Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Embracing Change: The Decision to Go Deskless

Embrace change.  As of late, that seems to be my message and I have been very moved by those of you who have commented on the blog and emailed me your inspiring stories.  This week, Kathy Merlino, a friend and colleague who teaches in Islip, New York, agreed to share her story of change and the experience of teaching second grade in a deskless second grade classroom.

The decision to go deskless
I had heard about the idea for years at conferences I attended.  It never attracted me.  I didn't see the point.  Then, last year, I began to entertain the thought, and I couldn't get it out of my mind: going deskless in the classroom.  What would it look like?  Where would the children sit?  Where would I teach whole class lessons? My mind began to race with ideas. What are desks for?  Why have them take up valuable space in the classroom?  Couldn't I have community pencils and supplies placed around the room instead?   A child will seldom fit the exact measurements of his desk.  Other seating arrangements could actually be better for small children.  Handwriting improves for sloppy writers when their elbows are anchored down on the floor and they are forced to use their smaller motor skills.   Besides, the atmosphere would be more comfortable--almost like at home-- and the children would be better able to learn.

I already had a couch in my room, but I didn't really have any child-sized furniture.  I went to yard sales and acquired a couple of low coffee/end tables and a magazine rack.  I bought a child's Adirondack chair and a child's rocking chair.  I got a child's park bench and a bean bag chair.  I lowered my posters and bought beautiful braided, non-allergic, non-flammable rugs.  I traded my big old teacher's desk for a smaller version that tucks away in the corner by the sink. I brought in plants from home, not just for cleaner air, but also to help relax the children. I was ready.  I was excited.  I just couldn't wait for the new school year to begin!

Organizing the space

I felt like I was setting up a home--a home for little folks who come to learn.  Many of my colleagues came by to see my room and were surprised and impressed with the new set up. They asked me questions and I showed them the "mailbox" I had set up to hold the children's math and science workbooks.  I showed them where I was going to place the children's homework on the top shelf of their cubbies.  It took a lot of thinking, but everything seemed to have a logical place to go and there were no desks to get in the way.

Living in a deskless classroom
As the weeks have gone by, I have had many visits from many more colleagues, my principal, and parents. They have observed and commented on how welcoming my classroom is.  They say it's beautiful and cozy and comfortable.  This year my students seem to be more attentive and caring.  One child even said, "I don't see anything I don't like about this room!"  It all seems to be working out very well.  Change is often difficult, but this change has been paying big dividends!

Click here to see all my pictures.


Jan said...

Bravo! When you teach do kids move chairs to face you, sit on the couch, etc. or do you always gather them at the rug? Do they each have several storeage boxes, one for math, one for reading, etc.? Did parents buy supplies that you put all together for everyone? Parents in my school do not like that. I suppose I could have them pay a fee (cost of supplies)and I could go buy what we'd need.

Kathy Merlino said...

Dear Jan,

Thank you for your enthusiasm! To answer your questions:
I encourage the children to sit on the big rug, but if a child is more comfortable, he or she may sit at a table or on a chair. I try to remember the reason I arranged the room like this was so that all the children would be comfortable enough to be better learners.

Since I have only one mailbox which I use to collect work through the week to send home on Fridays, I purchased an additonal mailbox with my school budget. I use this second mailbox as a place to store children's math and science workbooks, and a Writing Workshop folder. The children use book buckets ( which I purchased through Really Good Stuff) to store the books they are reading and their reading journals. I place their daily homework on the top shelf in their cubbies.

I have made various labels for cans I collected, one set each for pencils, pencils to be sharpened, colored pencils, and editing pens. I also have community "buckets" placed around the room that hold scissors, erasers, glue sticks, staplers, sticky notes, and crayons. This year our school provided some of those supplies-- I bought the rest.

Over the summer I frequented yard sales and bought the 'coffee' table, magazine rack, and the table that backs up to the park bench. My husband painted the tables for me. I bought the child's Adorondack chair, the child's rocking chair, and the bean bag chair. I couldn't resist the rugs, and thought they were beautiful enough to buy them as well.

I am hoping all this information provides you with food for thought.

Patti A. said...

I know Kathi. She is my school next doorneighbor. After 22 years of teaching, she is still learning, growing and trying new things that will benefit her students. She is not only passionate about what she does...she is BRAVE