It is August 1st, and thus my thoughts, and the thoughts of educators around the nation, move to the new school year — one that has both new challenges and possibilities. One new opportunity that has arisen for me is the move to a newly constructed classroom for Lights Academy, the personalized, project-based learning experience which I am privileged to lead at Lutheran High School. As our school is blessed with continued growth, new learning spaces have been carved out of the existing building over the summer. One of those spaces will be the new headquarters for my work with our personalized learning students.
With the opportunity and challenge to cast a vision for this classroom as far as the look, feel, and practical furniture elements I have considered the contribution of numerous articles and research findings in sharing my ideas. While the end result will be a work in progress throughout the year as we will barely reach the deadline for the occupancy of this space by the start of school, I thought it might be helpful to share some of my findings and some links for those who are on a similar journey.
To that end, here are some guiding thoughts on this topic:
- Flexible seating implies a choice in working environments for students. If choice is not also present in their learning activities, students will experience a significant disconnect.
- Flexible seating is not an end goal, but rather an ongoing conversation. We will be creating our first attempt at this environment but it would be unrealistic to believe that we will have created the perfect classroom setting for the academy. In fact, the perfect environment is a moving target as needs change.
- Students should be encouraged to try out all kinds of seating several times before deciding upon what works for them.
- Lighting and color palettes are important considerations in creating an engaging learning environment, especially since there are many sensory issues that result in children (and adults!) from traditional classroom lighting.
- My research into color palettes is continuing. I hope to have more to share on this research path in the future. I am also accessing research some of my students have completed for their project work as part of this process.
- Flexible seating does not necessarily need to be expensive. There are many ingenious educators out there who are creating amazing rooms of learning on a budget.
- If one expects a classroom to be infused with technology then access to outlets is a consideration for the floor plan.
- Embracing flexible seating naturally implies a certain level of students freedom. Anyone creating this type of environment must be ready to cede a significant level of control to student freedom.
- I have made it a point to ask students in advance about their needs and wants in a classroom. This is THEIR place for learning. I am simply the caretaker and facilitator.
- There are still times when whole class instructions or conversations are desired. The research supports the creation of some sort of semi-circle configuration for these interactions.
- Get feedback and keep the reflection loop open when evaluating your room. Ask students about their comfort and productivity. Encourage them to think deeply and analyze what is happening in their room. Then act if there are better approaches.
- Remember that a flexible environment will not promote engaging learning in itself. It is simply the canvas on which an amazing educational masterpiece is created. Our relationships with students and the guidance and openness we provide them in taking responsibility for their own learning is what will set them apart for future success. The physical space is simply designed to foster this result as best as possible.
Like a true flexible learning space, I am also a work in progress as to my understanding of how these classrooms can set the proper environment for the type of learning I value. I have not “arrived” at a proper understanding of these spaces, nor do I expect to ever reach that point. Too much is changing in this world and in education for that to happen. But hopefully I have taken some significant steps in the learning process about these spaces through my summer research.
Below is a list of articles that I found helpful on this journey. I hope that you might find something useful for yourself or your school as well:
- On Flexible Seating
- Classroom layout — what does the research say?
- 9 Awesome High School Flexible Seating Classrooms
- Flexible Classrooms: Research Is Scarce, But Promising
- A 7th Grade Teacher’s Shift to Flexible Seating
- Top 3 Reasons to Use Flexible Seating in the Classroom
- Guidelines on Exploring and Adapting Learning Spaces in Schools
- I have also gleaned ideas through the use of the #LearningSpaces hashtag on Twitter.