So you’ve been scouring the Internet trying to decide if you are ready to take the leap to implement flexible seating in your classroom? Creating a 21st-century learning environment is one the most important things you can do as an educator for your students. It sets the stage to allow learning to blossom and flourish.
I have seen firsthand the benefits 21st-century learning environments play in developing the skills students need in today world. However, it doesn’t work without a lot of thoughtful planning and good classroom management. This blog series will give you the tools you need to get started.
Last week you developed your vision for your 21st-century learning environment based on research. If you missed the post, click here to develop your vision and your why for doing so using the resources I provided before moving forward.
Over the next few weeks, we are going to examine flexible seating through the lens of best practices according to research and get firsthand accounts from educators who are implementing these practices. Today, we are going to focus on the learning environment and what you need to get started.
A Big Thanks
Before I get started, I’d like to thank several special ladies who helped by giving me advice for this post as well as sharing some of their classroom pictures and videos. Without them, this blog post would not have been possible. Some of them have their special place on the Internet so be sure to visit them and say hello.
Katie – Second Grade Teacher and Blogger @DecorateMyLife
Aris – Second Grade Teacher and Blogger @Sailing into Second Grade
Carissa – High School Teacher @Melting Teacher
Amy – Fourth Grade Teacher
Shannon – Fourth Grade Teacher
21st-Century Learning Environment
Let’s start by looking at a Responsive Classroom Model to learning and how flexible seating fits nicely with this approach. One of our goals next year is to focus on creating 21st-century learning environments and how it develops the social emotional aspect of learning.
At its core, the Responsive Classroom is a social-environment in which HOW students learn is just as important as WHAT they learn. I think this model fits nicely with the vision we have for our students.
The basic premise of the approach develops the whole child and believes students need to understand cooperation, responsibility, empathy, assertion, and self-control. So the first thing you want to think about is how you want to set up your room to help facilitate the teaching of these skills.
For example, how do students learn cooperation?
Place students into flexible groups to engage with others.
How do you teach students about responsibility and self-control?
When given choice of where to sit, teach students to self-reflect.
Not all seat selections are the best fit for students.
They need to learn what is best for them.
The Responsive Classroom
There are six teaching practices used in a Responsive Classrooms:
- Students participate in morning meetings every day. Morning meetings are an excellent way to engage learners through movement (which is an important research-based principle I determined in the last post).
So be sure to think through where in your room students sit for whole group instruction or during the morning meeting. Personally, I prefer to have a big carpet area in front of my SMARTboard or television to meet as a whole group. With older students, have students choose where they want to sit to participate.
Next, decide what types of areas to set up. For example, do you want low tables for students to sit on the floor or allow students to sit on yoga balls at round tables. Carissa shares, “I had a LOT of high energy students. I loved it, but really was trying to find a way to make my classroom a better fit for them. I tried to make classes movement heavy, but there was a lot of time for group projects where I felt having a standing desk option would help students.”
Of course, you want to consider allowing students time to work on their own. Aris states, “It took time training the kids to be responsible for picking out a working spot in the classroom.” She suggests to MODEL, MODEL, MODEL! She said modeling played a huge role for success in the beginning. She would go over responsible, flexible seating choices (i.e. sitting where you need to sit to get your work done, making sure kids weren’t wasting time socializing instead of working collaboratively).
Creation of Rules and Consequences
- Students assist in the creation of rules and consequences for the classroom. According to many of the teachers I’ve talked to about flexible seating, the initial management piece was the hardest part of the implementation. Allowing students to participate in the creation process just might be the ticket for smoother transitions. Katie, a 2nd-grade teacher, allows students to choose their seats each Friday for the next week. They have nine different choices, and they move their clip to the spot they want. Check out this video one of her students created to share the procedure.
- Another management issue teachers struggle with is where to put student supplies if students don’t have desks. A teacher in the Responsive Classroom takes care of this problem by implementing community supplies. House materials such as journals and books in special cubbies in the room. As you can see in picture #1, Aris from Sailing into Second uses community supplies for students to use in their groups. Katie uses book tubs for students to add their materials.
- The Responsive Classroom allows for students to choice in their academics. Shannon, a fourth-grade teacher, suggests not to be afraid to let go of control for a little bit. “Kids need to have time to figure out what works best for them, and they’ll gravitate towards what works best.”
Amy, another fourth-grade teacher, agrees. She doesn’t manage their seat selection. She states, “We work to find good fit places at the beginning of the year. I allow them to make their choices each day. If they are negative decisions, we adjust. I think by not assigning/managing it, it gives the kids ownership over their seat and choices.”
- Not only do students guide the creation of rules and consequences but they also participate in Guided Discovery when introducing materials in the classroom.
One interesting article I read from Clutter-Free Classroom writes from a different perspective. She warns that kids need structure. She states, “Childhood anxiety is at an epidemic level. Students need to feel safe and secure in their learning environments.” While I understand her point of view and have students like this in my classroom, I feel these students just need to be part of the planning process, and teachers should encourage inquiry to help them feel more comfortable and confident in their environment.
- Parents act as partners in the Responsive Classroom. Katie shares how parent communication is essential in the successful implementation of flexible seating. Be sure to share the research and the vision behind your choices.
Now It’s Your Turn
Take some time to think through the types of groupings you need in your classroom. Where do the students sit during whole group, small group, independent work? What are the procedures you need in place for student success?
Any other questions? Let me know in the comments if you have questions about how to get started. Next week we are going to examine the importance of flexible seating and movement in the classroom.