Sunday, May 24, 2020

I'm Moving!

After spending the last eight years hosting Eat.Write.Teach. on Blogger, I am moving to a new location! I've got some upcoming plans for Eat.Write.Teach., and these plans mean I need something just a little more robust for the Eat.Write.Teach. website. It won't be long until will take you to the new website, but if you want to head over there now, I'd love for you to drop by and read my latest blog post! This original blog will still be available for your viewing pleasure too, but all of my newest content will be hosted on the new website.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Experiment: Leveled Challenges

Being a #quaranteacher for the last six weeks resulted in many different classroom experiments, each with it's own goal. Today I want to share with you one very successful experiment from our emergency online learning: offering students a choice of difficulty level for learning activities.

Experiment Rating 1-5 (5 being Ultimate Teacher Happiness)

Ease of Implementation: 3/5 (moderately easy to implement)
Cost: 5/5 (free!)
Tech Rating: 3/5 (average tech skills required)
Enhances the Learning Environment: 5/5 (motivated learners who were ready to learn despite the current state of the world)

The Question

One of the (many!) challenges that educators have been facing since leaving the physical school building in March has been how to motivate our learners. This is very difficult, and it is important that we recognize the work we have been doing in March, April, and May 2020 is not simply online learning. We have been attempting online education during a literal crisis. I knew I would have students that, for a variety of reasons, would be unable to flourish in an online environment and would really need just the bare minimum to earn their Pass for the quarter. I also knew I had some serious go-getters who would thrive in the online learning environment and would get very bored without school to challenge them. My question was this: what can I do to provide appropriate challenge for every student during this emergency online learning experience?

The Research

Research by Hanewicz, Platt, and Arendt (2017) found that learner-centered teaching is a more effective approach to online learning than traditional teaching models. Learner-centered teaching that allows students to choose the assignments they want to complete results in higher levels of assignment completion, and many students choose to go above and beyond when given these choices, taking on more assignments and greater challenges than necessary to receive a desired grade. In my own classroom experience, it is clear that more student agency results in higher motivation, deeper engagement, and authentic interest in learning.


Here was my hypothesis: I can provide students with the opportunity to choose the difficulty level of activities to encourage participation from students who are struggling during this time and to challenge the students who want to be challenged while stuck at home.

The Experiment/Procedure

Here is my procedure for creating and distributing leveled assignment choices for my Computer Science classes during six weeks of emergency online learning.

Step 1: Identify the skills. I identified the skills that I wanted students to master along with identifying levels of mastery. Mastery isn't a single finish line. There are many checkpoints of enhanced mastery. I decided on three levels of difficulty using video game terminology: Easy, Normal, and Hard. (I later added a fourth level - Nightmare Mode - at the request of students who wanted something even more challenging.) For each skill, I identified what mastery would look like at each of these levels of difficulty. So, for example, if the skill was to create navigation between pages on a website, that skill would look like this at each level:
  • Easy - students can create a navigation bar that links to each page of a website (easy because the platform being used - Google Sites - does the linking for you; students simply had to make the pages, ensure they were visible in the navigation bar, and make sure the pages were named appropriately)
  • Normal - students can create hyperlinked buttons that link to each page of a website (normal because students must demonstrate knowledge of creating buttons, clearly labeling the buttons, and linking them to the appropriate page)
  • Hard - students can hyperlink text to create links to each page of a website (still the navigation skill, but with the added challenge of demonstrating the ability to select and hyperlink text to the appropriate page)
Step 2: Design the challenge. After selecting the skills, I designed an assignment that would incorporate those skills - designing a web portfolio using Google Sites, for example. I called them "challenges" because that is way more interesting than an "assignment."

Step 3: Teach the skill at each level. Okay, this is the part that might seem a bit overwhelming at first. If you are going to provide a skill challenge at three different levels of difficulty, then you need to instruct at three different levels of difficulty. If you do not provide the structure students need to master the Normal or Hard levels, many students will not attempt the challenge. However, if you show them that they are very capable of doing the more challenging work and support them in the process, they will rise to the occasion. In the case of our emergency online learning, I made a single screencast video teaching students how to complete each skill at each level of difficulty. When I gave the students the video (see Step 4), I would also provide them the timestamp for their chosen level of difficulty.

