Life has been a whirlwind the last few weeks – participating in STArts (Skillful Thinking in the Arts – I need to write lots about this), going to pre-service meetings, and throwing myself into my classroom preparation. Anybody else feeling like they had a few too many things on their beginning of the year to-do list?
Today I had a moment of pure inspiration. Several weeks ago I read a classmate’s blog post at Art Inklings about how she lets her students choose their own seating arrangement and uses this choice as “currency” – brilliant! It planted a seed and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. I have a colleague who does this as well, but for some reason I never thought of it as something I could do in my own classroom. So today I took the leap – I let the kids choose. Here is how this could work in your art room:
Talk about making a good choice
Of course, we first discussed the importance of making a good choice. The students shared ideas about how to make the choice of who to sit by and as they spoke I could tell they were very excited about picking their own seats. I explained that if they made a poor choice, I would choose for them. I set a timer for two minutes, reminded them not to run or yell, and let them go!
Make it easy on yourself by labeling your seats
Each table in my room has a color name. The picture below shows the Green Table. There are four seats (this may change as the class sizes are growing and my room seems to be shrinking) and the corners are each adorned with a different shape, like this:
I used to have four dots on the tables (red, yellow, blue, green) but this works much better.
Make the kids fill in the chart for you (sort of)
I use the shapes different ways: to call a helper from each table, to identify partners (shoulder, knee, eye, or face partners – whatever you call them!), and today I used them to have the kids show me where they chose to sit at the table so I could record it on my seating chart later. It looked something like this:
Bonus: The students paid more attention to their “shape address” than ever before!
Before class, I stacked the blank sheets under the pencil baskets. When it came time to fill them in, I used my handy spinner to choose the shape address that would take the paper out from under the basket and write their name on the paper first. If you don’t teach elementary, you might be surprised at how these kinds of jobs can be deeply coveted! The rest of the students did not have a problem with it – I think the impartial nature of the spinner helped.
Fill in your chart later
After the class was gone I went to work filling in my seating chart, which I color coded by day after reading this blog post on the Art of Education. I love to color code things, if you couldn’t tell.
Sticky notes save the day
I have always made a digital copy of my room arrangement, but with a little twist. Writing in pencil on a seating chart just doesn’t do it for me. I don’t like erasing and rewriting if I have to move a student. So I cut up sticky notes to fit in the spots and write each student’s name on a note. That way if I have to shuffle things around I can simply move them to the perimeter of the chart to see what I’m working with. I learned this trick in my second year from a veteran teacher and have never looked back.
Put your seating chart in a plastic sleeve
Plastic sleeves don’t just protect the sticky notes from becoming worn and falling off. They also make it possible, for example, for subs to write directly on the seating chart with a vis-a-vis marker to let you know who helped, who had problems, etc – without having to write every kid’s name down in a note (which might work in the regular classroom, but when you see almost 100 – or more – kids in one day, singling out kids from each class can be challenging!).
It’s only the first day, but I am optimistic. I don’t like to say it, but in my school defiance and disrespect can be very common. I used to spend a lot of time agonizing over seating charts to avoid situations involving both of those behaviors. Now I think Why did I do that to myself?!? I know that when students have a sense of ownership, they tend to be more productive and feel a greater level of pride in the learning environment. I am viewing this as a major classroom management tactic. Plus, I have tons of leverage and I hardly had to do any work. Everybody wins!
I will update about this in a few weeks . . .
How do you arrange seats in your classroom?
If you let students choose, what kind of process do you use?