Inside: Answering Frequently asked questions about a deskless classroom and flexible seating expectations.
In fall of 2016, I first posted about my (student) deskless classroom. Since that post was published one day after ditching my desks, I decided it was time for an update. Since I went to only chairs in the end of November 2016, I have not gone back, but have added some flexible seating options. Here I will address some of the frequently asked questions I have gotten about not having student desks. *Update here is a Deskless Classroom Tour
What do I need to go #deskless?
The simple answer – Chairs.
I already had chairs and tables, so when in the middle of the day I ditched the tables, all we did was move them around the perimeter of the room. Since then, I slowly pawned off the tables in my room, so I only have a few left around the edges. Some people think they need to invest in tons of flexible seating options to ditch the desks, while I have a few, it is not a requirement. Just ask your custodians and admin if they have a class set of chairs somewhere in storage, because they probably do.
How is your room set up?
The arrangement we have liked the best is a large semi circle of chairs. At first some students joked it was like being at a therapy group, but in reality it has been a great way to create a sense of community and inclusion of everyone. I know some teachers have students trained to put away chairs at the end of each class, and have arrangements of chairs for the students to set up as they enter, like the awesome Grant Boulanger. My chairs do not stack well, so we usually stay with the main arrangement and then shift as needed during class.
What about all their stuff?
When students enter the room, all of their stuff goes along the back wall or around the edge of the room. What they need for that moment is posted when they enter. Usually all they need is their class novel, Chromebook, or pencil and clipboard. This transition was the hardest for my Spanish 4, who really wanted their security backpack full of contraband snacks to sneak, cell phone, and other distractions. One of the reason deskless has gone so well is that they do not have a pile of stuff to hide their cell phone behind. There are no distractions, so students are forced to pay attention to the Spanish input and engage.
What about writing in a deskless classroom?
I have a set of cheap clipboards in a large basket by my door. If students need them right away, it is posted to pick one up on the way in. I have started to be much more strategic about my use of writing, and need to plan for when it is really needed. For example, if writing will not happen right after the bell ringer, I do not have students write their answer. Why? It is a waste of time and a distraction to write a sentence down. We also have a class set of whiteboards, which may be used instead for quick answers and group games.
Usually my class is structured with input or discussion right away in our semi circle of chairs, then when it is time for the students to work either individually or in groups, they can pick where they would like to sit and work. Students sit on or under the tables, on the chairs with clipboards, pull up a chair to a table, lay on the floor, or wherever they work best. The same goes for a writing assessment. Students spread out and find a surface to write on.
What about our 1:1 device in a deskless classroom?
We are 1:1 with Chromebooks. They are called “lap”tops for a reason 🙂 Just like writing, usually if students are completing a task with their Chromebooks, they have freedom in their seating. If we are doing a game like Kahoot or Quizlet Live, the students put them on their laps and I have not heard complaints.
What about seating charts?
Almost all of my classes have the freedom to sit wherever they would like. Of course I needed a creative solution for “that class.” I used little colored stickers to number the back of each chair. If really needed, students could be assigned to a number, but most classes do all right having some choice. At the end of class, students are supposed to make sure the chairs are back in order if they have been moved.
If I do not like who is sitting by each other, we might play a little “fruit salad” to mix it up. In Spanish I will say “stand up if you are wearing red” and everyone up has to switch chairs with each other. I will do a could rounds of “stand up if…” until everyone is adequately mixed up. It works as a good brain break as well to get them moving in the middle of class.
What about our textbook, workbook and binder?
To be honest, deskless is not going to be the best option if you are doing textbook activities everyday. I have created my curriculum around novels, and this discussion circle set up leads itself perfectly to the comprehensible input style of teaching. If you are tied to using a book, I would keep some tables for book activities as needed.
What kinds of activities can you do without desks?
We can do anything! I love how having so much more space naturally calls for more movement in class. Check out this post for ideas. The chairs can easily be moved into small groups for conversation circles, in two straight lines for the marker game, into seperate groups for reading clubs, or have a huge dance floor for baile viernes.
What does the admin and school think?
I am more of a beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission kind of teacher, so I may have got rid of table without saying anything to my principal. Well, it paid off because in my end of year evaluation I was praised for my “risk taking” and getting rid of desks. By the end of the year the English and Science teachers in my hall also went deskless after seeing the success I was having. I know not all schools are this encouraging, but usually if others see success in regards to student learning, they are supportive of the means to get there.
What if I have more questions about going deskless?
If you have more questions, feel free to ask me, or better yet ask a ton of awesome deskless teachers in the TPRS Deskless Classroom Facebook Group. There you will find teachers of a variety of languages and classroom situations who probably have a much better answer than me. You can also see pictures of many different rooms to give you ideas of how to set yours up.
What are your expectations?
Posted Interpersonal communication expectations set the main expectations to prepare, engage and interact. You can learn more about using them in this post and download them for free here. Additionally, I just added a few more expectation posters specifically about what to do when the bell rings and flexible seating. You can download the editable posters for free here. As you can see I also post what students need as they enter, they put their phones in their backpacks and their backpacks along the back wall. If it is posted that we are starting with free reading (each Tuesday and Thursday) then students are able to sit in the choice comfy chairs. When the timer goes off, then they put away their book and move to the semicircle of chairs.
The picture below shows Interpersonal Expectations above the board & an older version of flexible seating and when the bell rings expectations below the calendar (which you can get from Sra. Cruz:). Here are the Attention Getters that are posted on bottom left.
Interpersonal Communication Skills (on top of board)
Attention Getters (on bottom left)
originally posted 7.9.17 – updated 8.19.19
Im excited to try the games you've linked here! TY
My district requires a ton of writing. How do you combat this? I went deskless when I taught middle school and want to go back to it, but if my poor kiddos have to do a ton of writing, I'm not sure it's worth it.
I teach kindergarten through fifth grade in a Special Area setting; this means I see my classes on an eight day rotation. The lower grades do some coloring, some cutting and pasting activities…how would you handle it in a deskless classroom?
Mis Clases Locas says
I think elementary students more than anyone is perfect for deskless!