Thursday, 5 February 2015

Allocated seats; yay or nay?

With tomorrow being Waitangi Day, our first week of school for the year is over! Today we posed the question;

What do you need to ensure this is your best year yet? (More on this in another post)

The girls wrote the things they needed down on post-its and the statement that came up over and over again was.....

"I need my own desk to do my best work"

Although our classroom is not officially a Modern Learning Environment, the learning happening in our team is most definitely based on Modern Learning Pedagogies- it is student-centred with lots of project and passion-based learning; makered and design thinking are a big part of what we do. Student voice is at the centre of our class culture and we are constantly reflecting and innovating together to make things better for all of us as learners. 

So I feel a slight tension with their desire to have their own designated desks. For a start we don't even have enough desks! We removed lots to make room for the big watering hole table in the centre of our room. And what about the lovely comfy couch? Don't they want to work there where they can relax? Don't they want to sit on the floor in front of the coffee table? What about the chill- out space in the corridor. Don't they want to chill out on beanbags or lie on the floor? 

Apparently not! But why? 

This is obviously "on top" for my girls so we had a long chat and explored why having a designated desk was so important to them. 

"Sometimes my friend wants me to sit with her but I know we're a bad combination. I think I should sit somewhere else but don't want to hurt her feelings." 

"Sometimes I'm late for school and all the way here I worry about which desk I will get." 

"My eyes aren't great and I worry about not being able to see."

" My ears aren't great and I worry about not being able to hear." 

"I like not being too close to the windows because I get distracted."

" I like being close to the windows so I can look at the view." 

"Honestly, I am more likely to sit and work with new people when the teachers choose my seat than when I choose. Then I tend to stick with the same old people. "

" I just worry too much about where to sit." 

So I've spent the day reflecting on this. Should we be working through the reasons the girls have given and finding workable solutions for them all? Is that really a good use of our time or could we be spending that time engaged in amazing learning and working to make a difference in the world. They've already said they really want to switch table groups every second Friday so they'll still be working with a variety of people. Might this be a case of don't sweat the small stuff? 

In this case, Liz and I have decided that the voice of our learners is more important than our vision of what an MLE should look like with its few scattered tables and highly engaged kids lounging around on beautiful soft furnishings. So on Monday, at the request of our learners, our girls will be pulling desk/ table numbers out of a hat and sitting in their allocated seat. 

I seem to have some issues when it comes to setting up the classroom. What do you do in your class? What age group do you work with? What do you think is the ideal situation regarding desk/ tables? 


  1. This is an interesting topic. I think it brings to life the fact that the physical environment is very important to our students. I had Year 6-8 students and in 2013 I came in and went all MLE with the set up. Within a couple of weeks my students wanted their desks back and wanted allocated seats....
    Strong opinions were:
    - "If I don't feel like being around someone and they sit by me and I move, they are offended."
    - "My friends give me grief unless I sit with them."
    - "I am comfortable at a desk."
    - "It is one less thing to organize in the morning."
    I found it very interesting. One thing they loved was me not having a desk. They asked me to keep that away because they liked it better when I sat amongst them , and they felt like I was less distracted by other things (e.g. Paperwork on my desk)
    At first I was a bit thrown...I had spent all this time setting up this 'amazing' environment haha. As time went on I learned that if I wanted approval and less disruption then the students had to do the planning. So that's what we did. At the end of the term the students would plan and we would agree on what it would look like for the next term. They would decide if they or I chose places to sit etc. They could always go outside to work, lay on the floor or sit by the wall..they just felt a better sense of belonging having a spot to call home I guess.
    We discussed what it would be like at high school and I explained I was trying to support them to be organized and ready for that 'any seat' environment but for them they were happy with a desk each for now.
    I think if the pedagogy is there regardless of fancy set ups....then why do we need to worry about the fancy set ups. I have seen some beautifully set up MLEs with heart breaking teacher directed teaching....I have seen old school set up classrooms with amazing student directed learning happening. I know which one I would rather.
    Arnika @BrownArnika

    1. Such a great comment, Arnika. Thank you. You've helped me find peace with my decision to let this go. I'm going to give them they allocated seats they've asked for with desk swaps every second week. I never knew quite how anxious not having a designated seat could make some of our learners.......this has been a good lesson for me in "not sweating the small stuff!"

  2. Just replied to this as part of the #28daysofwriting with my own thoughts. In the end you do what is right for your students and if they can confidently articulate how they feel then the answer lies in that. In the end you have to do what is best for YOUR students even if it goes against the norm.

    1. Thanks for working through this me with Ruth. Such a small issue creating a disproportionately large amount of angst for some of my class. Will do what we can to alleviate that and if that means I pick a seat from them, so be it.