certain days each group has “first dibs” on picking what and where they would like to sit for the day. I did have to adapt my furniture and be careful with the material of the objects, but these were easy fixes.
Throughout the year, I learned from my students what furniture options they liked the best. The items that worked the best were fitness balls and a standing desk with a bar at the bottom to swing back and forth. Eventually I moved all of my desks to a wall for my technology center to help create more space and only had a few “standard” desk chairs. On most days, the “standard” desk chairs are empty. To create even more space, I ditched my large teacher desk and downsized to a small student desk for my desktop computer. As the year has progress, my students have grown accustomed to these seating options that they do not even look to use the traditional options.
By Beth Hobbs