Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Flexible Seating Procedures

I have been asked by many readers how I set up my flexible seating. I wanted to share my plans and procedures for implementing our seating plan for the start of the next school year. This differs slightly from how I implemented flexible seating in the past, because last year I started the plan in January.  I have planned and mapped out my procedures and I hope you will find the following information helpful! You can download the procedures and resources for free in my TpT store.

First things first... many teachers asked if the seating should be rolled out slowly or all at once. In the past I rolled it out slowly (basically when I purchased something and brought it in, we used it). So items came into the classroom in stages. This led to the novelty effect. The newest choice was always the most popular and it took time for me, and the students, to discover which seating was a best fit for the student, and/or activity. For the coming school year I will implement all of the choices within the first few days.

Expectations Anchor Chart

Before school begins, I will make sure to have my Flexible Seating Chart hung up and ready. I refer to this chart EACH and EVERY time the students select a seat (which means multiple times a day). Not until I know the students are very capable of following the expectations, do I skip this part.

Here is a printed version.  The hand drawn version of the expectations chart is below...

Preparing the Room

 I then make sure I have all of my seating ready for my students. I think about the ease of moving around the room. I consider the best spots for yoga balls, low tables, etc. For more information on the specific seating I use in my classroom check out the Flexible Seating Tab to check out my previous posts. I prepare caddies and pencil jars so each workspace has easily accessible supplies. I am a firm believer in no time wasted, and having a plan in place for supplies is key! I use community supplies in my classroom. Not only does it work better for flexible seating, but it also can help students with taking responsibility and problem solving skills. 

For the few personal items my students need (writing journal, work folder, interactive notebook, etc.) I have used bins in the past. I used my carpet rows as my classroom groups, and put 4 group bins around the classroom to avoid traffic jams. I ran into a few problems with this. The first problem being some of my little lovelies did not put papers in the folders neatly. Although it was a cosmetic problem, I didn't like seeing the papers hanging out of the folders. The other problem was the bins would tip over occasionally. I have decided to implement a plastic drawer system in its place this year. This way it will look neater and stay more organized.

I will have 6-8 drawer bins around the classroom. The drawers will be labeled with each student's name. It will house their folders, journals, and maybe a box of crayons. As soon as I find the bins I am envisioning I will post a picture. 

UPDATE… I found them! I purchased three drawer towers that fit my colorful classroom perfectly. Each child will get a drawer and it will be labeled with their name. They came from OfficeMax and I think they are perfect! 

Planning Out Procedures

I created a list of procedures to teach starting from Day 1. Check them out below. Remember, you can download these resources for free from my store

"Model, student example, non-example, example" is how I usually teach any procedure. I show the students the correct way to work in the spot. Then I pick a student model the correct way, then show us the wrong way (this usually gets very silly, but the students are engaged), then the student fixes the problems and shows us the correct way to use the workspace again. Based on time available, you can pick an additional student, or a group of students to repeat the procedure. 

Unwritten "rules" are expectations that need to be taught explicitly. Most of these unwritten rules came about through trial and error as we rolled it out last year. 

Where it says "chart" I will take an opportunity to make a quick chart for each seating area once we have discussed the workspace and modeled the expectations. The students will help brainstorm how working in that particular space will look. Try to avoid "no" statements as always. :) For example write "small bounces" instead of "no big bounces" on the yoga balls.  

This procedures list may look daunting, but the more time spent carefully and explicitly teaching these procedures, the less time you will have to take to correct behavior later! TRUST ME! :)

I also have a Procedures tips page with helpful information included. Check it out below!


The next step is building stamina. Perfect practice makes perfect!

With my class I will start with the one minute increment stamina chart to 20 minutes. Some classes may prefer the 40 minute version.

As we are learning the procedures, one activity I will have my students complete is this flexible seating mini book. It will be great for reviewing the expectations while the students are seated in workspaces. It works as a "double-duty" assignment!

Make sure to grab all of the recourses here!

If you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comments below. I would love to hear how your flexible seating preparations are going!

To see flexible seating in action check out my Classroom Website here.

Happy Teaching!


