What Your Seating Arrangement Tells Your Students

A look at what different seating arrangements tell your students about the classroom.

There are many ways to set up your classroom, and the possibilities can be a bit mind boggling. Do you choose rows, tables, a horseshoe formation? All of these options tell your students something different, but do you know what it is?

A Horseshoe

A horseshoe formation out of desks that forms a "U" lets your students know that there will be a lot of class discussions to be had. It also lets students know that you are planning to lead the discussions, and have the focus on you. By having students all face inward toward one another you are promoting a healthy socratic style classroom, but still asserting that you are the leader. 

Rows

When you set up desks linked in rows all facing the front of the classroom you are showing students that you, as the teacher, will show them what to do and lead all classroom activities. By linking the desks in the rows you also give students a hint that they may work together, but not necessarily. 

Desks Alone

A look at what different seating arrangements tell your students about the classroom. By placing desks alone and spread apart you are telling students that the teacher is in charge, will tell you exactly what to do, and they probably won't be working together. 

Table Groups

By grouping desks together into tables you are letting students know that while the teacher facilitates the day, they are in charge. Table groups also show that students will be working collaboratively to complete tasks, and not as soloists. 

Flexible Seating

By allowing students to choose their seating option at not only just desks, but tables, couches, floor cushions, stools, and anything else you can imagine you are telling your students that they are the main event in the classroom. You are also telling them that there will be choices every day in the classroom that students are responsible for making. You, as the teacher, will be there to guide and facilitate lessons, but students are the leaders. 

What Do You Think?

Do you agree with this assessment of what classroom seating tells your students? Is there a seating arrangement I missed?

Want to Know More?

I love to reread these books when I am getting ready to set up a classroom. They always give me such inspiration, not just with seating arrangements, but in all areas of the classroom.  (affiliate links)


Perfect Parent Conferences

An actionable plan for your best parent conference yet.
I still remember it like yesterday. I stood by my door, sweating profusely, waiting for someone to emerge at the top of the stairs. This was me waiting for my very first parent conference my first year teaching. Luckily for me, this parent was sweet as could be, and they had an awesome student, but not all conferences go off without a hitch. In order to be better prepared I developed a system over the years that led to absolutely awesome conferences with each and every parent that I met with.


Prepare with Evidence

It doesn't matter if you are meeting on the best student that has ever come through your class or a student that is struggling, all families would like to know specifics about their student in particular. I don't know about you, but even though I know a whole lot about each of my students it sometimes become difficult to think of specifics on the spot. Instead, I like to have a portfolio of student work, journals, assessments, and anecdotal notes ready to share with parents. 

This works both ways. Sometimes I use this evidence to show parents how well their student is doing in an area that I know they are struggling with to prove how hard their students are working. Other times I can show parents that students are not putting forth all their effort. Either way, the goal of evidence is to help the family understand their student at school, the good the bad, and the ugly. 

Use the Sandwich Method

The sandwich method is my favorite way to share information with just about anyone, and it couldn't be easier. The idea is to sandwich an area of growth within two areas that the student is doing well. It might sound a little something like this:
"Hannah is the kindest student I have come across. She works really hard to make sure that everyone feels included in class. Right now she and I are working on her organizational skills. She works really hard to get her work done, but sometimes struggles to find her materials, because of her untidyness. She is such a hard worker that I know she will find a system that works for her!"

Some might call this sugar coating, but it really is the BEST way to communicate with just about anyone, not just in parent conferences. The key to this method is to make sure that you hit on each of the points, and don't let the growth areas get lost. 

Stay Goal Oriented

It is easy to get caught up the negatives when speaking about a student that is struggling whether it be socially, emotionally, behaviorally, or academically. The key is to remain goal oriented and strive to work together with parents to find a solution. This positivity will help parents to recognize that you are a team and in search of the absolute best for your student. 

An actionable plan for your best parent conference yet. This can be especially tough when parents are struggling with not knowing what to do with their student and can sometimes feel like throwing things at a wall until something sticks, but that my friends is what I like to call brainstorming, and parents should be a part of it. 

