Daily 5 and Alternative Seating: 4 Reasons Why They Are a Perfect Fit Together

Amy Konen
Elementary School Teacher

After an 11-year break from the classroom, I am finally stepping back into that world and I would not be giving the whole picture if I said it did not make me nervous. I am excited to put in action all the ideas I know are best practices for kids and all the ideas I taught others to use with trauma and anxiety kids. I have a million ideas screaming in my head all night and it often leaves me wide awake even though I am still a month away from school starting again. What I was not prepared for was getting back into the routine of fine tuning all the organizational pieces. Where do I sit, stand, deliver instruction, pull groups, place kids, let them sit and work, etc. to maximize my effectiveness, their ability to learn, and the flow of my classroom? I had a vision to create a coffeehouse-style learning environment that allowed students to collaborate, be creative, be comfortable and get the most out of their space. But how do I accomplish this with the trap tables, rectangular tables, desks, millions of school-issued chairs AND work in an open-space school? I found my inspiration in the research of Daily 5 and it has been the catalyst to create my learning spaces and organize all the pieces that will allow my classroom to flow this coming year.

The Gathering Space

The first step was to remove all my furniture I currently had in the classroom space. My desk was the first to go! Once I had an empty area, it was much easier to start deciding what I did have room for and what I wanted to do with a certain space. In an open-spaced school, honestly, safety is the first piece that I puzzled through. I needed to arrange the teaching space where my students could get out quickly and we would be far away from someone entering our area. I decided my gathering spot would be in the back of the area, close to a locked door that opens to the outside of the building. This corner also conveniently is where my interactive projector had been installed and it is close to a bulletin board that will hold my CAFÉ menu. I placed my large oval rug in this space and that is where my students will gather for instruction. By using a gathering space instead of leaving students at a desk space, I can enforce my behavior management through proximity and eliminate distractions that desks hold. As a behavior specialist, I found that while collecting data on students, I could often attribute time off task to fiddling with items in desks. Kids were forever digging inside pulling out scissors, tearing paper into a million tiny pieces, writing notes, and sharpening pencils. I wanted a captive audience that allowed me to deliver short, effective bursts of instruction to everyone with minimal distractions. Using a gathering space, like Daily 5 suggests, also allows students the chance to turn and talk and collaborate, which in turn, enhances engagement and gives students opportunities to express their thinking. By having students always return to a common place, I can now place all my supplies for teaching whole group lessons-an easel, dry erase markers, paper, projector, computer and iPad, sentence strips for Daily 5/CAFÉ goals, and materials for the lesson-in one area on a bookshelf. I have a clipboard with my check-in forms, copies of my class list, and my mini lesson attached. My easel holds my anchor charts since wall space in open-space classrooms is at a minimum. Finally, my mini lessons at the gathering space will all be around 9-11 minutes long. Dr. Ken Wesson, brain researcher, describes kids being able to stay engaged and process information the number of minutes they are old. By using a gathering space, I will be more aware to keep lessons short and effective to have better retention of the concepts. The wiggles will set in after about 9-10 minutes and I will know it is time to get the kids moving again.

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Flexible Seating

By removing most of my desks/tables in the classroom space, I now have much more room to have students spread out and find areas to work that is comfortable for them. During my work as a behavior support specialist, I found that when kids were placed in seating that did not work for them, they became more agitated and were distracted much more easily. Teachers were micromanaging how they were-or were not-in their desks, all four legs on the floor, etc. This was a time suck I was not willing to have in my classroom. I did more research and I found some different reasons for trying flexible seating. Dr. Ted Siciliano of the Manahawkin Chiropractic Center wrote an article in June of 2014 describing how traditional seating is one of the worst positions for your spine. In addition, there are also studies on how certain positions such as laying on your stomach on something like a carpet square or yoga mat can improve penmanship. I began to visualize standing spaces, sitting spaces, kneeling spaces, and floor spaces. By breaking my seating down to these areas, I would reach the needs of most, if not all, of my students. By giving them choice once they left the gathering space to choose where they could be most comfortable and do their best work, I was eliminating a distraction that students like to hang on to when they do not feel like completing the work.

