Can Kids Learn Without Desks?

Where do you do your best work? Where do you read? Write? Balance your checkbook? Pay your bills? Converse with friends? Check your email? I’m guessing we would all have different answers for those questions. One of my favorite places in my house is my big, comfy green chair. It has huge arms for holding my books, papers, notebooks, teacher manuals…whatever I am working on. And it’s just so cozy! I’m sitting in it as I type this!

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My favorite green chair surrounded by our new bookcases, which we’ve dreamed about for 5 years.

 

I asked my husband where he does his best work. His response? An L-shaped work station. Totally not cozy. He works at his desk all day and then at night, he’ll sit at the kitchen table while he works on things. We are completely different in our preferences, but somehow we both get our work done.

You know what’s crazy (or maybe not really that crazy)?  Kids often differ in where they do their best learning.  For some, sitting in a desk can be torture. Others love it. I feel quite strongly that we need to offer some choice about where kids can work around the room. I’ve been offering seating choice for a number of years in my classroom, as have many other teachers.  As a whole, I think we teachers try to give as many options as we can. We put in couches and comfy chairs and spread out some pillows if we have room. The problem is that, when the classroom is filled with twenty-some bulky desks with chairs attached, it doesn’t leave a lot of space to offer lots of options for the kids. This year I am excited to say that I have said goodbye (with permission, of course) to all but four of my student desks and have brought in some alternative forms of seating for the students.

Please join me on a little tour…

Teaching has certainly changed over the years. Although we still gather as a whole group for read-alouds and mini-lessons, a lot of our day is spent working in small groups or as individuals on authentic tasks such as reading, writing, and math games. This allows me to meet with kids at their level and differentiate the learning that’s taking place.

We have two main areas to gather as a large group. The first is the green carpet area. This is where we will read books together, share Bible stories, have devotions each morning, and spend time sharing our lives together.

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The second is the whiteboard area. We will gather here in the mornings to greet each other, sing a song or two together, take a look at the calendar and the schedule for the day, and work through some morning routines.

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Students will be able to keep their supplies in small plastic tubs on this shelving unit. They will be able to carry their tub to wherever they are working in the room. Their folders and workbooks will be kept in baskets and handed out when needed.

 

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When students are working individually or in small groups, they will be able to choose from a variety of work spaces. They can sit or kneel on a cushion by a small table, stand by the counter, grab a clipboard and sit in a bean bag or scoop chair, curl up in a corner with a pillow, or simply lay down on the floor and prop themselves up with their forearms. For those who like to work at a desk or larger table, there are spots open for them as well.

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These are some of the small tables available for work stations. The boxes contain pillows for comfy seating. The bean bags will have to be taken elsewhere in the room–it would be hard to sit on them otherwise. 🙂

 

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This table gets used for a lot of things. It might be for a group of kids playing a math or word work game together. I might meet with a small group here or it might be used for a couple of kids who need some space away from the others in order to get their work done.

 

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A lot of kids really like standing by the counter as they work. They are most likely the same kids who eat dinner standing up. The counter will be less cluttered by the time school starts.

 

The furniture is light and easy to move around the room when necessary. When the large group spots are not being used, the students will be able to move the tables and other furniture quite easily into that space to fit their needs. They’ll be able to find a spot where they can do their best learning and stay engaged in their work. We will also be able to quickly and easily move or stack things off to the side if we happen to need a “stage” or if the other first graders are coming to join us for a special event. There is a lot of flexibility with this new design.

I have had a lot of different reactions from people when I tell them I’m piloting this idea in my classroom. Some are really excited about it and some just think I’m crazy.  Why, even Mr. Jack, our custodian, is a little skeptical about how this is all going to work. 🙂

I will tell you that first graders need to feel a sense of safety and community in order to learn. Many also like to have order and predictability (this is most evident when a guest teacher visits for the day…”Mrs. Kiepert doesn’t do it that way.”). I also know that I, personally, am not a fan of chaos and crazy. I’ve thought this through extensively and I think we will begin with quite a bit of teacher-directed order as we get to know each other and our surroundings and then we can begin to explore different ways to use the furniture in the classroom.

So. Will this year be perfect? Nope. I’m sure there will be things that come up that I haven’t thought about yet and it will throw me off from time to time. But I am excited to see how the kids work and learn in our space this year. It’s going to be a great adventure!

 

If you’d like to read about a school that is doing something very similar, check out this post about classroom design:

http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/08/for-back-to-school-reimagine-classroom-design/

 

P.S. You may be wondering about lunch. We eat in our classrooms, so that is something that I’ve pondered for many weeks. Months, even. It was my biggest hurdle with the redesign. But I have a plan. And someday there may be a blog post about how my plan was a glorious success!

 

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  • Connie

    Oh! I teach first grade too and i can’t wait to hear how this works out for you. The only out of the box I done is let my students pick out their own desk. Each new year I say “I don’t know these babies yet, how can I determine where and who they should sit by.” It startles the parents and freaks out all the other teachers (and my AP) but the kids love having a choice and I love being able to give them the choice. Of course at some point we move people around for one reason or a other and sometimes we move just because we want to try something new. 🙂

    Good luck this year and I will be checkin back to see how your year is coming alone.
    Connie

    • Tricia

      Hi Connie! I’m so sorry I didn’t see your comment until just now. Thanks for reading the post and sharing about your 1st grade room. I must say I am loving the new arrangement. 🙂

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