Learn From the Family

When I first started teaching I thought that I was supposed to be the authority and have an answer to everything, but oh how wrong I was. I have since learned that parents and families are our greatest allies, and know our students so much better than we do. I like to just come out and ask parents for their ideas, and more often than not they know just what to do. 

Families are able to offer a great insight into what makes students tick and how to make them tick to a different rhythm. 

Show That You Care

Again, parents are our greatest allies, and when the going gets tough it is hard to remember that we are all on the same side. It is easy to come off as a bit icy when it comes to dealing with a difficult student, but it is vital for students to know that you care and are working in their student's best interest. 

This can be accomplished quite simply. The best way that I have found to show that you care is by listening, really truly listening, to what parents have to say. I like to start conferences by having asking parents their thoughts and concerns on the school year. I have gained so much insight from this practice. 

End With a Thank You

Taking time to come in for a parent conference is hard. You have to arrange child care, take time from work, and remember that it is scheduled. As teachers we often forget that parents don't have a day scheduled off already to come and see us. I always tried to remind myself that parents were putting in the effort and I wanted them to know that I valued their time. In order to show them this I would write a thank you note to each family to send home the day after our meeting. In the note I would include a thank you, a recap of our goals, and end with another thank you. These notes were always very well received. 

Want to Know More?

These are my favorite books to help out with conferences. 
(affiliate links)

Sharing Control of the Classroom While Maintaining Order

Six strategies for sharing control of the classroom with your students while still maintaining order. The 5th is my favorite and so easy to use!
So many of our students have so little that is in their control that they latch onto the things they can control. As teachers, this can make it difficult to keep these students engaged rather than entering into a battle of the egos with them. While it is difficult to strike the balance between sharing control while still maintainning order, these six strategies will go a long way to helping to walk that line. 

Choices

The simplest of choices can be very empowering to students, even if they seem silly and trivial to you. As a matter of fact, if it is trivial and doesn't matter to you, why not allow students to make that choice? Giving them control over the little things can lead to a sense of ownership of their work which leads to higher levels of engagement. 

Some examples of choices to let students make:
Pen or pencil to complete the assignment
Color or cut first
Work independently or with a partner

Responsibility of Special Tasks

There is nothing quite like a special task to get a student on your side. This might mean running an errand, sharpening pencils, or being time keeper. It really doesn't matter what the task is. What does matter is the importance you place on the task. If you emphasize how much it means to you that they are completing the task, it will carry weight with them. 

Some examples of tasks:
Turning off the lights
Making sure the projector is turned off
Time keeper
Bring a note to the office or another teacher
Attendance taker

Ask for Opinions and Thoughts

This one is easy as pie. It just takes an extra second to ask the student what they think about something. What makes this one even better is that you can easily integrate it into content or social conversation seamlessly. 

Some examples:
Do you agree with their reasoning?
What did you think of lunch today?
Do you think it's too cold to go out for recess?

Class Agenda Box

This one is another easy peasy method to get students involved in the process of forming a classroom community. All you need is a box, I used a decorated used tissue box, and some paper. Students are able to write their concerns on a piece of paper and put it in the box either with their name or anonymously. During your class meetings you draw out a slip of paper, read the concern, and discuss it with the class. 

Of course, as the teacher I read all of the concerns before hand. This way I could speak with the student as necessary or do a little investigating and brainstorming before the meeting. 
Six strategies for sharing control of the classroom with your students while still maintaining order. The 5th is my favorite and so easy to use!

Voting

Another simple to institute plan is to involve students in a class vote from time to time. Now this doesn't mean that every decision should be ran past the class, but there are plenty that can be. 

You might vote on:
A class game to play at recess
A whole class reward
To work independently or in partners

Leadership Status

Giving students just a tiny bit of leadership status within the class can go a long way, especially when they feel they lack control among their peers. This might mean giving them a job within the classroom or even just a title that doesn't really mean much, like table captain. 

You have to be careful with this strategy though, because the power can go to some students heads, but when used sparingly it can really do the trick!

Want to Know More?

These are some of my favorite books about classroom management and student engagement.
(Affiliate Links)


Pack Your Classroom Like a Boss!