Step 4: Provide students with the task, a list of steps, the video lesson, and any other resources needed for each level. I created a Google Slides deck that students accessed daily. The main slide  included the date, the challenge, a link to my daily announcement videos, and the task list. In the task list, students would choose the level of difficulty they wanted to attempt for the challenge.

After clicking on the chosen level of difficulty, it would take the student to the appropriate slide.

Step 5: Provide feedback and score products with mastery of chosen difficulty level in mind. One thing that was important to me during this experiment was that, regardless of difficulty level, the assignment was worth the same points. A student could earn the same amount of credit for an Easy project as a Hard project. In this scenario, I did not want students to be motivated by a grade. I wanted them to choose the challenge level that worked for their given situation. As I scored students' work, I would provide detailed feedback. Students who I felt were working below their potential (honestly, there were only two of them) were provided with encouraging feedback and a suggestion to consider trying the next level of difficulty on the next challenge (both did). Students who were obviously pouring their hearts and minds into their work were given very specific feedback on their above-and-beyond skills demonstrations.


This experiment worked out better than I'd ever expected it to. I was afraid that, upon learning that the challenges would be worth the same amount of points regardless of difficulty level, all of my students would choose the Easy level. This could not be further from the truth. Students did what I really hoped they would do: they chose the difficulty level that worked for them. Some students who struggled in Computer Science all year long stuck with the Easy level, which was appropriate for them, and they did very well and honestly improved their skills quite a bit. Some of my Achiever-type students always went for the Hard level and were even very excited for the Nightmare Mode challenges to appear because they wanted to challenge themselves. Some students bounced around, choosing Easy for the skills they didn't feel confident about and choosing Normal or Hard when they thought they could master it without too much extra effort.

I asked for feedback from my students every week, and nearly all of them agreed that they really liked being able to choose the level of difficulty for their assignment. Some common ideas from the students included:
  • having the freedom to choose how much time they spent on the project
  • enjoying pushing themselves when so much of their lives was feeling dull and boring
  • just being happy that they got to make a choice about what they learned instead of having it force-fed to them
So what now? Well, to be honest, no one knows. I don't know what school is going to look like again come August. I do know, though, that I will incorporate more of this type of leveled work and allowing students to choose the challenge that best suits them. If you are looking for a way to differentiate your online instruction and motivate your students to take some ownership of their learning, maybe give this experiment a try! Let me know how it goes!


Hanewicz, C., Platt, A., & Arendt, A. (2017). Creating a learner-centered teaching environment using student choice in assignments. Distance Education, 38(3), 273–287.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Experiment: Distribute Badges with Google Classroom

One of my classroom experiments last year that was very successful was using Google Classroom to distribute digital badges to my students. Here's the run-down of this classroom experiment and how you can easily distribute badges with Google Classroom.

Experiment Rating 1-5 (5 being Ultimate Teacher Happiness)

Ease of Implementation: 4/5 (very easy to do)
Cost: 5/5 (free!)
Tech Rating: 3/5 (average tech skills required)
Enhances the Learning Environment: 4/5 (easy incentive for positive behavior)

The Question

I knew I wanted to implement a digital badging system with my 7th graders, but I did not want it to take up too much time and I really wanted to try utilizing the tech tools that I already use regularly in the classroom in the hopes it would help the practice of badging stick. My question was this: what tech tool can I use to simplify the digital badging process?

The Research

In my research, I found lots of teachers who were using digital badges, but many of them were utilizing tech tools specifically designed for badging. I then learned that Canvas, a popular LMS, integrated a badging system powered with Badgr. We are a Google school, so surely Google Classroom could be utilized for distributing digital badges, right?


Here was my hypothesis: I can use the Google Classroom announcement feature to distribute badges to individual students.

The Experiment/Procedure

Here is my procedure for distributing badges in Google Classroom.

