I've never been a fan of desks. They're in the way, clunky, and hinder true interaction. This is a major point of the OWL method. So what do they do? Students stand or sit in a circle! The desks are gone. Students are all able to see and interact with one another as well as the teacher.
I decided I had to give this a try in my own classroom and did so as soon as I got back. My initial thought is that I love it - suddenly, my students who don't usually interact are in the front row and able to participate - many of whom did so on their own. They're able to see what's going on with everyone else and comment on it. I can see all of them and move freely about my classroom - as can they. With only two people next to them, classroom management is easy enough to simply ask someone to move to another part of the circle. We can act things out in the circle or I can bring people to the middle. If I write something on the board (which is kept to a minimum), students can move around to see it clearly. No more heads down on desks or texting/reading under desks - and definitely no sleeping!
I can see a few clear issues that are easily solved with the right resources and classroom management techniques - both of which are going to be difficult to adjust in the final quarter of the year, but not impossible.
- Students want to sit down - I don't see this being as much of an issue when the standard is set at the beginning of the year. I also think that high schoolers will accept standing up for an hour better than middle schoolers since it's simply what has to be done.
- Leaning - Students migrate towards areas such as walls and tables where they can lean instead of stand. This takes some of the energy away and ties students (often in groups) to certain areas, as well as makes the arrangement unequal across the entire classroom. When sitting down, this takes the form of half-sitting and half-laying, which is worse than the desks themselves.
- Chairs - traditional chairs/desks will inhibit the free-flowingness of the classroom. I am willing to provide chairs, but need to do so in a way that students can still move freely and easily. I think I'm going to manage this by taking a weak spot (for me) and turning it into a strength - I'm going to use the chairs as a resource for much more than sitting.
How does this solve my problems and then some?
- Compromise - students may sit, but they cannot lean. I still have all the benefits of students standing in a circle (and the bucket chairs should prevent there from being a huge height difference if some want to stand and others want to sit). I also still have the power to take a student's chair away if needed. They are easy to move (and even come with a handle!) and put away, enabling me to change the classroom configuration when needed (i.e. when we're watching something on the projector/board or taking a test).
- Resources - I can put everything I need students to have right under their seat! Think about it - no more passing out/handing in class sets! Inside, I can put class books (novels and textbooks), white boards (white paper sealed in sheet protectors), dry erase markers, erasers (a sock), clip boards (when we need to write), props for our stories and conversations..... And more! Other items that might be useful for other classes might include coloring/glueing supplies, the kind that are generally in a cup in the middle of a group or whatnot. If I really needed to, I could put extra paper and pencils in each bucket, but that's getting a little generous haha. And, since students have to get up, take the lid off, dig in the bucket, and then put the lid back on to get anything (which isn't a big deal when asking them to but otherwise it's very noticeable), I doubt students will be getting things out that they're not supposed to have at the moment.
What do you think? How would you put in your buckets seats and what activities would you do with students in a circle?