Should schools do away with fixed seating plans?

Kriscia Cabral

Growing up I was a fan of all things school. I went every day. I listened and followed directions. Yes, I was 'that' student. It wasn’t until college that I really turned the page and started asking the question “Why?” about the information I was learning. It is because of this inquiry that I have landed in the position I am in today.

My name is Kriscia Cabral. I teach a combination 4th and 5th grade class in a San Diego suburb called Poway. I’ve been working for the Poway Unified School District for eight years. Over time, I’ve grown as an educator, as learner, as an individual. Each year brings new reflections and learning experiences I look at as growing opportunities. My goal is to teach my students to think for themselves, ask questions, and teach me something new. I look at my role in the classroom as their motivator, their supporter, their partner in learning.

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How can you get the most out of your pupils? Do you make sure that their days are strictly regimented, in order to make sure a curriculum is thoroughly covered? Or do you, as Kriscia Cabral ponders, throw seating plans to the wind in order to give students a psychological boost?

I’ve had a number of conversations with my colleagues about no assigned seating in the classroom. I made some attempts around this idea last year; however, at the start of this year I decided to go full throttle. And I am so glad that I did. Allowing my students to come in every morning and have a choice is the first empowering decision they get to make in their day. Not only to do I no longer have the task of rearranging my seating on a monthly basis, I don’t have to waste valuable learning time with finding order in the classroom again.

At the beginning of the year I wrote a post for Scholastic discussing the design of my room. I talked briefly about the seating, but I’d love to highlight here how you can take small steps along this amazing journey to classroom seating freedom.

Step one: Start small. My first step in the free seating realm came when I decided to pull all personal items out of my student desks. I made every desk the same. There were no more name tags, and no more random gadgets and such laying around in the desks. Students came to their seats for checking in, but had never been bound to them. This idea could be a step in it’s own. Let go of the order in everyone sitting. I guarantee there’s at least one kiddo who would be more comfortable on the floor…let them do it! Sitting somewhere besides the desk might encourage a student or two to want to learn more!

Step two: Start with an expectation. Before jumping off the cliff, have your expectations in place. What do you expect when your students start choosing their own seats? What classroom management will you have ready for those that need guidance along the way. One strategy I had at the beginning of the year was seating arrangements. Students would come in and I would share how we would sit for the day. For example, “Sit next to someone with your birthday month.” “Sit boy/girl.” “Sit by someone who’s wearing the same color as you.” These were all great opportunities for the kids to move around and get to know each other. This was also a great opportunity for the kids to find out who they worked best with. Who could they sit next to and stay focused next to? Who was not a good option to sit next to because of distractions? This was all learning observations they made on their own. Our classroom discussions were about taking that information and applying it to a successful school day.

Step three: Just jump! You’ve got your expectations. You’ve cleared out your desks. Open the floodgates. Your kids will be so surprised when you share that they get to choose their own seating. The first attempt may be a bit of an “OMG” moment, but in the end, it pays off.

I love that my kids are able to sit wherever in my classroom. They get along with each other and the classroom community is solid. They know who not to sit by and I am not the person telling them so. They tell themselves. It’s a wonderful change that I don’t ever see myself going back to the way it was.

Give it a try and let me know what you think! I’d love to hear from you!

What do you think of the free-seating idea? Would it work for your class(es)? Let us know in the comments.

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