Step 1: Create the badge using Canva. I use Canva all the time, so I knew that was the tool I wanted to use to create my badges. If you want to keep it in the Google family, you could also use Google Drawings to make your badges. I start in Canva by creating a logo.

The primary reason I chose Canva was because of their amazing frames. Utilizing the frame feature, you can create a Badge Template. 

Then, each time you want to create a new badge, simply make a copy of your Badge Template.

On your copy, you just change the name of the badge, the background image in the frame, and the color of the frame. Download the badge.

Voila! You have a badge! Using your template, you can whip up a badge in just a couple of minutes. #timesaver

Step 2: Create a badges folder in Google Drive. Once you have downloaded your spiffy new badge, add it to a Badges folder in Google Classroom. This will make it very easy to locate your badges! Here's a peek at my school badges folder.

Step 3: Create an announcement in Google Classroom. In the Stream, create an announcement. Personally, all of my announcements follow the same formula (again, let's #streamline this process!).
You've earned a badge! You earned the ________ badge for (doing this awesome thing). (Add something punny and motivational!)

Side note: my personal favorite announcement is, "You've earned a badge! You earned the Iron Bladder badge for not going to the bathroom during class all quarter! Way to (not) go!"

Then attach your badge you created. (Should be super easy to find since you put it in your nice new Badges folder in Drive.)

Finally, you will see a drop-down that says "All students." Now if all students earned this badge at the same time, you can just post the announcement. However, you can also select the students who have earned that particular badge from the drop-down, so when you send the announcement it will only show up on the Streams for those students.

Your students will now have an announcement on their Streams that awards them the badge!


This was a very successful method of awarding digital badges to students! It was one less place for them to look for something since they visit Google Classroom pretty much every day, and they now had a digital badge and an inspiring note to go along with it! What do they do with the badge once they have it? That totally depends on the system you have in place. You can see that my badges all have "X Coffee Beans" on them. I tied badge achievement into the classroom currency (last year the currency was called Coffee Beans), so this was basically the way students were given their currency, in addition to me adding the amount to their Coffee Beans accounts. I also created a very simple badge display board using Google Slides, so kids could post their badges on the Google Slide to display them. It's really whatever you and your kids would like to do with the digital badge. Just remember that, since they now have their own copy of the badge, they could theoretically share that picture with another kid.

Digital badging was an excellent motivational tool for many of my students last year for two reasons:
1. The badges were tied to the classroom currency, so more badges = more currency.
2. The badges were not tied to their academics. My badges were strictly awarded for exemplary behaviors and work habits. This meant that kids who often don't experience success in the classroom by earning points on academic work could still kill it in the badging department just by being awesome humans.

This experiment is quick, easy, and could be very useful in motivating your students! If you've got access to Google Classroom, giving digital badges a go!

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Game Changer: 3 Quick Questions

Two years ago, I started asking my students to voluntarily fill out a course evaluation Google Form at the end of each semester. I allowed the students anonymity, if that was their preference, to encourage honesty. I was terrified of to do this, but I'm also a big believer in being a reflective teacher. To be our best teaching selves, we must look back at the work we've done, find the strong points we want to hit again next time, and identify the problematic areas and design solutions for those problems. The teacher perspective is different from the student perspective, though, and at the end of the day it is the student that I am trying to reach! So I had them evaluate the course and allowed them the opportunity to pass judgement on literature selections, activities, tests, and more. I also included an instructor evaluation, so students were able to assess my teaching strategies, my personality as a teacher, my organization, and various other facets of my educator persona. In addition to rating scale questions, I allowed students the space to write comments. I was a little afraid some students would take advantage of the opportunity and bash me to pieces. I was a lot afraid they would all point out my glaring mistakes and negative attributes, and that the things they saw would be incredibly difficult or even impossible to fix.

you suck donald glover GIF
What happened, instead, was an incredibly enlightening experience for both myself and the students who participated (which was nearly all of them). The students who struggled the most in class (and who I feared would bash me to bits) quite often ended up saying they realized (far too late) that they had dug their own graves in class, that the course and instructor had offered them everything they needed to be successful, and they had not used those resources. The all-star students offered keen insight into my classroom management, ranging from appreciation for the grace I tend to allow students in their mistakes to requests for more built-in quiet time. I could see what was rated most highly ("the teacher shows genuine interest in students and their well-being") and what my weak points were ("the assignments are clear to me; I know what the task is").

