One of the biggest accomplishments in having Student-Centered Learning flourish in your classroom is generating student buy-in. While this happens a number of different ways, the first step in accomplishing this is setting up the classroom for a collaborative environment. How to do this? Flexible seating.
Think about what a traditional classroom looks like.
With all those desks facing the same direction, it lends itself immediately to the concept that everyone in the room should be focusing on the same thing…..the sage on the stage.
How easy is it for a student to work on their 21st-century skills in that environment?
What if we designed classrooms that actually encouraged these skills? What if they could look more like this?
This is what has been lovely coined as “The Starbucks Classroom“. But realistically, not every teacher can manage to turn their classroom into a coffee shop setting. Most are not fortunate enough to have a budget that will allow for a complete classroom overhaul….however, it doesn’t take much to work with what you have. Creating an environment that is equipped with flexible seating is much easier than you would think and your budget can be small…or not at all!
How to Set Up Flexible Seating in an Ordinary Classroom
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I always set up my traditional desks in some pod type formation. I have found that the best set-up (for starting, anyway) is in groups of 3. Two desks face one another and then one comes in from the side…this way, even though they are grouped together, they are not sitting right next to one another. Everyone has their own personal space. Though this isn’t necessarily the textbook definition of flexible seating, it is at least an arrangement that encourages interaction between the students and focuses less on the expectation that the teacher will be talking to them.
Want to have fun with this? On the first day of school when the students get settled, I tell them to point to the front of the classroom on the count of three. They legitimately all point in different directions (ultimately, one student finally gets it right because he or she will look up to see the direction the projector is pointed), but this is the POINT. With flexible seating, there is no “front” of the classroom. It is a classroom environment, not a cookie cutter room.
I highly believe in flexible seating. In my own experience, I can attest that students will do better work if they are comfortable. Maybe they need to sit on something soft, or stretch out, or even stand. As educators, should we be more concerned that they are complying with what everyone else is the room is doing or that they are giving us their best possible work?
Putting these little accents in a classroom doesn’t have to be expensive. If you do have a small budget, you can really get creative with flexible seating. You can purchase a few yoga balls and large pillows (I have dog beds in my classroom….don’t tell my teenagers that’s actually what they are!) for $5 a pop at Five Below, which is exactly what I did last summer. You can also get fancier ones like this one from Amazon. The difference in the classroom demeanor has been huge.
(as a side note, did you know you can get a 30-day trial of Amazon Prime with 2-day shipping??? Nothing is better than seeing something you want to swipe for your classroom and it arriving in the blink of an eye.)
Of course, this is a process that takes some molding. Pillow fights and dodge-yoga-ball are strictly prohibited. I put it in a way that gets a bit of a giggle, but they get it:
If you wouldn’t throw a chair, you can’t throw a yoga ball.
(For the record, you would be shocked with the difference a yoga ball can make with a student who has ADHD. Just being able to sit on one and wiggle around a little bit helps them to focus on their work. It’s unbelievable. You can find some really nice ones that are actually chairs if that works in your classroom better and your budget is also a little flexible. The possibilities are endless.)
When I explained the concept of flexible seating on Back to School Night this past year, a parent chimed right in. “This makes complete sense,” she said. “When I get to work, I get myself situated, turn on my music, and can’t get started until I am comfortable and ready to go. Why wouldn’t that also work for the kids?”
Another huge draw for buy-in to the student-centered classroom? Playing music. I am able to cheat in US History II class…I play music from whatever decade we are covering. In other classes where that’s not applicable, I usually select some genres that I know would have classroom appropriate songs and have the students vote. I usually rotate through the top two choices. It gets to the point where if there ISN’T music playing, it seems too quiet. On the flip side, if the students’ seem a bit rambunctious and I haven’t turned on the tunes yet, there is a sense of calm that takes over the room. Though this seems counterproductive, according to a great article by Terry Hurley (found here), she explains that “a large number of students feel they are able to concentrate better and feel more relaxed with their headsets on and music blasting.”
These are just some little things that you can do to make your classroom a place where students will be more motivated to actively work on those 21st-century skills. This, BY FAR, is not the end-all-be-all of what can be done in a classroom (check out my post on student-centered brain breaks), but it hopefully is sparking some creativity in your mind. As I mentioned before, flexible seating is a lot easier to put together than you would think….just be creative with what you have already! For more ideas, feel free to follow my Pinterest board on the subject, found here. Thanks for reading.