Ways to make the end of the year pack up go smoothly and set yourself up for success in the fall! So many good ideas!
Ugh packing. Am I right? While I am all about cleaning and organizing there is something about the extra step of packing it up that really grates at my nerves. When it involves the classroom it seems to get even worse. Maybe it is because you are expected to pack your room, because of course you have to be out of the way for summer school, all while still keeping your students engaged in rigorous learning activities. Over the years I learned a few things about the end of the year pack up that I am hoping will help you too. 

Throw It Away

You heard me. Throw it away. Just do it. If you are not absolutely positive that you are going to use it again just get rid of it. This doesn't necessarily mean everything should go in the trash can. It can go home with your students, go to a colleague that thinks it's the best thing since sliced bread, or in the recycling bin. What it can't do is live in a box all summer that takes up precious space only for you to get rid of it in the fall. So, just throw it away. I promise you won't regret it. 

Pack with Intent and Label, Label, Label

While you are packing up I know it is all to tempting to just shove everything in a box/cabinet/drawer and think that you will deal with it in the fall when you are back in the classroom. At the end of the year I was always ready to be done, and that meant getting out as quickly as possible. Then every August I would curse my previous self for creating just a disaster zone that I then had to undo before actually setting up my classroom. 

Instead, think about where you are packing things. What is the closest place that something can go to where you will want it next year? Is is possible to leave your classroom library books sorted into their book boxes and just place them in a cabinet? Moral of the story, don't make more work for yourself! 

Label everything is if your life depends on it. There are many ways to go about this, but I LOVE these Post-It Note Labels. (affiliate link) They are the bomb. (I am stuck in the 90s today, deal with it.) They come in a variety of colors and sizes and the whole back is sticky, BUT they are sticky like a Post-It so when you peel them off there is no residue. I use these bad boys and write out every last thing in each box so that there are no surprises or mysteries when it comes time to unpack.

Have Your Students Do It

There are many, many tasks that I find painful. I am talking would rather give myself a root canal painful that have to take place at the end of the year. Most of them, i.e. paperwork, I have to do. There are many more tasks though that don't need my involvement at all, they just need to be done. The magical secret here is that you students will LOVE these tasks, and will feel special that you thought to include them. 
A short list of ways your students can help to save your sanity:
Filing resources-I hate filing, but my students love to take the fold-up examples of incomplete metamorphosis and file that bad boy in the life cycles folder, so why not let them?
Sort supplies-This might be going through the check whether markers are working, sorting markers from crayons, or even pre-sharpening the pencils that are leftover (read: you bought last week because you weren't sure you would make it to the end of the year) for next year. 
Sort colored paper-I love having paper sorted into colors, but I hate doing it.
Ways to make the end of the year pack up go smoothly and set yourself up for success in the fall! So many good ideas!Evaluate math games-I have a student or two go through all of our math games and make sure all the pieces are there. If it is missing a piece/card I have them make note and set it aside. Most of the time they find the missing piece in another game and it sorts itself out, but if they don't I can usually recreate just that piece without having to recreate the whole game. 
Check the Classroom Library-Books at the end of the year are lucky to still be in the classroom. I have a student go through the library and resort the books. They also pull aside any books that may need to be repaired. 
Wipe Down All the Things-I know that we can't have our students running around with Clorox wipes (as much as this seems like a dream to me) but a spray bottle of water (or if you dare a little vinegar and lemon juice) and a rag can go a LONG way to cleaning up your room. If you don't want to turn a student loose with a spray bottle, wet wipes will do a world a good. 
Remove Staples From Bulletin Boards/Walls-My students thought of this as a reward, which is amazing, because I. Hated. It. Not going to lie, I would pretend to be really excited about it, and then they would jump all over it. It's all about how you frame it people. 

What have I missed?  I know there has to be more!

Make Your Copies Now

Why wait until the beginning of the school year to stand in line. If you know you are going to use it, copy it now! Think about morning work, new math stations, or parent contact information for the first week. You can even go above and beyond by taking some time at the laminator to really get the ball rolling. 

Enjoy Your Students

I mean really this is the most important one by a landslide. I know you are excited about summer. I know you are, and you should be, BUT don't wish away your time with the little people you have working so hard for/with this year. Take this time to soak them in, every annoying moment, because  you know you will miss them! 