Tv Land GIF by Throwing Shade
Was this whole experience rainbows and butterflies? Of course not. There were some things I had to come to terms with. There were always 2-3 students who rated me very poorly on most everything, students with whom I could never make the connection happen. The students put their names with their forms, so they didn't mind me knowing what they thought of me. It was hard not to take some of those low scores personally. Some students would make comments about the class being better if I quit giving them work, made all tests open book, never asked them to read (in my literature class, mind you), and I quit asking them to do more than one thing at a time. While these seemed ludicrous at first, I did recognize these students needed something from me. I couldn't quit giving them work, but I could structure my class to offer them more time to work with me there to assist them. I wasn't going to move to all open book tests, but I did move away from most of my content-based lessons to skills-based, where the book can't really assist that much. I had to build in more reading time in class, and I needed to teach them how to do more than one thing at a time.

The problem with my end of semester evaluations was that this practice was akin to an autopsy.

I was opening up the course after the fact and poking around at it to figure out what went wrong. True, I was able to learn what may have contributed to the death of my class for some students so that didn't happen again, but it would have been more effective if I had learned this stuff much earlier in the course. The autopsy was useful, but a diagnostic tool would have more immediate impact.

house yes GIF
This year, I have made two changes to this reflective practice. The first is the Richardson Report Card.

The students give me and my class a grade at the end of each quarter, the same time they receive their final quarterly grade. 

The students like the idea of grading me. We talk about best practices in evaluating and how to justify earned grades (DOK Level 4, anybody??). Now, instead of getting two autopsy reports a year, I get four. The first one shows up in October, which means I am empowered with my students' thoughts and can make immediate changes that will hopefully result in a better outcome over the next seven months. It is my hope that my first quarter report card will be my worst one. So far, that has proven to be the case.

The other big change this year is what I call 3 Quick Questions. Every once in a while, I'll throw a Google Form into Classroom and just tell the kids, "Hey, when you have a minute, I have 3 Quick Questions. If you could answer those for me, I appreciate it!"

3 Quick Questions is voluntary. I just come up with three questions that relate to something we are doing right now and I give the kids the opportunity to leave me feedback. It is a way for me to take the temperature of the class right away, to diagnose any problems, and to fix those problems now instead of waiting until the problem has killed off the class for a student.

Here are some examples of questions I have asked so far this year in 3 Quick Questions.

  • Why does reading suck? (Even if you don't think it sucks, why do you think some people think reading sucks?)
  • When is reading amazing? (Even if you don't think reading is amazing, why do you think some people think reading is amazing?)
  • We've been together for ___ weeks now. How can I be a better teacher for you?
  • What was your favorite lesson we have done so far?
  • Why was that lesson your favorite?
  • What needs to happen in this classroom that would help you be more successful in class?
  • How comfortable are you with the topic you've chosen to write about?
  • How happy are you with your thesis statement at this point?
  • ISTEP/ILEARN testing is coming up. How do these types of tests make you feel?
  • How can I help you do your best on these tests?
  • What is something you want to learn about or learn how to do before the end of the school year? (It does not have to be English class related).
  • Anything else you want Mrs. Richardson to know?
That last question is a big one. I always include that question at the end of any sort of feedback form I ever ask my students to fill out. Sometimes the kids will use that question as an opportunity to wish me good morning or say something kind that they are too embarrassed or shy to say in person. Sometimes they'll be funny and tell me a joke (some of my best clean jokes come from this question). Sometimes kids will tell me what they are struggling with in class, or they will share an idea they had for something. And sometimes, the kids will tell me about the horrible stuff they have going on in their personal lives. This box can become a bit of a confessional, where kids talk about family members who have recently died, how they feel about mom or dad getting out of jail that day, if they went to bed hungry last night, they need lunch money or a snack, someone at school is picking on them... 

