I can’t speak for anyone else, but my biggest challenge as a teacher has always been keeping students engaged. Not the whole class. I’m good with about 85-90% of my students, but that additional 10-15% kept me up on many nights trying to figure out what else I could do to help them.
You know the students I’m talking about. Those easily distracted, need to move, and off task precious babies that are the ones who need to hang on to your every word, but just can’t seem to do so. It truly bothered me because I knew they were capable of excelling, but since they lost focus so frequently and consistently, they missed crucial steps or instructions that kept them performing below their true potential.
I had tried everything I could think of. Frequent redirection, chunking instructions and repeating them often, teaching and reteaching them in small groups, giving them individual copies of the lesson and checklists of what they needed to complete to help them stay on task. It would all work momentarily and then we’d be back to square one. It was exhausting and I knew something else had to exist that was a more permanent fix.
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The Power of Movement
Determined, I started to research. Almost immediately, I started stumbling across articles discussing ADD, ADHD and short attention spans. I also read through many articles that encouraged the power and benefit of movement during the instructional day for students with attention problems.
Using movement resonated with me because a few years ago I had been chosen to and worked to pilot a healthy initiative project in my school. My students had brain breaks throughout the day where we would stand, stretch and move after set periods of sitting.
Brain breaks are opportunities in a day where students are led in movement to give them a break from academic work or mental processes. Brain breaks are meant to help students relax or become re-energized and involve getting oxygen and blood to the brain with guided group movement. It also seeks to get students re-hydrated.
In our fitness program, students were led through classroom aerobic type activities by their teacher for about 5-7 minutes at set intervals throughout the day. Students also received pedometers to track their steps per day to ensure they were receiving an appropriate level of movement daily.
As I recalled the success of that program, I started investigating ways that students could move, without too much interruption in the instructional day or without disturbing other students. Enter my discovery of flexible seating.
What is Flexible Seating?
I had heard the term mentioned before, but really didn’t have any thorough understanding of the concept beyond the fact that their classrooms looked cool and expensive. The more I dug into researching flexible seating was the more I became convinced that it was the solution to my problems.
Flexible seating is the use of varied seating options within a classroom setting to give students opportunities to move and sit in an area that makes them feel comfortable. It has gained popularity in recent years and there are schools of research that fiercely advocate or disagree with flexible seating.
When I started my research, I was intrigued, but unsure. However, as I looked at the different flexible seating elementary options and thought about the problems I was trying to address in my classroom, I couldn’t help but think that flexible seating would be a great way to help that 10-15% of students I was so worried about.
I was excited about the potential success of flexible seating in my room since I was searching for a way to encourage sustained reading and writing (which requires students to sit for the most part). After doing my due diligence, I started specifically looking into the different types of flexible seating options to see which were the best, most highly recommended and wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg.
Funding and Seating Options
Though I found some decent deals, it was still way beyond what I could afford on my own, so I decided to start a Donors Choose project to fund my Flexible Seating Mission. For my classroom, I decided to include yoga balls, wobble chairs, a low table and floor pillows, crate seats a sofa and stools. Most of these could be easily moved to facilitate group or independent work, with minimal effort.
As I mentioned before, my main focus was in creating a setting that would encourage sustained reading and writing, so my flexible seating options speak to comfort and snuggling up with a good book or journal.
I also wanted seating that would suit a wide range of students since I teach students in Kindergarten through 5th grade. The seating options needed to be appropriate at each grade level and accessible to all the students.
I was fortunate enough to have my Donor’s Choose Project funded in less than 48 hours. Let me know if you’d like a blog post on how to write and be successful on Donors Choose. They were instrumental in getting my flexible seating classroom executed. Since most of my items came from Amazon, they were also shipped and delivered very quickly.
