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August 15, 2014 Tips and Suggestions for Open Seating Plans By Kriscia Cabral
Grades 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    Starting a new school year brings forth such exciting feelings! As you welcome students to your classroom, consider implementing an open seating plan, and offering the kids a choice about where they do their learning.

    Last year, I shared briefly about transitioning from desks to tables in my post, "Setting Up with Students in Mind." This was the best decision for the student-centered teaching style that I planned to implement in my classroom. The change opened up my classroom space, while offering students the opportunity to choose where they would like to sit daily.

    I convinced a number of my colleagues to do the same. We all felt like the change made a world of difference in our classrooms. We also received a number of questions about what worked and what did not. I wanted to follow up and share questions, concerns, and some tips that might be useful for you when making the switch.

    What do you mean by open seating?

    The open seating policy can mean a number of things, from choosing where to sit at a table group, to deciding to use a portable desk and sit on the carpet. Open seating puts the choice in the hands of students. I am asking students to choose a working environment where they feel powerful learning can happen.

    Did you have any parameters about who sat where?

    Yes. When the last school year started, I had a “rule” on the board for the seating policy of the day. For example, “Sit boy/girl,” or “Sit by a birthday pal.” By the middle of the year, and after a continued effort to model and practice the classroom expectations, students were able to come in sit wherever they liked.

    What if students could not handle “open seating”?

    There are students who need assistance in an open seating format. These students may require more guidance and in responsible decision-making. These students should be partnered next to a responsible peer. Instead of just an open approach, offer these students some limited choices. The option of “choice” still gives the student the opportunity to make the decision of where they will be the most successful.

    How do you take attendance if students are always in different seats? 

    The first day of school I give each student a number. This is their number for the entire year. I ask them to hold onto the number in their mind, and write it down somewhere so they have it in the event they forget. They need to practice saying it and memorizing it, as well as remembering the number of the person who calls a number before and after them.

    We also practice taking a roll call. This is where I say, “roll call” and students respond in order with their numbers. I hear, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5 . . . ” If there is a number that is not called, we know that a person is absent, and I can mark it on my attendance sheet for the day. This activity takes about a minute-and-a-half. While it’s not super impressive at the beginning of the year, it’s quite amazing after a little bit of practice. We use roll call outside the classroom as well, for fire drills, field trips, and any other place where I need to check that all are present.

    A fun way to practice and encourage students to memorize their number is to turn it into a game. The first time we did roll call I timed the class. I wrote that time on the board. We strove to get faster every time. We also charted our "personal best" for the week, month, trimester, etc. The kids got a kick at how much they improved over time. They also noted those days that they were slower. We discussed possible reasons for this (Monday, after a holiday, lots of absent students, etc.).

    Open seating allows students to have a voice in where they sit. The opportunity to choose gives students ownership of the place they believe they can learn best. Imagine never having to make a seating chart again? Think about what you could be doing with that time! It is something to consider.

    Do you already use open seating or have questions about it? I’d love to hear from you!

    Please share in the comment section below.

    Thank you for reading!




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