In almost everything we experience, we have choices. You can choose the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the car you drive, etc. Technology even suggests choices for you based on your previous choices: who to follow, what to watch, and what to buy. Yet, for the average student, choice is taken away from them. We take away choice with assignments, we take away choice with content and the most obvious iteration of this reality is we take away choice of seating.
When you walk into Starbucks, the first thing you notice is the furniture. There are wooden and cushioned chairs, short and long tables, inside and outside seating. You are able to sit and enjoy your beverage wherever works best for you. However, in schools, the typical classroom tells students they all must sit in the exact same type of seat/desk, all must face the same direction, and ultimately, they will SIT.
Why is it OK for students to experience choice throughout their day but be denied the same opportunity in the classroom?
In an earlier post, I wrote about making the classroom more engaging and that can be partly done by eliminating the “Front” of the classroom and eliminating rows. But, we can do so much more than that!
This year, our school was very fortunate to buy new furniture to allow for differentiated seating. For our Student Resource Center, which is a classroom and location for study groups, tutoring, and school work, we wanted to create a place that students WANTED to come to and feel COMFORTABLE while they were there.
Using those guidelines, we purchased:
- Desks that could be arranged in a variety of ways
- Rocking chairs for students who did not want to sit at a desk
- Bouncy fitness balls for students who do not want to sit in a chair
- We eliminated the “teacher desk” and created homemade standing desks that students and adults can use
By providing choice, the furniture creates an enjoyable space for those who use it so they can focus on the task at hand.
Naysayers will argue that “alternative” furniture will distract students and will create a class that is hard to manage. I would challenge these individuals to create an assignment with no directions other than the overall objective of the task. Let the students do whatever they want to accomplish the task and see how engaged they are. The same effect happens with seating. By allowing students to choose where they sit (if they sit at all), it sends a message that you value their choice, trust them and provides a teachable moment about losing privileges if they break that trust.
Ultimately, think about your own experience. How would you feel if you sat in the same seating arrangement as your classroom for 6-7 hours every day?
Share examples of differentiated classrooms at your school in the comments below!