Picture a classroom. Chances are, you thought of nice wood desks in perfectly straight rows with a teacher at the front of the room with a chalkboard or whiteboard, right?
Supporters of flexible seating might tell you that that is an old-fashioned classroom and doesn’t fully explore the possibilities of a 21st century school.
The idea of flexible seating—allowing students to sit wherever they want around the room in various types of seats from exercise balls to milk crates, to bean bag chairs -- has gained some traction over the last several years. The idea is that students, especially young students, need a chance to move, fidget, and sit in different ways throughout the day, rather than being at one desk for an entire school day.
In fact, studies suggest that students who have short bursts of physical activity throughout the day – even just brief movement – are more likely to stay on task and have increased classroom performance. Jason Markusen, an elementary school principal at a school that has embraced flexible seating, wrote a blog detailing some of the improvements he’s seen in his school’s classrooms as a result of offering students more seating options. Among those are improved penmanship, better focus, and improved posture.
As you might imagine, making the switch to flexible seating is not something that can be done overnight and may take a little getting used to. Markusen even mentions the amount of planning time they spent, as well as the budget needed to replace traditional seating options with flexible ones.
Kayla Delzer, one of Markusen’s teachers, agreed in a blog she wrote. Many of Delzer’s seating options are relatively inexpensive ($3 milk crates, for example) but for those who don’t have the extra money to buy seating for their classrooms themselves, Delzer recommends looking into funding sources like DonorsChoose, which allows individual donations toward classroom projects or asking parents for help.
Additionally, both Markusen and Delzer emphasize the need to continue using excellent classroom management skills even when students have more freedom to move around. It requires extra effort in monitoring student work as they disperse around the room, but much like in a traditional classroom, it is all about setting boundaries and making sure students know what is expected of them.
There are, of course, many other things to consider when adopting a new classroom strategy of this magnitude. Here are just a few tips curated from principals and teachers who have been in your shoes:
Delzer suggests still having a main space in the classroom for whole group instruction. In her classroom, she has a large rug in the center for just such a purpose.
Delzer also recommends having more seating options than there are students, just in case one or more of your seating options are a little more popular than others
Another good idea is to encourage students to try out each seating option in the classroom for at least an entire school day, just to make sure they are making the best choice for their learning style and comfort.
Erin Klein, an advocate for flexible classroom seating, suggests that it is crucially important to be deliberate in your classroom design. She recommends thinking about lighting, colors, fabrics, and patterns in your room. The idea is to minimize distractions and maximize learning above all else.
This blog does a great job highlighting some of the creative seating options your teachers can use in their classrooms, both for individual student work and for collaborative and group assignments.
Regardless of how you roll out a flexible seating initiative, the key is that this is a great way to put emphasis on student-centered learning. Every aspect of the classroom is student-centered, even where and how students choose to sit!
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