Breaking the Cycle of Disengagement

Four ways to break the cycle of disengagement and keep students working. The 2nd one was a life saver for me!
We have all had a moment in which we just can't continue doing a task. Our students face these moments every day. It can be frustrating for both them and their teacher, because disengagement means that we can't move on to some of the stuff we want to do until we get through the stuff we have to do. This can often lead to a cycle of complete disengagement, because the same student(s) never seem to get through the have to, in order to do the want to.

Instead of watching a student struggle, become disengaged, and slowly float further and further into the atmosphere to seemingly never come back I liked to try these four tactics to break the cycle, and re-engage the student in their task.

Restructure the Task

Change up the task just enough to make it seem new. This might mean breaking down the task into smaller assignments, changing the order of the assignment, or finding an alternate assignment. 

This might sounds something like-
"Why don't you do all the odd numbered problems?"
"Have you tried the problems on the back yet?"
"Which problem would you like to start with?"
"Would you prefer to work on a whiteboard instead of with a pencil?"

These options give students a bit of choice, but still has them completing the assignment. 

Restart

Sometimes we get ourselves into a spot mentally that we just can't seem to get back out of. Our students don't know how to get past these moments without a little help from us. By simply restarting an assignment it can give students a chance to restart their mindset as well. 

This might look like-
Handing the student a new assignment.
Providing the student with a change in scenery. This might be a different spot in the room or a complete change in venue. 
Offering the student an alternate task with the same concept. 
Changing the expectation for the assignment by asking for a different outcome. 

Non-Verbal Cues

Four ways to break the cycle of disengagement and keep students working. The 2nd one was a life saver for me!Students who have a habit of becoming disengaged while working sometimes just need gentle reminders. If using a verbal cue, some students may become embarrassed and dig their heels in further. This can lead to the cycle continuing. Instead, speak to the student during a private moment and brainstorm a special signal that you can use to help remind them to stay on task. 

Carol Burnett pulled her ear and I tapped my nose. Now, what my students didn't know is that I had the same special "get going" signal for several students in my class. they didn't need to know. This made my life incredibly easy when I needed my students to get working, because I would tap my nose and it would catch the attention of all those students. It worked like a charm. 

Exaggerate the Act

This one may just be my favorite, because I get to let my feelings out a bit. Now, I am not saying that you should let your frustrations out on your student, but you can take a couple of deep breathes and roll them into you acting. 

This might sound like-
"Oh no! How will we be able to do the super fun science lab if we don't finish up this vocabulary? I have been planning and planning for this afternoon's science lab, and I am worried that we just won't have time if we don't get to it."

This one comes pretty close to a guilt trip, but the trick is to motivate the student to complete their assignment while dangling a carrot of what is coming up next, not make them feel as though they are holding the class back. This is best done privately, and not with the whole class. 

Want to Know More?

These books provide excellent suggestions for working with disengaged students. (affiliate links)




The Benefits of Student and Family Evaluations

Are you looking to reflect on your school year? I love to send these FREE student and family evaluations home with my class to hear where I glow and where I can grow in their eyes!
This time of school year I tend to get really reflective. I think a lot about what I loved about this school year, and what needs to get kicked to the curb to make next year better. While I have always had a laundry list of items to work on I find it extremely important to also get feedback from my students and their families. I mean, who would be better at offering suggestions on things they loved as well as the things that may have been in the way of an even better experience.

I use these FREE Student and Family Evaluations to get some insight into what my clients are thinking. The opinions that really matter to me are those of my clients, my clients being my students and their families. So, every year about this time I pull on my big girl panties and ask for some honest, no holes barred feedback in the form of a teacher evaluation. Is is always easy? No, but it is always worth it.

Giving the Evaluations


This pack has two sets of evaluations, one for students and the other for parents.

The student evaluation I give in class. I make sure that students know that I want their complete honesty, and for this reason we keep them completely anonymous. Before giving out the evaluation we talk about honestly, and how you can be honest without being mean. I like to share comments that I have received in the past and share how they helped me to shape our classroom. This really gives students ownership.  In the six years that I have given these evaluations, my students have always taken them very seriously. I believe this is because they know that I truly want to know what they think.

