I remember exactly when I realized that I needed to make a change in my classroom. It was November of last year. The students were ready for Thanksgiving Break and made sure to show it to me by being overly antsy. I figured it was just the time of year and that after a few days off they would return to a more calm state. I was mistaken. After returning from break and as the year progressed, I realized that it wasn’t the need for a break that caused the antsy behavior but rather the need for the students to move around more. I started to think about my students in the past, and I quickly realized that there had been a shift in my students that required a shift in my thinking. The days of sitting at a desk and completing work were long gone, although my classroom was frozen in time. After reading several articles online and talking with other teacher friends, I decided that I wanted to try a flexible seating model.
What is flexible seating?
According to an Edutopia blog entitled Flexible Seating Elevated Student Engagement (2015), flexible seating is defined as seating that gives students a choice in what kind of learning space works best for them, and helps students to work collaboratively, communicate, and engage in critical thinking. This intrigued me and I decided to do more research about what my classroom would look like. I wondered if getting rid of the desks and hard plastic chairs would help solve the “antsy” problem and help my students to not only focus on their work but also to be able to work more effectively together. After researching different seating possibilities, reading myriad blogs and articles about the pros and cons of flexible seating and posing a hypothetical question to my students about classroom preferences, I realized that I had to approach JDS with the idea.
If My Body Can’t Stretch, My Brain Can’t Stretch
Fast forward to the start of the 2018-2019 school year. It is my 16th year teaching and I am starting on a new adventure. My classroom is set up. I have 15 new and eager students ready to start third grade and I have four desks in my room. Well, four desks, two tables, 20 lap desks, six stability balls, four bean bag chairs, three butterfly chairs, two standing desks and a host of other seating options. I am a nervous wreck and don’t know what to expect. Will the students really be able to focus better on their learning? Will they be able to make good choices about what seating options to choose? Will their ability to complete tasks improve? Will they be more engaged and show a greater stamina for working? These are all benefits of flexible seating but I had no way of knowing how the students would respond. I had sent home a letter to the families explaining that my classroom would be different than the other classrooms and hadn’t received any negative responses, so that was a plus. As the students started to pour in during the Meet and Greet, I could see their eyes start to light up. I watched them test out the different chairs and start to scope out what would become their favorite places to work in the classroom. A few students asked me why my room looked the way it did and why I wanted to get rid of the desks. I was reminded of a comment that a former student made when I hypothetically asked him about his classroom preference the year before. He stated, “Mrs. Henoch, if my body can’t stretch, by brain can’t stretch!”
It has been four months since the beginning of my flexible seating journey, so what have I learned? I have learned that I never want to return to the traditional rows of desks or even groups of desks again. I have found that my students are better able to engage in discussions with each other when they can choose where to sit. I have learned that my students spend more time on-task and focused when they are able to move throughout the room and are not confined by the space of their hard plastic chair and cold metal desk. I have discovered that there are fewer behavior problems when students are able to move freely to another space when distracted, and I have also learned that my students have more work stamina and are better able to complete their academic tasks with accuracy and precision because they are comfortable in their environment and able to stretch their bodies and mind. Could this just be a fluke? Different children learning at different paces? It’s possible. However, after teaching for almost 16 years and watching the growing trend of focus issues and other academic difficulties, I can say with confidence that flexible seating has had a huge positive effect on my students, which I attribute to their having a choice in how and where to learn.