Flexible seating in primary and elementary classrooms is becoming more common as teachers, students, administrators and community members learn more about the benefits of this contemporary learning environment. Lauren Wells and Jennie Richardson’s class of Year 4 students at Rossmoyne Primary School in Perth, Australia, are one such group to have ditched the familiar aesthetic of traditional student desks and chairs. Not only do they benefit from access to this new kind of classroom setup, but the students themselves designed and “sold” it to their school’s administrators as a STEM project.
Flexible Seating Classroom Design
Lauren, who job-shares with her colleague Jennie Richardson, says that this new learning space had been in the pipeline all year. Rather than beginning with a sudden and ‘cold’ introduction of a flexible learning environment, the teaching duo worked on the development of key skills.
“We started by ensuing that we taught our students to be independent learners, who are able to make the right decisions and be self regulated in their learning. Once we felt our students were able to successfully demonstrate these skills, Jennie and I started our STEM program on Flexible Learning.”
At the beginning of Term 3 2017, the students completed a STEM unit in which they researched and developed their own flexible seating classroom design.
“Students walked into an empty classroom and were asked to design a space that they thought they would be able to learn best in. This led students to exploring the benefits of flexible learning and what changes we would need to make in order to fill our empty space.
Perhaps even more importantly, subsequent to designing the space, students were required to write a persuasive text and an itemised budget which was then presented to the school’s administration team. Lauren says that these documents helped to secure some funding to create the “dream” classroom space.
Does Flexible Seating Really Work?
Lauren admits that she and her class have only been working in their student-designed flexible seating space for a few weeks, but that the response has been nothing but positive. It seems clear to me that the student-centred approach that Lauren and her teaching partner Jennie have taken towards implementing a flexible seating classroom has gone a long way towards ensuring its success.
We have had parents and colleagues tell us that our classroom is very peaceful and zen-like, as students are able to confidently move between working independently and cooperatively.
While it isn’t hard to understand how flexible seating options may assist students who always need to move, Lauren has observed positive changes in all of her students.
Those students who struggled sitting at a desk to work are now the first to get to work and we hardly hear a word out of them all day. Those students who worked well in a traditional classroom have also made some wonderful changes in behaviour as they are now more interactive and supportive of their peers. Even those students who were trapped in their shell, have become more confident and I put this down to having a classroom that is welcoming, calming and non-threatening.
Lauren’s Affordable Flexible Seating Tips
1. Avoid Impulse Buys
“Sourcing our furniture took a bit of research. We had a small budget but didn’t want that to reflect in the choices we made. We ended up getting all the furniture from either normal stores such as Fantastic Furniture, Ikea and Kmart or Gumtree.”
2. Create a Colour Theme
“When selecting our furniture, we made sure we stuck to our colour theme and kept the shades of colour the same. We also made sure that any patterns were in the same texture and theme to ensure everything looked like it belongs together.”
3. Set Up Clear Expectations
“As we expected, there was a lot of excitement at the beginning and kids will be kids, testing the boundaries. After they had some time to sit in each of our zones, we came together to work out the expectations and consequences. When students do not use the furniture correctly they are given a warning. This means that they need to choose another place to sit. If they then continue to not follow the rules, they sit in “teacher’s choice” for the rest of the day.”
4. Try Every Seating Option
“It took a week for students to get used to each zone and when it is best to use different areas. They are now at a stage where they can successfully select a spot appropriate to the activity they need to complete. For example, they have worked out that if they are to complete a handwriting activity they would sit at a table, whereas they can sit on the couch if they are reading or on their MacBooks.”
5. Become Behaviour/Design-Responsive
“Since the first week, we have made some changes. The mattress is now gone and has been replaced with three more beanbags and coffee tables. This was due to the zone getting too dirty and becoming a “pile up the pillows” zone instead of a work zone. We also found that we needed to separate the exercise balls as they would rub together and make a horrible noise.”
6. Make Classroom Pack Up Easy
“The end of day pack up is managed with photos of each zone placed around the room for students to follow. They are now able to pack up all trays, pillows and desks in just a couple of minutes. This quick and easy pack up routine is helped by each student having one pencil pot to hold all their stationary and it is kept on top of the drawers at all times. This shared storage means that no one can claim a space as we all have equal ownership.”
7. Invite Feedback!
“We also have a display in our classroom where parents, admin and students from around the school are able to post their comments. All feedback has been amazing! We have even been able to convert a few sceptics.”
Flexible seating classrooms definitely challenge traditional ideas about what learning “should” look like. Yet, advocates of this new approach to physical classroom environments suggest that it is exactly what 21st-century learning needs to look like.
While the structures imposed by mainstream curriculum and assessment requirements remain somewhat inflexible, the physical environment that student learning takes place in is more within the control of teachers and schools themselves. Year 4 teachers Lauren and Jennie, and the school administrators and communities that support them, are taking one of the most visible steps towards mainstream acceptance of student-centred learning.
This article and the images it contains have been used with the permission of Rossmoyne Primary School in Perth. We extend our thanks to Lauren Wells, Jennie Richardson and the school administration for allowing us to share their flexible seating classroom story!