This post is just another one of my opinions. Please comment with yours as I would love to learn from you.
I feel inspired to blog because of the following tweets:
I challenge you to have NO DESKS facing the front of the room this year. #ditchthefrontoftheroom
— Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler) August 2, 2015
@alicekeeler my best classroom ever had no desks at all. Zebra-print chairs, butterfly chairs and bean bags. It was awesome.
— Marie Duke (@mrsmduke) August 2, 2015
While I understand what these folks are trying to do, I can’t help but wonder why we continue to focus on extremes in education. You know – “NO MORE WORKSHEETS” or “PAPERLESS CLASS” as if we have to be one way or the other – but never in the middle.
Full discosure – I tried the paperless gig and it wasn’t for me.
I truly believe in a balance. Everything in moderation.
I also stopped using my teacher desk because I saw others doing the same last year. Bad approach. I’m not those teachers – I need the desk for many reasons. Why does ditching my desk make me “progressive”? I’m putting it back. It’s a shared workspace.
As for student desks, some kids might want one. I see the desk as a great workspace for many – maybe not all kids – but I’m not ready to throw them all out to be “progressive” – instead I will let them choose with my guidance about what I – and they – think is best.
Similarly with testing and grades. Until we have a system wide reboot – tests should continue for those who are heading into professional academia. I feel strongly that not testing certain students is a disservice as they are heading to a world of testing. I’m not a fan of testing – I am merely speaking from a systematic standpoint. Tests still exist and the skill of writing one should be taught. Hmmm. Test taking as a competency. Now we are onto something #CompetencyBasedLearning.
As for #ditchingthefrontoftheroom, I think Alice is spot on, but it is the front of the room I have issues with – not how the desks face. If you have four walls, you should have four fronts – each with it’s own unique purpose.
I feel better about this tweet and what others think with respect to standing but I wonder why we are replacing desks with tables? It’s like replacing a computer lab with a mobile cart lab. Same pedagogy methinks.
@LaurieAnastasio @alicekeeler Get rid of half the desks. Find a couple coffee tables and tall tables. Ss decide if they sit or stand.
— Kara Weber (@lovinafarmboy) August 2, 2015
Our four intermediate classrooms will all have desks in the hall on the first day of school in September. Thats 110+ kids. We will build the setup together. Some desks will remain, some will go.
My challenge to you is not #DitchTheFrontofTheRoom but to re-define the front of the room. I also challenge you to #GiveStudentsChoiceAndVoice.
Please don’t think I am picking on anyone, I mean no offence. I am just questioning the “extreme” decisions we often make in education without considering all angles and sides.
Thanks for reading.
21 Responses for this post
I’m in the middle of this dilemma right now. I’ve always used individual desks for my 1st & 2nd graders until last year when I had a combination of tables and desks. So much of our learning is done in groups and centers that I found the desks annoying and in the way. I decided to go to tables and ditch the desks this year. But I’m also scared of this move from private property to communal living. I’m not sure if the students or I will like it.
I went desk free in the 4th grade classroom 2 years ago… I love it for groups! I use supply boxes, and 2 book boxes an AM and PM for supplies. We do have communal supplies as well, but they also have personal supplies. I find less “stolen” supplies as they are in charge of them and then they aren’t sitting at someone’s desk and taking supplies. The kids like it and they like the choice… I tell them you pick until you show me you need me to pick for you. I use write me a paragraph justifying why this is a good learning environment for you or move… they mostly choose to move.
I’m choosing to ditch the desks, but that has a deeper meaning for me. If interested read my thoughts here http://daisypress3.blogspot.com/2015/06/ditch-desks-part1.html?m=1
Brian, I totally understand and agree with your thinking here. I haven’t had a teacher desk in 14 years, but that works for me. A teacher desk just encourages me to be disorganized, and I’m working hard not to be, so I decided against one. I know many other teachers that have one, and for lots of good reasons that work for them. I think what this post encourages the most, and that I’m very much in favour of, is thinking deeply about the reasons why we do what we do. Looking into these whys more often may actually help us make the most positive changes of all in our practice.
I will say that our fire regulations would never allow 110 desks in the hallway, but I do applaud you for giving something like this a try. Do you think that all students can make good choices about classroom layout? How will you support students that need this scaffolding? With many students, I find having an initial set-up that can then continue to change to meet student and classroom needs makes a lot of sense. This aligns with the Reggio idea of “the classroom as the third teacher.”
I tend to think that all of these ideas encourage us to be a little less rigid and a little more reflective, and that to me, sounds like a very good thing!
I think we all define things as “extreme” based on our version of “normal”. I have never had student desks in my classroom, and I have never used a teacher desk. That is my normal. This is my 8th year of teaching. Putting a teacher desk in my room would upset me because of the space it would take up. That would be an extreme change for me just like removing your teacher desk is an extreme change for you. I don’t know what I would do with a teacher desk or student desks, but I certainly have nothing against teachers who use them.
