How I Use Free-Range Seating to Get a First Glimpse of My Students

The first day of school is the start of something good! Fresh faces ready to learn.  New school supplies just itching to find their new homes in desks and cupboards. A clean start for everyone!

We only get one chance to make a first impression, and it's my best opportunity to get an unguarded glimpse of who they are. That's why, over the years, I've developed a strategy that helps me get to know my next new class quickly.

Let them sit wherever they'd like.

We can learn a lot about our students by letting them chose where they'd like to sit.

Yep, that's it... I like grouping desks in pods of 4 - 6, depending on how many students I have. To give everyone an even shot at choosing their seats, I have them gather around the perimeter of the room, and then tell them they may sit wherever they choose. As they quietly jockey for position, moving toward their friends, they're cautiously optimistic.  When I say go and they lay claim to their new territory, they're convinced 6th grade is going to be alright!

I do this for a couple of reasons. Not only can I tell who their friends are, but I can also get a potential read on their learning personalities.

This is what I've observed over the years...

There's the group that wants to be closest to the teacher's desk or front of the room. (I am rarely at my desk, but they don't know that, yet.) These are often the extroverts. They have all the answers and love to participate in any discussions. They might also be the kids who are vying for the coveted role as Teacher's Pet... (which I let them know right away I don't have. Pets take a lot of care and I'd have to leave them in the room over the weekend, because my dog would get jealous, if I brought them home. Yes, I get looks that say, "Is she serious?" But it seems to take care of any future TP issues.)

If I'm not careful, this group can suck the energy right out of me! However, they seem to be the students that love school, so who am I to quibble over a little (OK, a lot) sucked-out energy?

Next, there are the students that like to be in the middle.  These kiddos are frequently on the learning fence. They may like one subject, but not another. They could be introverted and want to blend in to the crowd so just maybe they won't be called on. This group is hoping that the rumors of my being a hard teacher are grossly exaggerated. (I prefer to think of it as challenging them to give their personal best all. the. time.)

Then there's the group that prefers to sit by the door or the very back of the room. This group is quite a mixed bag.  These are the kids looking for a fast escape when the bell rings, or to be first in line, or closer to the bathroom (which they like visiting frequently). They are the fidgeters who love playing with their mechanical pencil leads (I hate mechanical pencils for that reason!) or anything else in their desks. They're the ones passing the notes to their friends, always hopeful they won't get caught. These are the social, chatty ones, my active learners that sometimes make me feel like I'm herding butterflies!

Usually, the last students to find a seat are the slower processors. While they quietly weigh the pros and cons of each seat in the classroom, everyone else is grabbing prime real estate and they end up having to take whatever seats are left. This group needs a quieter learning environment so they can process what's happening. Introverts are often part of this group, as well.

They might also be the outliers (no friends in the room, or new to the school and haven't met anyone yet). They may or may not really be in to the whole schooling idea, but are always willing to give it a shot. (Who knows, maybe this is the year the lightbulbs come on!)

After everyone is comfortably settled in, I let them know it's totally up to them as to whether this seating arrangement will stick, or if the seat fairy has to come in and rearrange things overnight. (Ahhh, there's the catch!)  I ask them how I'll know they want to remain where they are.  (Funny, they always seem to know what it takes.) With everyone in agreement, we start off feeling really good about a new year.

 I'd like to say this arrangement lasts quite awhile, but we all know that's just not going to happen.  To begin with, I need to mix up the energy in the classroom. (Let us not forget that back-of-the-room group... They just can't seem to help themselves.) And because I can't change the furniture around at home (don't want to mess with my feng shui), that leaves my second home, my classroom, as fair game.

So... that's my not-so-very-scientific way of getting a good first glimpse of my new students on the first day of school.

What  tricks do you have up your sleeve for your first day?  Please share them below. And most importantly, have an awesome new school year!


"If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." Wayne Dyer


Escape the Back-to-School Doldrums

I love the sounds and smells of a new school year. Desks are clean, supplies are fresh and the pencil sharpener actually works!  Kids may be slightly uncertain about what's to come, but are ready for a new adventure.

My back-to-school feelings of Utopia are tempered with the need to cram as much information about, well - everything into them, as soon as possible, so we can get on with the business of learning and having fun.  (Yes, learning and having fun are a perfect pairing, like ice-cream and cones.)

We all know those first few days set the tone for the entire year.  Establishing classroom procedures, delivering expectations that may or may not become rules, and instilling that all-important self-actualization that, yes, they can do this, involves a lot of talking.

Because of this information dump, I tended lose my voice at the start of every. single. year.  Breaking the habit of talking my 6th graders into a voice-induced stupor has always been difficult, and I was certain there had to be a better way.

Escapes mix fun with learning!

What if some of that information came from them? After all, this is not their first rodeo.  They know there needs to be some organization for things to run smoothly.  They mostly know they are in charge of their experience.  They kinda remember studying helps and they might have an idea or two about what works for them.

To alleviate some of these conundrums, my friend, Darlene Anne and I wrote Escape the Back-to-School Doldrums.  This fun escape is a great way to begin a new year.
Kids will love this interactive adventure!

Imagine your class walking in and discovering their most awesome teacher in the whole wide world has already lined up a field trip on a very large sailing vessel, leaving immediately. Everything moves along swimmingly, until the ship comes to a screeching halt.

And that's where the fun begins!

Using critical thinking, problem-solving, and reading comprehension, kids will complete a series of challenges on Growth Mindset, Study Skills and Classroom Expectations. There's even a fun little ditty thrown in, just to keep it interesting. Each completed challenge brings them closer to finding exactly what they need to escape.

Not only is this a great opportunity for the teacher to observe how your new class works together, it allows the kids a chance to refresh and remember what it means to be a responsible, successful student!

As for me... let's just say my vocal chords will happily survive to talk another day.  Hope you all have a tremendous school year!

"It always seems impossible until it's done." Nelson Mandela