The parent evaluation I send home. I have sent it home as a paper copy and as an attachment to an email. Both have worked out well, but I have had a higher return on the paper copy. I think this might have to do with the anonymity allowing families to be truly honest. I place a box at the back of the room and ask students to place it in the box by a certain date. I don't open the box until that date, so that I really have no idea whose is whose. Either way that you choose to share with parents I would recommend attaching a note stating that you would like honest opinions and again give examples of how they have helped you to grow as a professional.

In the end, do I always want to hear what is said. No, I don't want to think that I am not the perfect teacher, BUT I NEED to hear it, because that is how you grow.

One year I was feeling particularly brave and gave the evaluation three times:
First around parent conferences in October.
Again at the end of the first semester.
Then wrapped up the year by giving them again the last week of school.
I received so much wonderful feedback in both glow and grow areas that I used to really improve my teaching and classroom environment.

Interpreting the Evaluations

Are you looking to reflect on your school year? I love to send these FREE student and family evaluations home with my class to hear where I glow and where I can grow in their eyes! Reading over the evaluations can be an uplifting or totally crushing experience based on how you set yourself up. I recommend really embodying a growth mindset, and tell yourself that feedback is how you grow. 

Don't even think about just "looking over" these evaluations. Save them for a time when you have an ample of time to not feel rushed and really reflect on what you are reading. I usually liked to go to my favorite restaurant and belly up to a giant sweet tea and bowl of queso. I would take my time going through the evaluations using sticky notes to make lists of important points for both areas of strength and possible growth. 

I am not going to lie. There were tears almost every time. Most of the time they were happy tears because of something positive that was written that I didn't even realize I had done. Other times, I would be upset with myself for not knowing something. Both of these are important to realize, and the queso makes it infinitely easier to get through it.

After You Digest Your Evaluations

In order to kind of wrap up the evaluation process I would gather up my lists of glow and grow areas and draft an email to parents and a little speech for my class. I wanted to recognize their honesty and let them know that I really read each and every word and was taking it all in. For these, I would usually pick 3-5 positives and the same number of areas for growth to outline and then again thank families and students alike for their help in my professional development. I ALWAYS received more feedback from families after sending this email, and since that was my goal in the beginning it was very much appreciated! 

What Now?

If you are feeling brave and ready to try out this Teacher Evaluation System for yourself, then hop on over to TPT to grab this free printable!


Classroom Project Time

We all know the feeling. State testing is over and we can breathe normally again. Now the struggle of the end of the year begins.

Encourage creative, independent thinking with culminating projects that integrate research, math, writing, art, speaking, listening, and map skills to review skills you have worked on all year!I long for this time after the test every year, but then when it gets here I find myself falling to pieces just a little bit. I know that this is the time of year when students need the most structure. I also know that I need to keep every day engaging and content filled, because my dear friends, it can not all come to a grinding halt after the test is over. If we end our serious learning right after the test then the students know that the test is what counts, when we friends know it couldn't be further from the truth.Okay, rant over, and here is my plan:
For the rest of the year we are focusing on project based learning. This is the stuff real learning is made of, and I love it! Now I know that some teachers are able to just let the projects flow, and I would love to say that I am one of those people, but that just isn't true. So while I may give a boat load of structure and specific directions going into a project, I am all about allowing students to make the choices that will make the experience meaningful to them, all the while keeping the project content rich!
Our first project started this week and we are planning a dream field trip! During this project students will complete research on their chosen trip, take part in four different writing tasks (persuasive, expository, how-to, and narrative), conduct three math tasks, and create their own map! I LOVE watching my students to see where they choose, it becomes so personal to them. 

In the end, they create a poster to present, and are so into it! Of course the field trip is just the beginning. About the time they finish that one up they are begging for more, so we move right into the next one! One of the glorious things about these projects are that students can work at their own pace and begin and end them one their own, we don't have to stay at the same place as a class which works out wonderfully at the end of the year with all the various times that students get pulled/are absent. 

Have your tried one of Teaching in the Fast Lane's Culminating Projects? Send in pictures of your students in action to teachinginthefastlane@gmail.com for a special thank you! 

** I wrote this post last year while still in the classroom, but never posted it. Although I don't have my own classroom this year I have been volunteering and all these thoughts still ring true

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