Monday, November 26, 2012

Sitting Standards

When my husband asked me what I'd be writing about for this week's blog post, I told him the topic was sitting.

Yes, sitting.

Before you roll your eyes at how incredibly boring that idea seems, bear with me.

I teach in an elementary school and a lot of the direct instruction time happens on a carpet. The teacher will sit on a rocking chair (or stand near a SMART Board) while the students sit on the carpet to watch. I've thought about this practice and wondered about the benefits. I vaguely recall reading somewhere that standing while working/discussing makes you more active and productive than doing the same thing while sitting. (Now if only I could find the source of that information!) Does it really make a difference if a student is sitting on a chair or on the floor for instruction? Because of these musings, I've allowed quite a variety in how students are permitted to position themselves during direct instruction in the library: they can sit on the carpet, pull up a chair, or stand. My only caveat is that you put yourself in a way that helps you learn; if someone spends too much time chatting while parked on a chair near their pals, they are asked to move.

There are two notable exceptions to this unofficial policy of mine. One has to do with a particular junior division class that really has issues with excessive talking, which unfortunately leads to some social conflicts. I've resorted to something my predecessor used to do: "library lines". These are predetermined spots on the carpet for every single student. To be frank, I'm not a big fan of the set-up and neither are the students, but I can get 10 minutes for delivering information in a lecture format without gossip and distractions. I hope that this class and I can renegotiate these arrangements so we can gather in a manner that suits our goals and personalities.
The second exception involves the kindergarten students and I keep to a traditional form of seating because the students are still learning about the culture of school. The teachers might not be happy if I undo all their efforts to instill the "criss-cross applesauce" / "5 point check" routines involved with instruction on the carpet.

I suspect, however, that this laissez-faire approach to sitting may sometimes backfire on me. Some students might feel that since I am not strict about how they sit, I might be lax in how they listen (which for me are two separate things). I notice that as a specialist teacher, some kids are more likely to attempt some form of misbehaviour (e.g. talking during instruction time) with me than with their regular classroom teacher - are there other factors at play? Can it be that by demonstrating bodily forms that indicate attentive listening (such as keeping your eyes on the speaker, folding your hands so you don't fiddle, and positioning your body directly toward the person talking), you can trick your mind into truly listening? Or is that a fallacy, because you can sit nicely but your mind is a million kilometers away?

I'd love to talk with people more about this. In the meantime, I'll search around and in the comments I'll post any links to the importance of sitting for learning purposes in school.

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