Reflections on Shifting to a Flexible Classroom
Learning environment modifications are frequently motivated by the teacher’s personal philosophy on how students learn best in a given situation. When I made the decision to remove the student desks from my grade 7 English classroom for the remainder of the school year, I was motivated to do so by my observations of how my students learned and my analysis of how I could best support them in that learning process.
NEA’s article “Understanding Universal Design in the Classroom” explains that a learning space is an important aspect of the overall educational experience: “One cannot have a community of learners without having a positive instructional climate.” Instructors contribute to the development of this climate through their actions, which range from the way they respond to student questions to the arrangement of the classroom chairs.” When it came to my students, traditional seating made it difficult for them to use the classroom in the ways that were necessary for them to achieve the learning objectives I set for them as modern learners.
In order for the classroom environment to be representative of what students will encounter in their future careers, collaboration, problem solving, and the creation of meaning should be at the forefront of most job descriptions. Standard desks that are arranged in rows do not encourage open communication and collaboration among employees. The desks in my classroom had previously been arranged in pairs or small groups in an attempt to encourage conversation. However, traditional desks in groups did not foster the personalised, collaborative learning environment that my students wished to have.
MY JOURNEY WITH FLEXIBLE SEATING
When I first started looking into ways to change the classroom environment, I was careful not to try to create a “Pinterest-perfect” classroom and instead focused on the purpose of flexible seating: giving students a voice and a choice within their classroom. Eventually, I came up with a solution that worked for me. I incorporated a variety of seating options at various levels throughout the room, and students were able to find workstations that were both comfortable and functional for them.
Education professionals from all over the country have contacted me with questions about how to manage flexible seating in a middle school classroom since I published my article about changing my room one year ago. Due to the fact that they are in the midst of adolescence, which brings with it a great deal of change for them, middle school students present a unique set of challenges. Every topic imaginable has been covered, from student feedback and funding to parental concerns and planning for substitutes, all the way down to basic logistics and materials. There are a variety of approaches that can be used to address these questions; at the end of the day, a classroom environment is all about meeting the needs of the students who are present.
Despite the fact that I did not have any traditional desks in my classroom when the school year began, I did have traditional options available, such as standard tables with ergonomic plastic chairs, when the year began. I made an effort to be sensitive to the needs of all learners—many students prefer nontraditional seating arrangements, but an equal number prefer a more traditional learning environment.
Student feedback surveys in each marking period were used last year to determine “home base” seating for my students, which is the seat where they would sit each day for attendance and initial instruction. With distractions and confusion that come with transitioning between classes, having home base seats helped to alleviate this problem.
I also inquired as to whether they desired any traditional desks, to which they responded affirmatively, and whether they had any preferences regarding the placement of furniture. This feedback was extremely beneficial, especially given the fact that the room was being used by multiple classes on a daily basis.
I made changes to the classroom on a number of occasions throughout the school year in response to suggestions from my students, which I believe was a critical factor in the pilot program’s success. Being responsive to their changing needs was essential in my classroom, which was in fact their classroom.
As summer draws to a close and I consider the furniture I already have in my classroom, as well as the new items I’ve acquired through various local grant opportunities, I’m thinking about how I can use each piece in a variety of ways.
THE BENEFITS I SAW
Students seemed more open to collaborating with a variety of peers in a variety of locations when I implemented station work and students moved to different seats to work with a new group than they had been when I used traditional seating, which I had not anticipated.
The way my students took an active role in their educational journey when given the opportunity to choose something as simple as where they wanted to complete an assignment was something I admired about them. According to the National Education Association’s article, “Students know how they learn best.” Recognize the expertise they bring to the classroom and involve them in the process of creating a positive learning environment.”
Although it may seem impossible, students can complete their best work while lying on the classroom floor, sitting in an Adirondack chair, or even curled up in a tyre seat. I’ve been astounded by the lively debates that have erupted among my students, as well as by the ease with which they have shared writing samples and ideas about literary topics with a diverse group of their peers.
The term “flexible seating” refers to more than just having a variety of different and entertaining seats in the classroom. Using student voice, gaining buy-in, enhancing collaborative learning, and prioritising students’ needs in terms of the learning environment are all important aspects of the process of student empowerment.