Unveiling and Expectations: Flexible Seating Classroom Management
Once the items arrived, I rolled out the next phase in my project, implementing my flexible seating classroom. Prior to setting up the room, I created a Google Slide presentation to explain and introduce my students to our new flexible seating classroom. The presentation also discussed, step by step, the procedures to correctly use and care for our flexible seating classroom. I also sourced contracts for them to sign about the expectations in our new classroom.
On the day of our afternoon school open house (school was already in session, but it’s a way to check in early and touch bases with parents), I set up our new classroom and watched each student’s face light up in awe as they entered my room. It will definitely be one of my favorite memories in my teaching career. On that evening, I also just allowed them to have fun with the new seating options.
They bounced to their hearts delight on the yoga balls. They twirled till they became dizzy on the wobble chairs. I think I had a few students curl up on the sofa and floor pillows. One or two may have even fallen asleep while I spoke to their parents. As each group of parents and students visited I explained that a more detailed introduction would follow and that I’d need their help so we could keep all our new supplies.
On the next day I saw each grade level, I rolled out the presentation, opened the floor to questions (they had several) and then had each student sign a Flexible Seating Classroom contract.
Friends, what happened after that amazed even me. The first group of students who I saw after our introductory overview and contract signing was fifth grade. I had hoped they would like it and it would help them to be able to focus more and remain seated long enough to read more and produce decent writing samples, but my expectations were far superseded.
Boys, I typically had to “fight” into my room, raced to class to select their preferred seating choice first. Once in the room, they buckled down to read and write. It turns out that the research is absolutely right. If they are comfortable, they will want to remain seated and be engaged for longer periods of time.
The students I mentioned in the beginning that needed to fidget and move. They almost always bee-lined for the yoga balls, wobble chair or stools, and what's even more impressive, their other classmates allowed them to. You see the rule with seating in my room is that they had to rotate, so everyone had a fair opportunity to sit everywhere, but guess what.
My students started to self monitor. I would overhear conversations where one child said, “You need this seat, so you can be good. I’ll sit somewhere else” or they’d see the look of sadness on a classmate’s face and just go to another spot.
My students who already loved to read and write typically chose the sofa or the floor pillows, so they could get truly lost in their reading and writing. The greatest surprise was with my students who had not enjoyed reading or writing so much. Once they started sitting in flexible seating options that allowed movement, they started to improve drastically in their desire and actual execution of reading and writing.
Everyday, when it was time to leave my room to go to the next teacher in our rotation, the whines would begin and I’d have to tear them away from whatever they were reading or writing. The class waiting would be buzzing with excitement and whispering about where they planned to sit and what book or writing they were working on. I was floored.
I started inviting my administrators and telling every teacher friend I had about the miracle that was unraveling in front of my eyes. I saw students who had never had a good history of checking out books, writing in their journals or taking and passing A.R. tests start to do so.
By and large, they would settle in their chosen seat and get lost in reading or writing.
Now, I did leave some traditional seats in my room, and I had the students who preferred to sit in those seats too. Some of the comments I heard about those choices were, “ I might fall asleep over there or I don’t want to get in trouble bouncing too high on that ball.” It made me happy that they were self aware and also following the requirements of our Flexible Seating contract to choose daily, or by activity, the seating option that would allow them to be most successful.
In my humble opinion and experience, flexible seating is a worthwhile investment. It has worked wonders for my students who had attention issues and even had positive effects on those who were already doing well to begin with.
Here is the video that I used to create my nautical crate seats that are pictured below.
Potential Issues: Cons of Flexible Seating
Some other cons of flexible seating or things to consider prior to implementing flexible seating, that I did not, were the balance component with the wobble chairs and yoga balls and the inflation of the yoga balls. Yes, there will be some stumbling, but I would model and reteach how to safely use our new seating arrangements.
As it relates to inflation of the yoga balls, they do come with a hand pump, but it would have taken forever and too much effort to inflate them. Lucky for me and probably for you too, the P.E. coach at my school is a team player and once I explained what I was doing, he used his industrial grade pump to inflate them for me in no time.
