Picture a traditional classroom. What do you see? Likely a blackboard at the front, next to a large teacher’s desk. On the teacher’s desk, of course, is an apple. The students’ desks are smaller, lined up in rows. Students sit at attention, their eyes on the teacher or they are working furiously. Ultimately, not a very flexible setting. Maybe you picture the classroom in A Christmas Story where Ralphie is dreaming of his Red Rider BB gun. Remember the drawer? Pretty much every teacher has one.
With the exception of ‘that drawer’ modern classrooms are changing. Today, Oxnard School District, in Ventura County, California, is piloting a program where classrooms are anything but traditional. Children in their district who struggle to regulate their emotions attend a therapeutic classroom so that they can learn the skills they need to transition back to the regular classroom. This therapeutic classroom has a variety of places for kids to sit, from bean bags to couches, table, places to stand, and even a separate ‘quiet room’ where kids can go to calm down.
An increasing number of teachers are using a variety of seating arrangements to address the diverse needs of their students.
Sadly, we don’t all have space or resources to make all of our classrooms therapeutic. This change can be a bit overwhelming for many teachers; not to mention a little intimidating when it comes to the management aspect. However, all these challenges can be addressed.
Focus on Goals: So, where should you start? Well, that all depends on what you want to accomplish. Do your students do a lot of group work? Do they need a space to work independently? A little of both? Do you need a place for direct instruction as a whole group, or will a small group only suffice? Again, just you can make these decisions so decide what to implement based on how you want your class to function.
Small Changes: You’ve probably already implemented ‘nontraditional’ changes to your classroom. Probably the first pioneer out of the ‘desks in rows’ tradition happened when a teacher decided to push some tables together to make a group. Nowadays, many teachers don’t even have desks, opting instead for their students to sit at tables all of the time. The great thing about tables is that students can talk and work together. Small changes have the ability to make a huge impact on the students– especially with their ability to focus. However, there are drawbacks about this seating arrangement (all seating arrangements have their own disadvantages,), especially for easily distracted students.
Incorporate Variety: The bad thing about tables is that students can talk. If a student needs to take a test or read quietly, or is easily distracted by others, they may need a more private space. However, no one needs to sit alone all day, and all kids need to work with others sometimes. This is why many teachers with flexible seating arrangements opt for variety. Perhaps some tables for group work, some desks for individual work, and a big carpet for whole group instruction.
Give the Students a Say: Listen to the students’ opinions, let them make choices, and let them be partners in learning. One article from Edutopia explains how an ambitious study of 153 classrooms in the United Kingdom provides the best evidence that flexible spaces can boost academic performance. While some children focus best sitting at a table or desk, others focus better on other seating arrangements. Let children try many out and guide them to find what is best for them. Encourage them to honestly choose what helps them learn best, not just what is the most fun.
Keep in mind that there is no ‘right’ way to incorporate flexible seating into your classroom and it isn’t an all or nothing approach. Only you know what will work best for you and your students.
By: Amy Curletto
Amy has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.