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sentence Fluency Phonics Strips

I am so excited to share a new resource with you! Phonics is such a huge part of first grade reading instruction. I use phonics strips to reinforce my phonics instruction and my students this past year did a great job of learning the phonics skills with the help of the phonics strips. I noticed that I needed a bridge from the phonics strips to reading fluently within text, so I created Sentence Fluency Phonics Strips!

These strips utilize our weekly phonics pattern AND first grade sight words! So not only will my students be working on the phonics pattern of the week, they will also practice their sight words and fluency at the same time. I believe this resource will be very helpful as a bridge from phonics to text reading.

I have included 24 different phonics skills (270 sentence phonics strips) including a kindergarten review ring (short vowel and kindergarten sight words). Blends, digraphs, long vowels, inflectional endings, variant vowels, and other phonics skills are included in the pack. I anticipate using the rings for guided reading groups, independent reading practice, timed fluency, and intervention. You can check them out here!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Flexible Seating- 5 Months Later...

This post is a follow-up to my original Flexible Seating Post. If you would like to see how our adventure began click here!

5 Months Later…
It has been quite the whirlwind end of the year and I am excited to bring you some helpful tidbits I have experienced with flexible seating during the past five months of implementation. I must start off by saying I LOVE the way this new seating routine has impacted the learning in my classroom. Yes, there were days where I thought I must be crazy to change my seating so drastically! There were times where I wanted to pull the plug on the whole thing, but once we got going, it really made a positive difference with my students and I plan on continuing the seating plan with future classes. So, what I have I learned from the process…

Rising to the Occasion
My students took the responsibility of this special seating very seriously. They were careful and respectful of each other, they took amazing care of our yoga balls, cushions, and kneeling mats. They took ownership of the new plan and worked together to ensure everything was put away each day. When a pencil was found on the floor near a yoga ball, it was immediately picked up to ensure the ball was not damaged. My students knew that our seating was special and a privilege. They knew that it would all go away if our special tools were not used appropriately. Yes, this took a lot of modeling and explicit teaching, but boy was that worth the extra time at the beginning of our adventure. 

Expectations and a Surprise Outcome
Of course this type of seating will not have a chance if expectations are not explicitly modeled and practiced. Just like anything with teaching, it takes time to build the routines and expectations for something that gives students this much choice… Saying, "Okay everyone, go find a seat!" will lead to noise, pushing, arguing, and LOTS of problems. To avoid chaos and to set ourselves up for success we came up with procedures that enabled students to resolve their own problems that arose with our seating plan. For example, if two children chose a spot at the same time, they would play "rock, paper, scissors"to determine who would sit in the desired spot. But in all honesty, most of the time, one student would make the choice to walk away and find a different workspace. This was an unexpected positive outcome… problem resolution practice! I would always call carpet rows of six students at a time to choose a spot. Students who rushed and were noisy had to come back to the rug and pick last. We went over our rules poster multiple times each day during the first few weeks of implementation and reviewed it when necessary. We talked about what using the tools appropriately looks like, and what it doesn't look like. We talked about using small bounces only on the yoga balls, keeping feet on the floor, and being safe. All students learned the expectations and few problems arose due to the procedures we put in place.

Choice Within Boundaries
We have all heard the phrase "choice within boundaries" as teachers. As with any group of students, some children will need extra guidance. I had one student that continually had trouble choosing a spot that best fit her needs. We decided together where her "special spot" would be. If I noticed her having difficulty in her chosen workspace, I would discretely encourage her to move to her "special spot" so she could work more effectively. As time progressed, she needed far fewer reminders. This still gave her the power of choice, with the boundary of being moved to her special spot if she was not working effectively.

I know some of you are wondering about those students that will "work" right next to their best friend EVERY-SINGLE-TIME if given the chance. Yes, I had a few of those! Well… those special friends still have the choice of where to work, BUT- their boundary is they must not sit next to, or in the same area, as their best friend. This is also a discreet conversation to have with the particular students once you see the problem arise. By the end of the year though, I can say that even if the "besties" ended up working in the same vicinity, there were few problems because they understood the expectations of our seating arrangement and realized it is a privilege. If you drive home the idea that this seating is meant to help them learn best- they will understand sitting right next to their outgoing best friend will not allow them to do their best work.