I like that: “I think we all define things as “extreme” based on our version of “normal”
I agree with Aviva here, that the biggest takeaway from your thoughts is the idea that we need to really examine our practices in order to find out if there is a better way for us to serve our students in a way that also ensures we are effective teachers. By that I mean that, like Brian described, sometimes we are made to think a change is best for our students but if we are unable to make it work for us it is actually worse for the students. However, also like Brian said, balance is key, and I think every teacher should consider implementing some new strategies to some degree, even if it’s not to the extreme, like the paperless or deskless classrooms Brian describes.
Teachers need to be encouraged to see the possibilities of change, not be made to feel less than if they do not implement the change to the degree some believe they should.
Brian, I agree with Aviva and with yourself. We must think about the pedagogy and the reason behind our choices. I am one of those uber-organized folks who hate clutter. To me the black hole that is a desk bothers me. However, for some this is a way to keep kids stuff out of sight. I think it is all a personal choice. Myself, I feel that in grade 8 students really need to move toward communal space as they shouldn’t “require” a space in the classroom to store items in preparation for high school. As long as we are engaging and empowering kids to advocate for a style that works for them I feel that we are promoting independence. Not all kids work well together and not all feel that having a neighbour helps them. In addition, to prevent the inevitable “this is my pencil” argument we have gone to communal property this year where I purchase the materials and students bring money to pay for them on the first day. We will see how this works but I am hoping it not only prevents arguments but also theft as students will have all the same item.
As far as the teacher desk, I have one, but we use it communally for my computer and really not too much else. And the front of the room? Is wherever we happen to be learning from. Who stands and lectures. Education really needs to stop shifting from right to left and just settle for middle sometimes.
In my room of gr 3 “littles” I found that it worked best for them and me to have a variety of choices so I have the gamut – low tables, whiteboard table, standing desks, student desks in pod groups, a cozy corner with carpets, pillows and cozy chairs.
At the beginning of the year we have a discussion about picking spaces that will help them work better at that point in time as well as how do we best share the space if more than more person wants to work there.
Amazingly enough after the thrill of something new wears off (which does take time, patience and many reminder discussions on my part) we end up with a system that works well for all of us.
I’d never go back so thanks for reinforcing something I believe in which does make others uncomfortable in my school.
I love the idea of student choice and voice in tje classroom set up. For the past few years in my grade 1 class I had table for most activities. We used the carpet area a lot for short lessons and working on building learning (especially in math). I had a few desks for those who needed their own personal space for independent work. I also had standing work areas for kids who needed them. Students were encouraged to “listen” to their bodies – sit, stand, lay on the floor, whatever worked best for their leanring needs. The only thing was that they could not be causing disruption to peers who were working. The students needed loads of help at the beginning of the year to manage this, but by the end most were good a regulating their own needs. I think teaching our students to understand that their learning can be different and take different forms is essential to developing self efficacy with learning.
As for the teacher desk – I could never give that up. I rarely actually sit at it, but it is my centre of organization.
Love the idea of 4 fronts – we need to make best use of the space we have.
Ultimately, you are right, understanding why we are doing things needs to be at the centre of the process. Thanks for pushing the thinking!
I have to agree on the ‘everything in moderation’ and ‘what works for some doesn’t necessarily work for all ‘ approach to desks and the front of the room.
Fully support the idea of students being active participants in the arrangement and organization of the classroom. This builds ownership and a sense of responsibility in the space. Both great things.
As for no desks? I believe a desk can be a source of pride and personal space; there are some students who don’t have a space to call their own at home. A desk can be space to organize, maintain, keep private notebooks or their very own pencils and crayons – I fondly remember the sense of satisfaction that came on ‘desk clean out’ days in elementary school. Organization is a learned skill. Keeping a desk is one way I learned the value of tidying up. Young children are often denied personal space in favour of communal learning environments. I sometimes appreciate not having to share everything; I wouldn’t deny my kids that privilege, either.
One of the greatest things about teaching and learning is that it is so personal- and that students and teachers constantly learn new concepts, ideas and practices from each other. I fully support trying new things and talking it out with the students- “I thought I’d try having no teacher desk, but because of x,y and z, I’ve decided to go back to a desk” is an awesome conversation to have. Lifelong learning. Risk taking. Adapting to change. Admitting mistakes. Willingness to fail. These are the big ticket items. If we can demonstrate them on a small scale in the safety of the classroom, we’re serving our students well.
Hi Brian, I appreciate you highlighting the all or none swings in the education field. Often referred to as “pendulum” swings. We do speak too often in terms of all or none and when something works (or doesn’t work) we speak in terms changing in broad strokes. A liberating day for me was when my doctor told me that, “Everything is fine just nothing to excess.” Our eating habits often seem to be governed by those same pendulum swings of cutting foods completely out of our diets instead of finding a healthy balance and when we do sneak an ice cream cone we deal with the guilt of treating ourselves instead of viewing an occasional ice cream as part of a healthy diet.
I like your approach of providing choice to students but I’m cautious about all the desks in the hall. Doesn’t that give a sub-conscious message to students that you really don’t want desks in the classroom and that using a desk is a traditional method you are trying to move away from? Is that the all or none trap you are trying to avoid? Is there away to provide choice without the extreme of an 0 desks present – you agree desks are appropriate at times. What role will peer pressure play on those students who may have a different work style than their best friends? What does this look like in October?
