Ditching (some of) the desks…

So the idea of rethinking the classroom map hits me every summer. And just today I started following the thread by @AliceKeller And @mraspinall on ditching desks and losing the ‘solitary front’ of the room.

And I’m doing the same — sort of. I typically have classes of 30 in a 7/8 split. Like many home room teachers I typically have between 10 and 15 IEPs, and 5-10 other kids who aren’t yet identified but need specialized programs. For many years I was focussed on my smart board as the focus of my teaching. 

But in the past few years, thanks to some amazing FDK people in my building I have become more focussed on kid-led spaces. I even wrote an ebook on how to set up a 7/8 classroom because I see so many new teachers to the transition years struggling. 

So here’s my take: zones to fit mood and zones to fit need. 

I build an instructional wall: minimal decor, lots of flat black paper, minimal anchor charts, and my projection screen/smart board. Projection-based teaching happens here. It’s uncluttered so that kids who get overwhelmed will instinctively look at this wall because it is the most restful wall in the room, which brings them back to task. It supports my vision-needs kids in the lack of clutter and the high contrast with the screen-against-black.  It trains a routine of ‘look here for instructions,’ and it gives the room an anchor. 

I have one organizational wall: all the timetables, routines, and calendars a class needs get posted for reference. Again the focus is on simple uncluttered info. When kids, or supply teachers, or I need need to know where someone should be we all know where to look.  Again I keep the palette simple: black and lime green this year. 

One Pop-culture wall: posters from their movies and games, covers from current books, and things that reflect the class’ interests. I put this on my wall of windows so that when they want to take a day-dream break, all of the stimulus for those dreams is on the same wall. 

My final wall is the coat rack. Not much happens there except the smell of wet sheep and feet. Sorry. 

Within the room this year are table groups: some in 4s, a few in 6s, a big 8-desk group and a pair of desks facing a conference table. We have a seating plan for ‘attendance,’ another for math groups, yet another for mixed-abilty groups, et.  Kids float to different tables based on task and need. 

I also have a library zone: bean bag chairs and books on a carpet. Great for collaborative tasks or for reading. Also a great place for two writers to sit and conference. 

New for this year is a cafe zone: two desks and a snack station by my back counter. I have many students who munch throughout the day, so I figured setting aside a place to chat casually, or bounce ideas around while refuelling might be useful. I also have a few students whose families struggle from time to time, and when it comes to hunger I firmly believe in levelling the playing field within my four walls.  I have a kettle, some mugs and a drain board, some caffeine-free tea and granola bars, etc. I plan on asking the parent community to donate a few things here and there if possible to keep it going. I have a feeling it will be a popular feature of the room. 

My big table: in lieu of a traditional teacher-desk it’s where I perch, park, and occasionally work, but mostly its a landing spot for things I need for the day.  I try to move as much as I can, but this gives me a place to retreat to, letting the class roll without my constant irritating presence. 

And finally, my mat stash. Kids can grab my carpet mats and claim a piece of hallway, as long at the door stays open and they stay focussed. 

So yes, I still have a room ‘front’ per se, but I also have a host of alternatives. The goal is to get kids moving to best/choice collaborative partners, or a space that has what they need, independently. Stand up if you want, or make a nest on the floor. As long as everyone’s safe, what does it matter if you keep your stuff in one desk or truck it around in a backpack all day? Learning, and teaching, are fluid and living entities. So we go with the flow – and see where it leads. 



2 thoughts on “Ditching (some of) the desks…

  1. Jennifer Chelchowski says:

    I have always wanted to have a classroom set up like this – minimal things on the walls and tables instead of desks for more collaborative/inquiry based learning. I recently completed the FDK aq course in order to get a better handle on this model and how I focused much of my assignments on how it could also work for the intermediate grades. I too am drastically changing my classroom layout and my approach to the students learning but I will be doing it in the music classroom. I find music class to be the furthest behind in 21st century teaching and student centred approaches and I want to change that especially with the population of students that I will be working with this year. I hope your classroom works out and I am definitely going to be passing this blog post on to my husband as he is returning to the intermediate classroom this September (as well as teaching music) and I know your layout would be good for his students too.


    • Thanks Jen! I struggle with teenagers trapped in 11 and 12 yr old bodies who want to feel like college kids. 😉 glad you find these ideas helpful! I’ve been pouring over Pinterest boards for Reggio ideas too! There’s a LOT you can repurpose!


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