In addition to seeing my students academic needs, this question gives the students a free pass to either reach out and make a positive connection with me via a compliment, well wish, or joke, or they can tell me about something going on in their lives that might cause them to struggle in school.

I would encourage any educator reading this to give 3 Quick Questions a try tomorrow. It takes no time at all to implement this practice, and the feedback you'll get from these questions is better than any formative data could ever hope to be.

tim meadows mr glascott GIF by The Goldbergs
If you want a jumpstart at incorporating your own teacher report card and 3 Quick Questions, here are some Google Forms templates to help you get started!

Happy Teaching!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Making Choice Seating Work for You (Plus a Free Guide to Help You Get Started!)

When I applied for a teaching position with my current school, I knew they placed a lot of value on creativity and out-of-the-box thinking from their teachers, so when they asked me during my interview what completely crazy thing I would love to do, I didn't hesitate.

"I want to create a classroom that feels like a coffee shop combined with the work space of library. I want a room where students can comfortably collaborate in large groups, small groups, pairs, or work independently. In the real world, people don't usually sit in small cramped desks in rows. When possible, we choose a spot where we will be both comfortable and productive. Seventh grade is a perfect time for students to start learning how to make the choices that meet their needs, and I think having a room like this would be the perfect opportunity to teach them this skill, and it would be so much more convenient for me as the teacher."

When I was offered the job, I asked if I could make my coffee shop classroom happen, and I was given an emphatic, "Absolutely."

Making my coffee shop classroom happen was an involved process to be sure. I have been fascinated by classroom design pretty much since the beginning of my teaching career, and choice or flexible seating has occupied a lot of my summertime research for the last three years. This was one of those rare instances in my teaching that I didn't just dive in. I sat on the side of the pool for a long time, really wanting to jump in but not having the freedom to do so. While I watched from the sidelines, I observed and made notes and planned. When I was finally given the chance to jump in, I had already given this thing serious thought and planned it all out. Thus far, I would say the implementation of this type of choice seating in my classroom has been a resounding success.

Here's the thing, though. You want to make choice seating work for you, not make more work for you.

Today, I'm going to take you through the process I followed when preparing for my deep dive into flexible seating and how I've made this work for my classes. I'll be sharing my successes and my failures, because I'm a believer in stealing other people's best ideas and learning from their worst. If this is something you really want to do, I've prepared a free guide for you to use as you plan in order to make choice seating work for you.

Step 1: Your Why

Before you even begin planning your choice seating revolution, make sure you understand why you're doing it. You should have very clear goals in mind. It's just as important to remember what you do not want as much as what you do want. Here's a broken down list of my goals for my classroom.
  • I wanted to create an environment in which my students could be comfortable, creative, and productive. 
  • I wanted to allow students agency. 
  • I wanted a room that I could quickly and easily transform to meet whatever conditions the learning needed that day.
  • I wanted a room that would hold up to the typical wear-and-tear that comes along with hosting 90+ students every day.
  • I did not want a room that caused me stress, anxiety, or a daily headache.
  • I did not want furniture that would be a distraction.
  • I did not want to could not spend a ton of money.
Actionable step: make a list of wants and don't wants for your flexible seating classroom. Be very clear and very intentional in making this list.

Step 2: Reality Check

Once you have your "why" in mind, honestly ask yourself if it is a good enough reason for you to completely disrupt your current mindset and to take on the challenges associated with this major change. Personally, I don't think that a teacher should pursue flexible seating because it is trendy or because they want a beautiful classroom. If you're merely following a trend, chances are your resolve won't hold up the first time this adventure goes a way you didn't plan for it to go. As for beauty, I can appreciate a teacher's need to be in a beautiful classroom since we spend so much time in this one room. However, it's worth remembering that kids are kids, and kids can be destructive (intentionally or not). Dropping a lot of money on a gorgeous classroom is great if that's your thing, but it could be incredibly devastating the first time a kid pukes on that adorable rug or an ink pen bursts all over your cute white chairs.

