During the first week in July, I was lucky enough to meet with my new principal and go in and see the Grade 1 classroom. Changes are always so exciting, and a new room at a new school with new possibilities, makes me even more eager to go back to school. Here’s my dilemma though: all I can see is desks. I’ve even been dreaming about desks lately (don’t laugh 🙂 ).
Last year, I tried something in Grade 5 that I thought that I’d never do: I had fewer desks than students. Students shared desks. We had a completely flexible room environment, and it changed throughout the year based on our needs. This was ideal for inquiry, and I’m struggling with going from all of this space to a more restricted space because of more desks. After reading Stuart Shanker‘s book, Calm, Alert, and Learning, I see even more value in open space to assist students with self-regulation.
But Grade 1 is the first year that students get desks. Usually they’re looking forward to this. If I were to arrange the room differently, and create “tables” with desks and a more flexible learning environment, would I be taking away something that’s important to students? Would the benefits help students see that it’s worth doing this? I believe strongly in not doing things just because “we’ve always done them,” and my reason to have 1:1 desks largely is because of this. I would even be willing to ask my Grade 1 students what they want — as I do believe in the value of “student voice” — but at the beginning of the year when they’ve never experienced desks before, is it fair to ask for their opinions? This might need to be a “voice” that comes with time.
Looking at student needs (with regards to self-regulation), the inquiry model (which I definitely embrace), and the transition from Full-Day Kindergarten and a more open area to learn (which is my students’ reality), maybe I need to take a chance and start reconsidering one desk per child. What would you suggest? I’d love to hear your thoughts … and maybe you’d also be willing to share some of your room arrangements (hint, hint 🙂 ).
I’ve been struggling with very similar questions! I want to get away from the 1-1 desk arrangement for various reasons…some of which you state in your post. I’m trying to do more inquiry and want my students to work in flexible areas. I don’t believe they always need to be at “their” desk. One of the things I’m contemplating is having some desks, but also some tables and more partner/group areas to work at. I’m also thinking about NOT having a seating plan. Instead, each student would have the choice of where to sit. A kindergarten teacher in my school did this the past year and it was actually my principal who mentioned it to me because she had been in the room observing and was impressed with how the students handled it. The independence that they were developing was impressive. I had an inspiring conversation with the kindergarten teacher and know I can go to her for support as I experiment with this. Also, I’ll be teaching grade 3/4 this year and my 4’s will be in other rooms for some classes so I’m thinking about having everyone put their school supplies in a basket that they can then carry with them, wherever they are working…in our room or another. Angela Rutshke, a grade 6 teacher I follow on twitter, transformed her classroom in a very unconventional way. I’ll try to find her blog post about it and send it to you. So, those are my thoughts at this point in the process. I love your comment about not wanting to use desks, just because that’s just always been the way it’s done. I’ll look forward to hearing more about how you decide to design your learning space!
Thanks for the comment, Tanya! It’s great to hear your classroom arrangement plans as well. I absolutely agree with everything you shared, and I’d love to try not having a seating plan. I think that some students might require the same seat each time because of specific needs, but this is always where differentiation can come into play. I don’t know if I have tables available (I’m at a new school this year), but I would like to look at some other seating options (maybe some different chairs, benches, or washable bean bag chairs). I will have to see what I can find. Hopefully we can share ideas as we both look at new seating options for September!
I have been teaching a 1-2 for the last 2 years. There weren’t enough tables for my classroom so I used desks in groups of 4 or 6. For me, incorporating inquiry and collaboration meant we needed to be flexible with our space. As you mentioned, differentiation is also important. One student needed to be at his desk so his group met at his desk. Others worked where they were comfortable and it didn’t seem to matter if someone’s name was on the desk. They became accustomed to arriving to find provocations laid out on “their” desks. Students knew they could meet on one of the carpets, at the beanbag chairs, the guided reading table or at a group of desks. This naturally led to discussions about respecting others’ property.
Thanks for the comment, Dawn! When I taught a 1/2, I often did similar things to you. Students had their own desks, but often worked at other people’s desks. They would use floor areas a lot as well. I just wonder if all students really need a desk. Less desks would give more space, and items could be stored in buckets. What do you think? I’m still considering options.
Hi aviva, not in one but within my classroom this year I turned my desks around. I really didn’t want desks per say but more like groups. I didn’t have assigned seating and the students just worked wherever they needed to work. At times in table groups, carpet, or the floor it really was just a learning center. This year I got rid of those desks and opted for tables. I really think that these will promote that inquiry learning and growth. If you need to have the desks then just turn them around. Just ideas around what I did.
Jonathan…brilliant idea to just turn the desks around to create table groupings! This would eliminate the desks becoming a place to store clutter and/or garbage, but would allow the students to work in collaborative groups. If I can’t get tables, I will definitely be doing this!
Thank you, Jonathan and Tanya! I love the idea of turning the desks around. I’ve seen this done before with much success … and then I can use fewer desks. Thanks for explaining what you’ve done, Jonathan, and why. It always helps to hear different perspectives.
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Hi! I completely understand your dilemma about desks. When you think about the students that are coming to you from Kindergarten and consider what they are familiar with they are typically used to using the whole classroom for their learning. They may have a cubby or bucket that belongs to them but as far as areas to learn they are not limited to one spot. They may look forward to having a ‘desk’ in grade one ( but who is really driving this excitement I wonder…) but the novelty wears off quickly as I heard a comment from a student that reflected on his experience and shared “I was looking forward to having my own desk in grade one but I didn’t realize I would have to stay in it all the time”! I have always preferred tables to desks but sometimes didn’t have the luxury of having tables as an option. For me, I found having tables supported the type of classroom culture I hoped to grow.
Thanks for your comment, Denise! I agree with you. I think that tables would more support the classroom environment that I hope to achieve (and that I believe will benefit the students the most). That being said, desks can be turned inwards and placed together to create a similar atmosphere. I’m leaning towards this option … with some student input as time goes on. I’m excited to see how things go!