In the past, you’d walk into a classroom and see that each student had their own, personal work space. Students sat at their own desk, which likely was one of five or six in a row. The teacher also had his or her own desk, situated away from their students, whether located at the very front or very back of the room. As time progressed, teachers did start to explore different seating plans. While reading this, you’re likely remembering how your primary teachers moved desks together and allowed you to sit with partners or in smaller groups. What was the intention of this? Social and academic engagement requires teachers to provide opportunities to create interactions between his or her students. Often, classroom relationship dynamics on their own will not foster new relationships, but rather reinforce the friendships that are already present before the school year began, and thus creating a barrier between new academic and social relationships.
Enter the flexible seating plan. Have you ever seen the offices in Silicon Valley? Have you noticed the way employers foster collaboration and creativity? The work space is informal and comfortable. Work areas are not uniform and allow movement and freedom. Conversations begin between one or two people then grow as more join in and share viewpoints. Their collaborative work does not require each employee to be busying themselves on the same task as their co-workers, but rather contributing with their personal strengths as part of a whole project.
Recreating this in the classroom requires an out-of-the-box approach. Gone are the days where each student requires access to their own desk with their own materials. Stools surrounding tables, couches, chairs, and standing work areas that are not assigned will require students to collaborate and move around. Just because it’s a “classroom”, doesn’t mean it has to look like one. Creating the comfortable environment will take practice and a lot of reinforcement in the beginning. There’s a good chance your students have not experienced an environment like this before. Successful work will be the constant, and reinforcing the means to accomplish that (collaborative discussions, sharing prior/learned knowledge, and exploring learning through technology) will decrease unnecessary distractions. Primary/Junior teachers may want to look into a reward-based system to encourage positive behaviours in the different work spaces. The teacher in this video uses a badge system that allows students to earn their opportunties to work in each different learning zone (tables). In an intermediate or high school setting, a reward system may not be as appropriate. At that level, the rewards will be the successful work that comes out of a postive learning environment. Consequences can be the inverse of that. Poor work will cleary come from an overall lack of engagement. Teachers may also want to think about parent contact if behaviours are greatly interferring.
The means to create these environment are going to depend greatly on the materials teachers have access to. A common complaint heard by a lot of teachers is the lack of financial availability to create a flexible environment such as the one in the above video. Teachers dedicate enough of their own personal funds to create a positive classroom environment, by no means should they go beyond what they are already doing. Often a trip to a store that sells recycled furniture can turn up a number of helpful items. Asking parents to donate cushions and pillows may also be a large help. Start small and build on the environment you are creating throughout the year.
I've attached a few pictures below of what a flexible environment might look like. Student input will be key to creating this environment, also. The idea of a flexible seating plan is to give students choice in their learning. Asking them what would be comfortable but still allowing for engagment is important when setting up a flexible seating plan.
Thanks for reading!