Flexible seating has been trending for a couple of years now in education. While I have had flexible seating options in my classroom for over 20 years, I have never written about it until now. I wanted to wait for a while and let this “new” trend settle for a bit before diving in. Just what IS flexible seating? Probably the best information I’ve seen can be found in this pdf from the California Department of Education. Why? It’s because it outlines flexible learning environments not just flexible seating. You see, flexible seating is just one aspect of the move towards learning environments that support the way kids (and adults) learn best. A more important factor is how teaching matches the learning environment.
According to the CDOE, it is essential to provide flexible learning environments that support diverse teaching and learning needs. Learner-centered classrooms should be designed to accommodate different teaching and learning formats, including: individual study and reflection, one-on-one instruction, peer-to-peer discussion, small-group work, teacher-directed instruction, and student presentation.
Just like when self regulation was a “trend”, it was sometimes assumed it just meant to “slow down” or “focus” but it meant much more than that. It meant becoming self aware and setting learning goals to be able to move forward in your learning. Sure, being able to focus is one aspect, but it isn’t the whole picture.
I really don’t like to call these things “trends” as it feels like it trivializes the importance of these movements towards understanding learners and their learning environments. It’s important to understand that when something becomes popular we need to really take a close look at the research behind it and NOT trivialize it if the research and pedagogy is solid.
Flexible learning environments can be implemented in classrooms with kids of any age. Obviously the guidelines for each age are different. This post is about general tips and strategies for creating learner-centered environments in all classrooms.
One of the most important things that teachers need to know about flexible seating is that strong classroom management is needed to make this successful. So, whether you are a seasoned teacher and you are changing your classroom and environment up or you are a new teacher and just starting teaching for the first time, you will need to focus on your management and routines first.
From my experience, two things are common when a teacher begins this journey:
1.The experienced teacher changes the environment to flexible seating but does not change the style of teaching so the kids are caught in an uncomfortable space that doesn’t feel right and classroom management is lost. As a result, the teacher sees it as the flexible seating component does not “work”.
2. The new teacher is all over the flexible seating because it is what it “new” and common right now. S/he dives in with all the flexible things and cute anchor charts about flexible seating rules from Pinterest or another source and the students are excitable and chatty and not learning much. Trying to reel them in is next to impossible. Usually this poor new teacher has to deal with this for much of the year because strong classroom management skills aren’t intact yet. Maybe the teacher may resort to all kinds of extrinsic resorts like clip charts, draws, prizes, mini award tags and such – all in an effort to gain control.
What do these teachers have in common? They both have their heart in their classrooms. They both have a strong desire to serve and to create an environment where students learn. What’s missing? The synergy of teaching and learning and the space in which they do it. How is that accomplished? It is done together with your students and guided by research based pedagogy about teaching and learning.
If this has been your experience, you are in the right place. Don’t feel bad, it’s pretty normal. Think of it as a growth mindset for teachers. (We all need it don’t we?) I even wrote about my own struggles and growth here.
Here are 6 tips to help you get started to create a flexible learning environment where classroom management, a flexible learning environment and student growth go together. (This post contains affiliate links.)
Plan for Teaching and Learning Spaces
Flexible seating is one component of a flexible learning environment. The type of seating you choose should reflect different types of lessons you will be teaching. You want to be able to have students move the furniture around to accommodate whole class, small group cooperative learning, partner work and 1-1 learning. Varying your teaching is important to keep kids engaged. Shorter mini lessons have replaced the teacher-centered longer lessons from years ago. Generally, a strong 15 minute mini lesson is all that is needed if it is planned well and includes student interactions and discussions.
Not everyone has the “luxury” of getting furniture on wheels so you have to be realistic. Carpet stores sometime give out their sample carpet squares to teachers. Students can grab a square before coming to a learning spot. Below you will find some other options that are easily moved and also comfortable for kids. Have a variety of different seats for your students to choose. Tall tables, short tables, bean bag chairs, desks in quiet areas of the classroom. (Many of these are available online, like at Amazon.) Remember, not everything has to be purchased – a tall table for standing and working can be a counter space or a bookshelf. Think outside the box. 🙂
Classroom meetings are probably the most underrated classroom learning tool. Sure, they are quite popular right now in some classrooms, but the impact of effective ones cannot be overstated. Starting the year with classroom meetings is important not only to introduce students to you and your classroom but also to build the classroom culture of social learning. Kids need to feel a sense of belonging in order to learn. (Read some of the research here. Furrer and Skinner, 2003). Maslow is probably the most famous researcher for explaining a human’s needs. I created a kid-friendly poster set to help you teach this. You can grab this FREE poster here.
