An experienced elementary teacher shares his eight-year experience in establishing a student-centered learning environment with the audience….
Nine years ago, I began to consider the possibility of redesigning the layout of my classroom. Since I was a child, the traditional organisational structure had remained largely unchanged. The eighth year that I have been experimenting with flexible seating options with second and third grade students has come to a close.
I enlisted the assistance of my students in brainstorming design concepts. I was confident that if I completed that step successfully, I would be able to add furniture to my classroom.
Every year, I add a new type of seating to the collection. First, I chose ball chairs for the dining room, then tables with wheels and wobble stools were added. In recent years, I’ve added scoop rockers and office chairs to my collection, which I’m quite pleased with. Over the past eight years, I’ve received grants to assist me in gathering non-traditional seating options for my performances. There are 14 tables with wheels and eight wobble stools among the options. There are six lap desks. There are six scoop rockers. There are four ball chairs. There are four office chairs. In addition, there are four radio station spots. I still have a total of ten regular chairs.
WHAT IT DOES AND HOW IT WORKS
In the fall, I rearrange the furniture in the room to my liking. During the first few weeks of school, my students and I go over expectations and ground rules with one another. As soon as we have established the groundwork and expectations in our classroom, I teach a lesson on each seating option and encourage students to try them all out.
After students have explored the space and tried out all of the seating options, I ask for their assistance in determining the layout of the room for the remainder of the year. It is critical for me to receive feedback from students. I remind my students on a regular basis that this is their classroom, not mine. They should desire to be able to learn in an environment that reflects their own personal values.
After that, the students assist me in developing rules for flexible seating. My students can refer to the posters for each option throughout the year because they are posted in a visible location. When using the ball chairs, students must keep their feet firmly planted on the ground and avoid excessive bounces to avoid injury. We go over the rules again to ensure that everyone understands what is expected of them.
Any teacher who is interested in implementing flexible seating should start small and build up their experience. Choose one item to bring into the classroom and then gradually add more items. The importance of quality over quantity cannot be overstated. I only purchase items made of plastic that can be washed easily. Fabric is also something I avoid, with the exception of my office chairs, because it is difficult to keep clean and maintain.
When implementing flexible seating, teachers must consider how they will utilise available storage space. Our standard mailbox slots are large enough to accommodate my students’ work boxes, which are small plastic trays. This is the location where they keep their notebooks and folders for the day. The school provides each student with a Tupperware supply box that contains crayons, markers, and coloured pencils. It is possible for students to locate their supplies and work bins from any location they choose.
Each type of seating has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Teachers must think about how they will store, manage, and use each piece of flexible seating before purchasing it. I still don’t have a complete set of any type of seating, which is frustrating. Different things appeal to different children. When it comes to choosing a seat, students have a lot of options.
Each month, students assist me in selecting their work locations. Students have their own work areas to complete their assignments. Their classroom is divided into four sections: a row for whole-group instruction, a circle for morning meetings, a math spot, and a reading spot A pod spot is a collaborative space for scientists to work on science experiments. Additionally, a test spot allows students to put each other to the test. The workstations are the ones that are most frequently used.
MANAGEMENT OF THE CLASSROOM
Students, and student groups, are all distinct from one another. My students require structure, but they also require little or no freedom. In previous years, my students were given complete freedom to explore. Teachers must become acquainted with their students in order to provide flexible seating. I spend time getting to know my students at the beginning of each year so that I can have more control over where they sit in the classroom later on. As they become more comfortable with the various seating options, I give them more latitude in their choices. When students aren’t comfortable with one type of seating, I restrict their access to that type of seating. This model necessitates excellent classroom management skills.
Every year, I set a goal for myself to improve something in my classroom that is more student-centered. In recent years, I have concentrated on the integration of technology and the creation of collaborative spaces. This year, I’ve made more space for students who prefer to work on their own projects.
Whether or not I want to be a teacher in my own classroom is a question I ask myself on a regular basis. Eight years of trial and error have led me to believe that I am capable of responding affirmatively. My classroom is a wonderful environment in which to learn. It’s one of a kind and extremely comfortable. My students and I are still excited about brainstorming ways to make it even more enjoyable for them next year, so please stay tuned.