Actionable step: step away from Pinterest and Instagram and ask yourself, very seriously, is it worth it. You guys, this whole flexible seating or choice seating movement is a mindset shift. In many ways, you are taking some of the control away from the teacher and giving it to the students. Go back to your list of goals that you made. As you read each one, ask yourself if it is going to worth it to invest the time and effort and money into this new adventure. For me, it was totally worth the impending challenges to make this room happen.

Step 2.5: Dot the i's and cross the t's

Hey, do yourself a favor at this stage. Before you go any further in your plans, you need to ensure that the powers that be are totally kosher with this wacky scheme of yours. You should probably check in with folks such as your building level administration, co-teachers (if you'll be sharing a classroom), and the person in your building that deals directly with school safety. Figure out now what your area's fire code will and will not allow. It seems like every school is different in this regard. Some fire marshals will let you put flame retardant filters on your fluorescent lighting; some will not. Some will be cool with hanging stuff from your ceiling. Some will insist that all paper is at least eighteen inches from the ceiling. Some administrators will be totally okay with that squishy couch you want to put in your room, while others cry "bedbugs" and "lice" and give that couch a big ole NOPE. Before you set your sights on that amazing reading chair in your parents' basement or those twinkle lights you plan to drape from the ceiling, make sure that those dreams can become reality without red tape getting in the way.

Actionable step: reach out, starting with building-level administration. Be prepared to share your clearly defined goals and to defend your plan for choice seating. Be honest and upfront in this conversation, and be willing to both make concessions and push for what is best for your students. It is likely that the conversation with your building level admin will lead you towards any other conversations that need to take place.

Step 3: Make Good Choices

Alright, you're doing this thing! Sweet. Now it's time to begin your research, and I don't just mean Pinning pictures of beautiful rooms (although, let's be honest, we should legit be getting professional development points for scouring Pinterest for amazing classroom ideas). No, if you're going to do this thing, do it right. Begin doing research on flexible seating gone right, flexible seating gone wrong, and the research behind classroom design. And, if you're using technology in the classroom, consider 21st century learning and how the classroom can support that. After doing loads of research, it is time to make some good choices. What kind of seating choices do you want to offer your students? I had to keep myself very disciplined when exploring all of the wonderful seating options. I would see these amazing classrooms with wobble stools and yoga balls, and they were so cool. But here's the deal: those did not fit my why. Check out my list again. That kind of seating was not going to work for my vision. In fact, I knew for certain that I would hate corralling yoga balls in a classroom full of 7th graders, and I definitely did not have time to make little rings out of pool noodles to house said yoga balls. I also didn't have the time to do a bunch of DIY seating (have you seen those seats made out of old tires?) and those cute DIY seats would fit neither my vision or the huge variety of growing bodies found in a middle school. So when you start choosing the seating options you would like to offer your students, take some of the following into consideration.
  • Your sanity - Will this choice make you completely bonkers? (If you can't handle bouncing, wiggling, rolling, squeaking, etc. make sure you choose seating that won't do those things.)
  • Your finances - How will you be acquiring these items? Are you buying out-of-pocket? Are you getting funding from a grant or a Donor's Choose project? Are you willing to pay to replace these things when they get broken?
  • Your age group - Different age groups have different needs. Keep the bodies of the humans in your classroom in mind before selecting that rickety dollar store stool.
  • Your classroom management style - This kind of ties in with your sanity. What can you handle? What can you not? Do not set your students up for failure by providing them with a source of chaos that you cannot manage!
  • Durability of the item - All it takes is a jab with a pencil to make a yoga ball pop, and one bodily fluids accident (ya'll, it's gross but it happens!) can completely ruin the upholstery on that papasan chair. How will you ensure these items last?
For the sake of real talk, I think you should know that so far this year I had one chair ruined due to a bodily fluids accident and two rolling desk chairs that have been broken and repaired due to being wheeled too quickly and the wheel breaking off when it slammed into something. I have a third rolling chair that I'm pretty sure won't survive until next year (but to be fair, it was a little broken when I got it), and I've resigned myself to the fact that I will have to put new contact paper on my tall table every school year. Lessons learned: Teflon coating is your friend, rolling chairs should be relegated to a certain zone of the room, and contact paper is a pain in the butt.