The Daily 5 philosophy is built on the idea of choice. When students have choice, they gain control over their learning. When they are given choices of where to sit, they feel more competent to choose what is best for them to enhance their learning. It helps them become more involved with their learning because they are the ones who are making decisions regarding their environment and their order of completing tasks. This is not to say I do not have any control in this area and kids are just running around doing whatever and however they want during this time. Choice will be put in place as the expectations and routines are learned within this time. I currently have a couch, a love seat, two fabric rocker chairs, two crates with pillow seats, six stools, two exercise balls, four camp chairs, eight student rocking chairs, five bean bag chairs, three standing desks, four regular sized chairs, and eleven large floor pillows. I will use the Ten Steps of Independence to model how I want each one of these tools to be used in our classroom. We will model how to sit in or on it, stand at it, lay on it, carry it to move, put away when finished with it. In addition to the modeling, we will also debrief after each round of Daily 5 to discuss what seating worked or did not work and why. This allows students to analyze and understand what types of work environments are the best for their own learning. Students will not have to choose the same type of seating every time they move out into the area. They will be invited to try other options as they learn what works best for themselves. By letting them choose where they will work, students will feel more competent and trusted as I trust them with making that choice. I know I like comfy pillows and with a hard surface behind me to lean against when typing. This allows me to sit, lean or lay down as I am working. When I am writing, I want to be at a table and sit on a stool. When I am working with a lot of materials, I want a bigger, flat surface to spread my items out around me as I work. When I am simply reading a book, I like to lay down. Students have different preferences as well, even if they do not know it yet. By allowing them to work through some of this will help them figure that out for themselves and give them a greater feeling of control.

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The Check In

Another way to help me hold students accountable for their choices is the check in. On my clipboard will be a spreadsheet with student names and then a row of boxes. Each day before they leave the gathering space, I will check in verbally with each student and ask them what their choice is for this round of Daily 5. Some teachers tell me that takes up too much valuable time but I would argue that it saves me time in the long run. Recording their choice on the sheet accomplishes several things for me. When students verbally check in and they see me record their choices, they feel more accountability as they are making a contract with me for what they will do and it helps them get started right away. It also sends the message to the students that I trust them to make good decisions and that they can decide what to learn and when. This builds their self-esteem, their capacity to learn, and their understanding that learning is something they do, it is not something that is done to them.

The Transition

By using a gathering space instead of desks, I will automatically build in brain breaks throughout my Daily 5 block. As I see students break stamina, I will ring the chimes which signals students that a transition is coming. This provides a time for a shift in brain work and it offers movement for their bodies. I do not have to add in lots more videos of brain breaks because my students will get the needed movement as they transition back to the gathering space. This transition signals a shift in activity and thinking and allows students to regroup. A gathering space helps facilitate a pattern of practicing, moving, teaching, practicing, moving, teaching.

Jan Burkins stated, "Much more than ability, productive effort and practice influence how well a person can do something." This model of Daily 5 will allow students the ability to do exactly that as they practice and then receive short bursts of effective instruction. This model of teaching, moving, and practicing will help students get the most out of their precious time in my classroom. Using flexible seating and integrating the benefits of burning more calories each day, creating a higher metabolism, having better oxygen flow to the brain, improving core strength and appropriate posture will add to the strengths of Daily 5. Just adding these pieces does not make an effective model, rather it takes even more planning and reflective thought on my part to make these pieces most valuable to my students. By thinking through the structure of Daily 5, putting into place the organizational structure backed by research and analysis, and as Stephen Covey would say, keep the kids as the end in mind with all my decisions, my transition back to the classroom seems less intimidating and more exciting which each passing day.

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Amy Konen