Over the past several years, there has been a huge shift in the layout of classrooms. I have noticed a lot of classrooms on campus that are doing an amazing job with offering flexible seating. When I say amazing, I mean that it is both provided to the students and the students are actually utilizing it! It is one thing to offer a couch, lower tables, higher tables, yoga mats, etc. However, if these areas are not being used, what is the purpose of having them? As I have reflected and found similarities between classrooms where the flexible areas are being used and classrooms where it is not as utilized, I have found that there are some ways to encourage our students to be confident and comfortable enough to actually utilize the spaces we are providing. By asking ourselves and our students reflective questions, we can create a more effective learning environment:
- Are students using all of the areas that you have provided?
- Do students have choice when deciding where to sit?
- Is there a system in place for what happens when their favorite spot is taken?
- Did students help plan when you created the flexible seating areas?
- Do students use these areas appropriately?
- Is the seating conducive to a productive working environment?
Like students in our classrooms, I have my favorite areas to work as well. There are some weekends when I work and I drive past three or four Starbucks to get to the one that I like to work at most. It is nothing against those other Starbucks, it is simply that they do not have the seating accommodations that I like or they do not have enough areas with outlets. We all have our own work environment preferences. So, the point is that when we can get our student’s voices to show in our classroom environment, we can learn more about how our classroom environment will be effective for them as well. How powerful would it be if we held a trust circle where our students shared their feedback about our classroom?
I recall one my first years trying out flexible seating and my students loved it at first! Then, I realized that over time, they became less interested in certain areas. As I started conversations with them about what caused the change, I started to realize that they did not feel as comfortable because the areas had begun looking old and ragged. I looked at the classroom with a fresh perspective and realized that the once plump bean bag chairs were now flat like tortillas and the once new throw pillows were squashed and in some cases stained. I held a conversation and got their feedback about how to update the areas. I then started a Donors Choose and got new materials funded. Once they arrived, we had a conversation centered around caring for the new areas. This helped students include their own voices in the set up of our classroom and it helped them learn more about respecting our room environment. I also learned what types of materials can withstand the daily use of 30 plus students! Through this reflective conversation, the students had their voice and choice respected and they had the opportunity to improve our work area as a team and classroom community.
When we are looking into our classroom environment, it is always useful to hear from our students to get their input and to do our own research. If you are interested in updating or creating your own flexible seating areas, here are some great places to start: