Opinion
Teaching Opinion

I Tried a Flexible-Seating Classroom. Here’s What I Learned

By Julia Cin — August 21, 2019 4 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE

At first, I cringed when I thought about a classroom without perfectly tidy desks, pushed-in chairs, and thoughtfully chosen seating assignments. I thought, “Why would any teacher want to lose control of his or her classroom that way?”

While I despised making seating charts every month, I prided myself on it, too. Doing it well was kind of like solving a Rubik’s cube or complicated equation. But I started to warm to the idea of a flexible-seating classroom, where students can pick their own seats from a variety of options, when I visited one in action. What I saw was kids looking comfortable and engaged in their work.

Being ready to make the change was the easiest part of the process. There are many considerations to think about when implementing flexible seating: designing a classroom layout, purchasing items, logistics, and communication.

Pinterest and teacher blogs are flooded with idyllic-looking flexible-seating classrooms. The tricky part about them is that no two classrooms will look the same, so you have to do many sketches and adjustments to find what works for your space, your kids, and your style.

First Try

At first, I took out many desks, took off the legs of some desks, and raised other desks. I started the year with standing desks, wobble stools, stability cushions, scoop seats, crate seats, and our tent as seating choices.

I noticed that when kids didn’t have a desk, their belongings were everywhere (surprise, surprise) and it was harder to get their attention. I ended up adding all of my desks back into the classroom so that everyone has a desk. Some are standard height, and others are tall or very low. But all the children have a “home base” for their materials. It works better for my teaching, too, because when I teach whole group lessons, I can get students’ attention more quickly when they’re all sitting at desks.

Each night at pack-up time, I call students’ names to choose their seats for the next day. They move their magnet to one of the spots. Scoop seats and our tent are available for the students whose turn has come up for first choice in seating. But they still choose a “home base” for the day for their belongings.

BRIC ARCHIVE

Another consideration in implementing flexible seating is actually buying different kinds of seats. Some seats can cost more than $100 each. A shopping outlet mall near me has a program called TangerKIDS Grants. I won a $600 grant from this program, and that let me buy items I needed for this project. I bought scoop seats, stability cushions, six wobble stools, and log-shaped pillows for my tent.

Scholastic Book Club also has alternative seating that teachers can buy with points. And teachers can get bonus points at the beginning of the school year, which can aid in some of the most expensive purchases for alternative seats, like yoga balls and wobble stools. To encourage participation, I suggest telling parents this will be the only time you will send home catalogs, so they aren’t pressured repeatedly during the year.

How Will It Work?

The next consideration is classroom organization. Since the kids are not always going to work at the same spot, their materials need to be able to move around easily. This is where I thought I could simply use book bins that I already had.

The kids line their book bins in number order in our closet each night so they can quickly find their belongings and bring them to their new spots each day.

BRIC ARCHIVE

As the year progressed, we added workbooks, packets, papers, and other items along the way. But we ended up having materials spill out of fallen book bins every few minutes or get tripped on. I decided to take the dingy-looking crate seats that I had made over the summer, remove the cushions, and zip-tie two horizontal crates together for every seating group so they had storage shelves. That way kids can put their book bins in the crates so their materials don’t spill constantly.

I ended up going back to collaborative groups of four, but with different seats and levels. It helps to have a “home base” for everyone because that allows me to hold supplies that don’t need to be moved around each day, like books and privacy folders, in each desk.

Learning a New System

Doing my flexible-seating arrangement, I quickly learned that the kids need to be taught very explicitly how to use each seat and what to expect. I created a video showing the dos and don’ts of each seating option so that they can visualize appropriate behavior and responsibility.

The kids helped develop these guidelines and signed the back of them to signify that they agree to them.

BRIC ARCHIVE

We also created some guidelines as a group and they each signed them like a contract. During the first month of school, the kids tried all of the seating options because we rotated through each choice. Then when they had the choice to pick spots, they knew which spots were best for them.

Flexible seating can be frustrating and expensive. It can take a while for the kids to make good choices about where they should sit to be successful. Once that metacognition piece starts and they understand how they learn and work best, it’s worth all of the challenges. I’ve observed more thoughtful conversations, better peer relations, more teamwork, and fewer frustrations since they are in collaborative groups and can exert their energy through constant movement.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Opinion The Overlooked Way to Think Creatively When Solving Problems
In our eagerness to add options and opportunities, we forget the power of subtraction. Here’s how to brainstorm more effectively.
Leidy Klotz
1 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Getty
Teaching Opinion 'Cultivating Student Questioning Is Not a Onetime Thing'
Five educators and authors discuss ways to cultivate students asking questions, including through "question-storming."
15 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Teaching How the Pandemic Prompted Teachers to Give Students More Flexibility, Choice (in Charts)
A majority of teachers say they now give students more leeway over how to complete assignments and more opportunities to revise their work.
6 min read
Mother and son work at home on laptop.
Getty
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Sponsor
Planning for learning recovery? Start with learning science.
View Newsela’s academic paper and learn more about how the learning sciences are critical to your learning recovery plan.
Content provided by Newsela