Adventures in a deskless CI classroom

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I’m sure you’ve heard the rumblings (or screams) that being deskless is THE way to go for a CI classroom. Most people feel really strongly one way or the other. But many CI / ADI teachers have strong beliefs that a deskless classroom is the best way to go about teaching in a CI / ADI environment. So this blog post will go through some pros and cons to a deskless classroom from my experience over the years. Hopefully this will help you decide if a deskless classroom is for you!

Pros to a deskless classroom:

1 – SPACE. This was the first thing I instantly became grateful for when I went deskless. Y’all. 35 students + 35 desks + 35 chairs + book bags does not leave room for any walking space. Much less space for anything else. Our classrooms are very narrow and long, and with desks there would be students sitting in the BACK of the room. We also have in room AC units that are giant and loud. No way those students would ever hear me. Having space to move and play and read and more is my #1 pro for a deskless classroom.

2 – LIBRARIES. If I had desks in my classroom I would absolutely not have a library in my classroom. At least not one that is visible to my students. Our rooms are simply not big enough and our fire marshall does not allow things to be placed in front of windows. Having my library is a huge non-negotiable for me. I want my students to have easy access visibly and physically to books.

3 – MANAGEMENT. Since going deskless I have not once had to tell a student to put a phone away. I have not once had to tell students to not (draw / do math / etc) because they don’t have a space to do that work hidden, easily. Now, there are some cons to management with deskless and we’ll get to those in just a minute.

4 – SEATING CHART. Because I don’t have desks, I can virtually re arrange my room in 5 minutes, any day that I want to. The first few weeks of school I usually do just to see what I like the most and feel the best about. I also have numbers on all my chairs so I can move chairs (people) instead of doing a new seating chart. My seating charts are all lists of students and numbers of chairs – not locations in the classroom.

5 – TEACHER FACING. One thing I always hated about desks was that you simply cannot (unless you have some magical giant classroom, or crazy small class sizes) have all of the students facing the front of the room. And I felt like I always had students that had to contort their bodies weird ways to be facing me. You know, that right facing desk that’s all the way on the left side of the classroom? Yeah. I hated that. With deskless, it’s 100% possible to have all of the chairs facing me. I currently am loving the U shape of my chairs, but I typically start the year with them all facing me.

Cons to a deskless classroom:

1 – ADMIN. At first, my admin was not on board. Thankfully they came around, but your admin may not. This battle may not be worth it to you.

2 – WORK TIME. Our school is 1 to 1 with Chromebooks, which we use rarely. We had to establish that when we are using Chromebooks students would hold them in their lap to work. I needed a surface for students to work on – so clipboards needed to be purchased and they needed to live somewhere. This meant a routine needed to be established. Because work time involves clipboards already, I make most work times a gallery walk to get students moving.

3 – STUDENTS / PARENTS. This was my admin’s biggest reason in not wanting me to go deskless. They were afraid parents and students would be upset that we didn’t have desks. Well, much to my surprise, the kids basically didn’t notice and parents virtually didn’t care. You might not be so lucky. My compromise was that I would keep 2 desks in my room for students that NEEDED a desk. They haven’t ever been used and they now hold library books… but they’re here.

4 – MANAGEMENT. I said earlier this would be a pro and a con. One thing I needed to make managing a deskless classroom easier was classroom jobs. This took some investment time and some training time with my students. In the end, I felt like it was worth it. You may not feel it’s as worth it. But definitely a consideration is how you will manage students in this new environment.

Deskless Classroom FAQs:

What about giving a test or using a computer? Yep. We give tests / assessments and we use computers. My students use the clipboards to complete their assessments. For state testing I usually end up testing 1 on 1 students (which is nice to only have 1 kid!) and I use one of my library desks for them. For computer use, students just sit it on their lap. We only use computer for about 5 minutes each day (unless we’re doing EdPuzzle or Señor Wooly) so the lap works great. For longer computer days students will usually ask to lay in the floor.

What about visitors? Some of them come into the room and notice and say something, most don’t. I had our superintendent visit last year and as he walked out I heard him say, “wait, there weren’t any desks in that classroom. Do they need desks?” and my principal replied, “nope, they don’t want them.” He seemed a little shocked, but responded with, “well, it looked like it’s working so, I guess that works!”

What about art / drawing projects? This actually goes for many things… a lot of times my students prefer to work on the floor. They’ll lay down and work / draw / etc. This would definitely be a personal choice. I do strongly encourage lots of hand washing after… but, kids.

I thought deskless classrooms had to have weird seating like couches or bean bags? Well, good news, your classroom doesn’t HAVE to have anything you don’t want it to have! A lot of deskless classroom do have “flexible seating” options or even alternative seating options. I personally have normal cafeteria style chairs. I do have some flexible seating for my library area, but it’s strictly for reading time – not class time. I would love, and plan, to apply for a grant in the Fall for flexible seating options for my classroom. But it’s definitely not even close to being a requirement.

What do students do with their things? I have my students place everything in their backpack and place their backpack under their desk. At the beginning on class I have a slide on the board that lists the materials they will need for that day so they don’t need to go back into their backpacks.

Does classroom management shift with being deskless? 100% yes. I sat down with someone and talked through all the things I needed to consider and routines I would need to be able to make things run smoothly. It does require practice and training your students. I have routines for everything now. We practice how to get books, clipboards, whiteboards, and more. We practice how to put things away. I have students in charge of making sure all those things go well. It’s a learning curve. One thing I’m considering changing next year is adding a bucket with clipboards, whiteboard, markers, etc. at the end of each row so things can be passed down instead of students having to get up out of their seats.

Do you have different rules for being deskless? I wouldn’t say different… but more. I do have to tell and remind my students that just because there is an empty chair doesn’t mean they get to put their feet up in it. We don’t use chairs to store backpacks. We don’t stand in chairs or sit with our legs resting on other chairs. It’s tempting for them. Otherwise, I think my rules have stayed fairly consistent to when I had desks.

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