What if I can't replace all of my furniture? What if I must use the furniture my school provides? 
This is such an important topic. Ya'll. Choice seating does not mean you must have all of the special furniture in the world. Choice seating, at its heart, is giving your students agency over their seating. Choice seating means we are moving away from the traditional rows and columns and seating charts, and we are letting students choose where they sit while reconfiguring the seating to the best of our abilities to create a classroom space that best supports the learning. Are you, for whatever reason, "stuck" with those desk/chair combinations or school-provided tables and chairs? You can work with this! Ditch the seating chart and try out new ways of organizing your desk arrangement. If possible, add in a corner of the room that just has a rug and some pillows so kids can sit on the floor and work, or let your students use your rolling desk chair or that tall chair that you sit on occasionally. It's all about choices that support the learning, ya'll. Don't be blinded by all of the bring and shiny things; keep the why at the center of this whole process.

Actionable step: Do your research. Make a budget. Consider each option's pros and cons before adding it to your classroom. Take preventative measures. Tis better to be proactive than reactive.

Step 4: Design Your Space with Purpose

Now that you know what kinds of seating you plan to offer, it's time to figure out your room configuration plan. This, again, needs to go back to your goals for the room. What are you trying to achieve with your space? When putting my room design together, I came up with the following requirements for the space.
  • The room would consist of zones for whole-group instruction, student collaboration, and independent work.
  • The room would progressively get quieter. The noisy zones would be in the front of the room, and the silent zones in the back. (This has actually changed since the year began, and now it's more like the room gets quieter as you cross from one side to the other.)
  • There would be many numbers of seat groupings possible. Some tables would seat up to six, while others would seat trios. Some spots would be individual spots.
  • There would be a space that could be reserved specifically for small-group lessons.
  • The room would be able to be reconfigured quickly.
  • The room would be able to comfortably seat all students + four others without taking advantage of floor seating.
As a result of this, my room has a "master layout" that is the typical formation (this has changed a little since these pictures were taken). However, I can easily shuffle furniture around to make the room more appropriate for stations or shared inquiry or playing Grudgeball or whatever we're up to.

I cannot more highly recommend listening to this episode of the Cult of Pedagogy podcast for inspiration on classroom design. There's a lot of food for thought here.

Actionable step: spend some quality time in your classroom and develop a basic floor plan. Figure out what cannot be moved and work around those things. How can you make the best use of your space? How can you make the space work for you, your students, and your vision?

Step 4.5: Make It Happen

This is either the fun part (if you're an abnormal human who likes this sort of torture, like myself) or the worst part. This is the part where you start pulling the room together. My garage became my found treasures warehouse for pretty much the entirety of last summer. It looked like a rummage sale in there. In the old days, when I worked just fifteen minutes from school, I would have pieced my room together slowly. My new school is forty-five minutes from home, though, so this wasn't an option. Fortunately, my dad has a truck and my uncle has a box trailer, so we literally had moving day. I called in the troops, and my family helped me load up this box trailer full of secondhand furniture plus all of my other classroom supplies that was making the move to my new school. We unloaded everything into my new classroom (which, fortunately, is in a single-story building and pretty close to an exterior door) and then started shuffling around the pieces. My floor plan worked out exactly as I'd hoped it would, so that made the process go much faster. But you guys know what a closed school building is like during the summer. It was a million degrees in there. We were hanging up brick wallpaper and putting together bar stools and adjusting furniture while my infant played with his grandma in one corner of the room and my preschooler watched PJ Masks on the Promethean board. This process, for me, is both Hell on Earth and one of my best memories.

Actionable step: Just do it. If your transformation is big, recruit help and pay them in food and adult beverages.

Step 5: The Rollout Plan and the Management Plan

Yay! You have an amazing room! Maybe it isn't the dream room yet, but you've made some serious progress. Oh, but honey... you're not done yet. Because now we've come to the most difficult part of this process: the Rollout Plan and the Management Plan.

