Going deskless has been a topic of interest on the MORETPRS listserv lately. 

I went deskless this year as well with encouragement from Anny Ewing, Louise Walker and others. It’s a change I’ve embraced wholeheartedly, although that’s not to say it hasn’t been a challenge. 

I teach 8th grade squirrels. By and large they appreciate the fact that there are no desks. Writing on individual whiteboards when needed isn’t an issue. Some prefer to sit on the floor or on the counter and, as long as they’re engaged, I allow it. 

I’ve settled into 4 basic configuration options. A circle, used mostly for group reading. 2 U formations, one facing the smartboard and one facign the whiteboard on the opposite wall. I use the U formation for Look and Discuss or when anything is going to b e on the Smartboard or for storytelling facing the whiteboard. The fourth configuration I have is an echelon – iimagine the slanted feathers on an arrow. I have kids sit in 6 groups of six slanted toward one board or the other. Like this:

\ /
\ /
\ /

where each \ is made of of 6 kids sitting in 3 rows of 2 ppl in each row. Does that make sense? 

I’ve marked the floor with tape for referencing where the first two ppl of each group should sit. I need to find a better way to mark. With heavy desks, they tend to stay where I want them. But chairs drift more easily. 

I have a sign on the whiteboard with the four configurations drawn out. I use a post-it with a red arrow to indicate the day’s configuration. 

For intentional movement, I’ve trained them to jump up and change seats quickly, quietly and safely when prompted with “Cambio!”. In the echelon configuration I’ve added “cambio diagonal” (student groups move to the group of chairs diagonal to their own but maintain the same partners), “cambio lateral” (student groups move to the group of chairs directly oppos to their own but maintain the same partners) and “cambio total” (students move the seat of their choosing). I give them 7 seconds and if anyone doesn’t make it to their seat, they stand or sit on the floor until the next cambio. 

A key to success has been to train my students to stack chairs at the end of each period. I ask all to help, but two students per class have the specific job of picking up the slack if needed. This helps keep the room tidy and ensures that only the number of chairs needed in each period are unstacked.

One thing I want to improve is a class starting routine. It seems that having different configurations daily or even within a class period has created a sense of instability. It’s been difficult to really create the routine of being in seats and ready when the bell rings. This is mostly due to my own choices. But it’s also true that students are responsible for doing more – grabbing a chair from the stack and placing themselves and the chair in the right location instead of just plopping themselves into an already placed desk. 

As I’ve been writing this, I’ve asked 20 or so of my students passing by to comment on the desks vs. no desks. Some have seemed indifferent, but most have responded that they really like it. None have said they prefer to be in desks. 
Reflections on teaching without desks