What can you talk about in classroom meetings? At the beginning of the year you want to set the stage for learning. With your class, develop some protocols for learning with them. Creating an anchor chart WITH your students during the meeting will help them feel part of the process and they can look back to what was discussed and agreed upon. Here are some ideas.
Develop Some Learning Protocols With Your Students
a.) How to be a good listener. (Why is it important?)
b.) Proper use of flexible seating so everyone can learn. (What happens when someone is not appropriate with their seating choice? I usually gave each student one chance and then it was teacher’s choice.)
c.) Classroom jobs: if you already have them up, discuss the purpose (to keep the classroom clean and running smoothly, to give students a sense of responsibility, to help the teacher and custodian). If you don’t have them posted, create them together. Kids are SO good at this. When you do this, they own the job more. 🙂
d.) Character traits: the importance of perseverance, honesty etc. (Find some helpful posters here)
e.) Sharing writing/stories
f.) Student of the week: celebrate passions, cultures, ideas.
g) Solving problems in peaceful ways: have a system to discuss problems and come up with solutions.
h.) Sharing ideas to help others: social responsibility.
Self reflection is for students and teachers. It is an important aspect of the classroom (and even your daily life). Students should self reflect as part of their learning journey. Teachers should self reflect as part of their teaching practice. What’s working? What’s not?
Self reflection about learning styles, and all kinds of character traits help students to understand what makes them tick. When they understand more about themselves, they are better able to work in a busy classroom with others that aren’t necessarily like them. Acceptance of different learning styles on the part of the teacher is also important.
As teachers, we are always planning, marking and working on classroom management. In a truly flexible learning environment, we are spending more time with planning for student learning based on formative assessment, spending time with the students in “conferences on the go” and reflecting on the process and learning our students are doing. Assess, plan, teach, conference and interact, reflect, repeat. Viola!
Growth mindset is really popular right now and rightfully so. Growth mindset is a way of thinking to promote resilience and foster learning growth. Students and teachers can both practice their growth mindset skills. We all have things to learn and adjusting your thinking is the first step. Carol Dwek is the researcher behind growth mindset. You can watch her awesome Tedtalk to learn all about it here.
What comes before growth mindset? Mindfulness and self awareness. 🙂 You can’t move forward if you are not self aware of where you are at and how you think at the present moment. Teaching mindfulness is not very complicated and students love it. Using a mindful notebook is a helpful tool. It also is a great first step towards growth mindset. When students know how they learn best, they can choose environments and places to learn that will help them maximize their learning.
Even our youngest students can set goals. Setting goals is important for moving forward in your learning and in your life. Why is this important in your flexible learning environment classroom? Setting goals gives students something to work towards. When students have goals, they are more engaged in their learning because they have control over their learning. Goal setting, coupled with growth mindset is powerful! Everyone wants to achieve some form of success. It feels so good! When we use a growth mindset with goals, it’s okay if we don’t succeed the first time. It teaches students perseverance! It teaches students to make great choices. That is the cornerstone of flexible seating and the flexible learning environment.
Taking some time out each day for a mini “celebration” of sorts is a great way to celebrate all sorts of different kinds of learning. Celebrating perfection is not. It can be as simple as setting some time up during the working part of a lesson to share some great writing or to showcase some art work. It’s about celebrating the learning process not just the product. It’s probably why I always value quality of lessons over showy crafts. I want my students to design, create, choose, share and be 100% into their learning journey. If you are the same, you’ve come to the right place.
The beauty of implementing the flexible learning environment in your classroom is that you can teach using a variety of strategies and groupings, and you have the environment to do it! This is the most success when you understand the curriculum well, and pre-assess your students. By including students in the process of creating and establishing the rules for the classroom, classroom management is much easier.
Have you been doing a successful version of flexible seating? Please leave your own tips and strategies in the comments for others to read.