Rollout Plan
This is your plan for introducing your students to the new world of your classroom. If you're a trailblazer in your building, chances are high that your classroom is going to completely throw off some students, especially the kids that are really good at The Game of School. Now, you guys know I'm a big fan of Harry Wong,* and in The First Days of School, he says that out students need to know where to sit on the first day of school. This provides the student with a sense of security amongst all of the uncertainty of the first day. It is comforting to know exactly where to go and what to do in a new environment. As someone who deals with social anxiety, I happen to agree with the Wongs on this point. Teachers roll out their choice seating in different ways. Some let the choice begin immediately. Some create a seating chart for that first day. My goal was for students to know where to go, find the seat quickly, and begin the provided first task while also letting them dip their toes into the waters of choice seating. Since my room is divided into zones, I labeled each zone with a sign featuring a creature (Mockingjays, Wookies, Ents, Bandersnatches, Drogons, and Hippogriffs) and the seating configuration for that zone. I printed and laminated playing card sized versions of these signs, with enough cards for each zone (so, for example, the Wookies zone seats six, so I printed six Wookies cards). When my students arrived the first day, I greeted them at the door and handed each one a card from the deck (I shuffled the deck prior to their entrance). Students were instructed to find the zone on their cards and to choose a seat within that zone. Then, for the next two weeks, I met students at the door every day and gave them a card. This allowed students to try out different zones and seats in the room with very little risk or social pressure, since I was assigning them their zones. This system worked beautifully, and I will definitely use it again next year.

The Rollout Plan also needs to include how you introduce choice seating to your students. How will you explain the concept to your students? What will the rules be, and who is coming up with these rules - you or your students? What choices are they allowed to make with their seats, and what are the non-negotiables? (For example, my students may move around the room freely during work time, but they must stay seated in place and facing the front during instructional time.)

The Management Plan
Once you've rolled out your choice seating and everyone has agreed on the rules and procedures, you will now have to actively enforce these rules and procedures with appropriate consequences. Don't forget there is a difference between and rule and a procedure, and there is a difference in how we deal with those infractions. For example, you might expect that students not stake a claim to certain seats and that they switch up their seating frequently. When you see students assigning themselves seats and calling dibs on seats for friends, this is a break in procedure, but isn't really a breach in a rule. As a result, you'll need to reteach your students this procedure. However, if one of your firm rules is to respect the public space of the room, and you see students writing on a tabletop or leaving shreds of paper on the floor, a repercussion should follow (perhaps they must clean up their mess and serve a lunch detention). As will all classroom management plans, you must have a set of logical consequences and you must hold to them. You must be consistent in the management of your choice seating environment, and you must be very firm in the beginning. If the expectation is that students will not put their feet on the furniture, you must uphold the rule rigidly until students truly understand what is allowed in this new environment and what is not.

The structure and implementation of these two plans is absolutely critical to the success of your choice seating movement.

Actionable step: take the time to write out your Rollout Plan and your Management Plan, both very specific to your new classroom environment. Be extremely clear about your expectations. I strongly advise that you have a solid Rollout Plan before the first day of school, and you should have at least a general outline of your Management Plan in place. I recommend talking to the students about the Management Plan and having them come up with the rules for how to respect the classroom space. I'll share a mistake with you; I originally thought that telling my students to treat our classroom space the way they treat their personal belongings or home would suffice, but students were quick to bring to my attention that the expectations in their homes were completely different. Some students were allowed to have shoes on the furniture, and some were not. Some were allowed to draw on their bedroom walls, some were not. Some blatantly admitted to me that they are much more careful with belongings in a public space than they are with their own things. If I had not gotten student input and I'd just stuck with my "treat it like you treat your own things" mentality, I know the classroom would have been ruined in short order. Get student input. It is valuable.

There it is! Are you ready to make the change from traditional to choice seating? Download my free guide and get started!

Happy Teaching!

*Seriously, that joke will never get old.