If problems arise, I would advise looking at the way the expectations were set up at the start of the seating plan before making too many separate rules for students. I found going back to review expectations with the whole class was a sufficient reminder and prevented further problems.

Novelty vs. Best Fit Workspace
I introduced the seating a few options at a time. Once the yoga balls came, I implemented them. When the cushions arrived, I had students using them the next day…. so not all of the seating was available to the students from day one. Thinking ahead to the coming year, I would prefer all the options to be available to the students at the same time. The "new" option was of course the most popular and therefore it took time to see which workstations worked best for each student. For the coming year we will implement all choices from day one and the students will have time trying all seating to see which workspaces work best for them during different parts of our daily routine. I am very excited to get rid of my desks next year! My principal has allowed me to switch out desks for round tables. I LOVE this idea and I know it will be a wonderful way for me to build community and team building while keeping with our flexible seating plan. I will reserve some desks for standing, but the round tables will be great for use with yoga balls, fidget bands, and traditional seating.

Improvement in Focus
I am very pleased with the positive impact this seating has had with my students. My highly active, distractible students benefitted from the extra movement. They were able to channel their energy productively, freeing up their hands and minds to complete their tasks. I saw higher work production and more time-on-task from the most distractible students. For example, instead of fixating on a pencil and not completing work, a student stretched a fidget band with his feet while working at a standing desk, enabling him to focus on his work. Even my students who did not have any problems with focus enjoyed the extra movement (what six-year-old wouldn't?!). Of course this isn't a "magic pill" and it wasn't the perfect fix for every challenge each student is faced with, but anytime you can incorporate more movement and engagement in a classroom is a welcome change!

Taking Part in the Action
I also wanted in on the action of flexible seating and replaced my teacher chair with a yoga ball. I hardly sit during the day as it is, but it was wonderful to use the yoga ball during my small group instruction time. I must admit that I did all of the things I tell my students not to do at the start (big bounces, rolling around, lifting both feet up and balancing, etc.). It was fun :). What I found, is the extra movement and subtle core work was a nice addition to my day and kept me energized and moving around just the right amount. The downside… my yoga ball didn't have the little legs so it ended up rolling around all over the classroom!

List and Links for Seating
I have been asked by some readers what type of yoga balls I purchased and others have inquired about where I purchased other seating options. Here is a list of items I purchased. I have been very happy with the durability of the seating options and would highly recommend them.

Yoga Balls: Gaiam Kids Stay-N-Play Balance Ball 
I purchased mine through Amazon. The only downside to these yoga balls is the green color got a bit dirty after 5 months, although Lysol wipes cleaned them up fairly well.

Stability Disks: Trademark Innovations 13'' Fitness and Balance Disk Seat (Set of 10)
I also purchased these through Amazon. My students really like this option when they sit at the low tables and while sitting on the carpet. I will also try them in chairs for the coming year. These are great because they have two textured sides the students choose from.

Rainbow Kneeling Cushions: I purchased these from the Dollar Store. They are actually gardening pads made of foam. They ended up with holes and dents, which isn't surprising based on  material they are made from and the price paid. I am planning on replacing them for the next school year.

Fidget Bands: TheraBand 6-Yard Exercise Band
These bands were also purchased from Amazon. I was able to cut the band to the size I needed to fit around 5 chair legs and 4 desk legs. I just wrapped the band around and tied it in a double knot. These held up well and ended up being a favorite among students with busy feet.

I will be looking into scoop chairs and lap desks as an addition for next year. I would love to add wobble stools, but I have a feeling my budget won't allow for those to be added quite yet.

Flexible seating isn't for everyone, but after giving it a whirl, I found it is DEFINITELY for me and my students. It takes a bit of relinquishing of control, careful planning, and patience during implementation. I am very happy with my trial run and can't wait to see how a new group of students will benefit from the plan.

Want to check out the seating in action? Visit my classroom website here.

Happy Teaching!