On a different note, I’ve followed you for a while and am impressed with your commitment to coding. I’m wondering if coding is all or none in your classroom or balanced? Have you have come across students whose learning style doesn’t fit with coding?
Hi John, thanks for the comment.
Admittedly, the desks in the hall bit is a little extreme – we are hoping to treat the classroom like a blank canvas and have students input on design. Hopefully we aren’t encouraging one way or the other with regards to traditional methods or even “progressive” methods. The reality is all the desks will likely be in the classroom on the first day because of the custodians working on the halls. We have four intermediate classrooms in a foyer with two “quiet” rooms. Almost open concept, so to speak.
As for coding, I will introduce it to all early in the year as a tool to demonstrate learning – yep, ALL. Afterwards, its as much of a choice as everything else like PowerPoint, Prezi, iMovie etc. In the last ten years I have had equal parts “for me” and “not for me” with regards to coding and student choice. I realize that I blog about coding to such a degree that it might appear like all students in my class code all the time and they all love it but that is so far from the truth. The reality is I like to share the innovative things we do with coding.
I think going from desks to no desks is kind of extreme, but that is my opinion. This year, we are planning to get rid of desks for our coding club. But some students wanted a desk, they said it keeps them more organized and focused than if they were sitting in a bean bag chair.
I’m not sure who was that voice of reason talking about balance and student choice to use a desk. I agree. I am suspicious about new wonderful ideas, since they often are not supported by scientific research and from time to time are proven not the best for kids. While teachers implementing these new ideas may see difference in student achievement, there may be many different factors contributing to this change. We all remember California and other states implementing whole language for teaching reading , which turned to be disaster after 20 years. I believe that there were several reason for disappointment with the whole language method and I’m sure a lack of balance was one of them. I worked for the principal who forbid any forms of phonics instructions, which maybe was beneficial for some kids, but didn’t work for others.
It sometimes seems like these extremes are fanned to keep us arguing. Your insight on testing is wise. After age 16 I’d cracked the code for taking tests (test performance competency achieved) yet the tests kept coming, over and over like ground-hog day when I could have been doing more useful things. Generally whenever an adult takes a test their performance is important, but I can’t think of any test that any adult is forced to sit? Adults take tests out of choice; because they want to drive a car, to be qualified in something, even for fun. Haha, do you think a test on test competency for students is far off? And if students pass that, they’re no longer required by law to take tests… they’re free to take them voluntarily if they see a purpose? Oh man, what a picture!
AWESOME article, Brian. Teachers (and people in general) do BIG things to stand out, make some noise, catch media attention, etc. These people are important, because they establish the boundaries and polarities within which moderate people like us find our comfort zone. In our classrooms, moderation is key. That being said … “everything in moderation, including moderation!” – Oscar Wilde.
Thank you for inviting us to think more deeply about the ‘latest trends’! We tend to be a trending society…latch on to what is ‘cool’ and new for fear of being left behind or ‘just because’ . Student voice and choice are not ‘trendy”, in my humble opinion. We want students to take greater ownership for their learning, to possess a growth mindset and to be engaged learners…doing away with desks won’t make or break those keys to success. But it is OK to try what is new, as long as you can clearly rationalize why for yourself, the kids, admin. and for parents. Choice and voice, on the part of students, should assist the teacher in helping to avoid extremism! I am sometimes amazed at how wise and thoughtful our students are…and how willing they are to help us find our way to what makes the most sense in support of learning! Thanks, Brian!
THANK YOU FOR THIS! I still cannot understand why getting rid of furniture makes you a better teacher. Just because you have a desk does not mean that you sit at it all day – or even at all when students are in the room. I’ve been polling students for over a year and most say that they DO want their own work space but want it to be flexible. Aren’t single student desks the most flexible furniture we have? I just don’t understand the reasoning or research behind the no teacher/admin desk movement.
I was just confronted with this today. Put on the spot as to WHY I need my desk. For me, personally, we are in the business of kids, and I would like a small spot to conduct my business. I have read different opinions and can see both sides; however, all that tells me is what I’ve known all along. What makes you a great teacher might not be the case for someone else. We are all different with different preferences. After all, isn’t that what we teach the kids every day?? That not only are they all different, but that it is okay to be different? Isn’t that why we have things such as differintiated instruction?? That because I may choose to have a desk in my room doesn’t make me any more or less effective than my fellow teachers who choose not to have a desk. At the end of the day, personal preference does matter because it allows for so many great things.
I am stuck in a teeny, tiny portable and the desks really get in the way of creating other learning spaces. Getting rid of some of my desks would be great! I do think students need their own spaces, so I am thinking of trying to get “cubbies” to put in the room. They are usually outside kinder classrooms, but why not inside? Then students could store their stuff, a netbook, pencils, assignments they haven’t completed, etc. Also, each year I have at least one student who needs (and wants) very clear boundaries. They also might have sensory issues that require them to have a safe, quiet space to retreat to. Then there are some students who just want their own desk, they love their desk! So my challenge is how to begin the year with the goal in mind of everyone finding the ultimate learning space within a space for themselves. Interesting challenge.