To address safety again, it is extremely important to set clear boundaries and expectations with all seating options because students could hurt themselves. For example, with the yoga balls, the expectation in my room is gentle bouncing and I consistently model and repeat what appropriate and inappropriate use of each seating option. I was pleasantly surprised that most students liked to lay on the yoga balls and gently rock back and forth while reading.
With my younger students, I actually chose to deny access to the yoga balls and wobble chairs until we had had two opportunities to practice what it should look like safely sitting in those options.
The Best Unexpected Result
Aside from seeing improvements in reading and writing stamina, I got something even more valuable and meaningful, the happiness of my students. I cannot explain to you the drastic effect my flexible seating options had on some students who used to hate coming to my room. Not because of me, but the content. I had the students who hated to read and write because they thought they weren’t good at it.
Well, flexible seating provided a distraction so that they forgot about their perceived inability to read and write well and actually allowed them to give reading and writing a chance. In every case, they either surprised themselves with how good they really were or how much improvement they made, once they were happy in our new classroom.
I cannot sing the praises of Flexible Seating enough. I’m excited to be at the beginning of a new school year and to have eager students who know of or have heard about my room and can’t wait to come to it.
Children deserve to be comfortable and happy in the place they spend the majority of their time awake. If you implement flexible seating in your classroom, I feel confident you will see a morale boost in your students, gains in their academic performance and a decline in undesirable behavior. A flexible seating classroom will help you and your students to have the best school year ever.
Tips to Set Up Your Flexible Seating Classroom for the Best Year Ever
1. Research and decide on the flexible seating options you want in your room.
2. Try to get items donated if possible ( I was able to get my sofa and low table donated).
3. Fund your project via Donors Choose, personal funds or your school budget.
4. While you want for funds, create a presentation to launch Flexible Seating in your class.
5. Source or create a contract for students to sign about their use and care of the equipment.
6. Celebrate your project getting funded.
7. Set up flexible seating items.
8. Give students an opportunity to “enjoy” their new classroom within reason.
9. Deliver your presentation and discuss expectations, consequences and how to care for the materials.
*Pro Tip: You’ll only have to redirect once, if done correctly. The consequence in my room for equipment misuse, by a student, is no access to any flexible seating choice for a week.
10. Redeliver and model correct usage of equipment frequently.
11. Be firm, fair and consistent as students start to love their new classroom and test boundaries.
12. Enjoy your hard work and have the best school year!
Are you looking for additional ways to improve your school year? Are you already feeling exhausted. Here are 15 of the best tips to help you be the best teacher this year and all the ones to follow. This list has greatly improved my teaching life and is my go to to ensure that I'm practicing good teacher self care.
One of the ways I practice teacher self care is by having fun at work and with my students. My favorite way to do that is to celebrate Book Character Day by dressing up in fun teacher book character costumes. Here are some of my most favorite ideas for book character costumes. Feel free to try them on for size and let me know how things worked out for you. Happy school year!
Another thing that I do for fun in my school is I'm the chess club sponsor/coach. Chess has been a great addition to our school's club offering and has helped some of our more reserved students find a place. Here's how why and how you can start a chess club at your school.
Even with the most outstanding flexible seating classroom, if your lessons and instruction are not engaging and relevant, you will experience trouble with student success. Here are some of the best online educational resources that I use to provide instruction and additional practice on skills. I am also a big advocate for providing students with instruction that matches their learning style and let's them show off their areas of strength, so here are my greatest writing prompts for kids and personalized nonfiction practice, games and activities on Martin Luther King. If you click the join button at the top of this post you will get the free personalized pdf which goes with the Martin Luther King Jr. post and provides individualized non-fiction Martin Luther King Jr. activities like games and creative assignments based on students' preferred learning styles.
Hurry back for more help for moms and teacher and don't forget to join above to get access to quality, free educational resources.