Over the past several years, teachers of all grade levels and content areas have expressed a growing interest in flexible seating, an approach to classroom design in which some or all traditional desks/work spaces are replaced with a variety of more flexible options. I’m also one of those teachers, but until last year, I didn’t have my own classroom. This year, heading into my second year with my own space, I decided to expand my flexible seating options. The research on flexible seating is, as Edutopia has reported, “scarce but promising,” and so far has mostly focused on elementary age students. Nonetheless, given that flexible seating is often understood as simply an extension of a broader, student-centered pedagogy, its use in the classroom has less to do with grade level than with teaching philosophy — meaning that although it is perhaps more commonly used and studied at the elementary level, it has equally promising applications at the middle and secondary levels as well.
Here are a few of my personal reasons for incorporating flexible seating in my secondary classroom:
- I believe that every student is different and learns differently. Flexible seating is therefore another form of differentiation to meet every individual learner where they’re at.
- Flexible seating promotes metacognition in that it encourages students to consider what immediate learning environment will be most effective for them.
- Flexible seating honors student voice and choice by providing them with some control in selecting a learning environment.
- Flexible seating options can promote movement in the classroom (e.g. yoga balls, standing desks) and help reach kinesthetic learners.
- Flexible seating options can make it easier to plan lessons that incorporate group work and collaboration among students.
- My flexible seating (and other decor elements) make my students feel more comfortable and at home. Their increased comfort may drive up their engagement with the class overall.
- My flexible seating (and other decor elements) make me happy, too. Given how much time I spend in my classroom, this is no small thing.
However, I acknowledge that flexible seating may not be the right fit for every teacher, every classroom, or every school community. Some things that could conceivably impede teachers from implementing flexible seating, even those who may be interested in it, might include:
- Shared classroom space. I’m lucky enough to have my “own” classroom at my school, but when classrooms are shared, all teachers and students must share a common set of expectations in order for flexible seating to be successful.
- An inapt content area. Flexible seating is a natural fit in my English classroom, but I could imagine it wouldn’t make as much sense for my colleagues who teach Physics, for example.
- Unsupportive administration. I suspect this is more relevant at the secondary level at which I teach, as flexible seating in lower grades is becoming increasingly common.
- Budget limitations. As teachers, we already spend more than enough of our own money on our classrooms, so some teachers may be unwilling or unable to invest in flexible seating options that can withstand the daily use of teenage bodies.
Fortunately, none of the above constraints applied to me. But in proceeding with implementing flexible seating in my high school English classroom, I knew I had to be thoughtful and deliberate in order to stay on top of my budget, maintain effective classroom management, and avoid alienating parents and administration. In this series of four blog posts, I’ll share with you my planning process, what I’ve learned, and how my students have reacted.