Imagine this: you walk into a classroom and instead of rows of desks, you see a variety of couches, cozy chairs, high top tables, bean bags, stools, string lights, clipboards, learning nooks, and more.
Flexible seating classrooms, like the classroom described above, are growing in popularity as teachers are looking for ways to break the traditional molds of public education and give students more voice and choice in how, when, and where they engage in learning.
What is flexible seating?
Flexible seating gives students different seating options instead of being limited to sitting in traditional desks. In a flexible seating classroom, desks will likely still be one seating option, but other options may include couches, chairs, tables, stools, bean bags, high top tables, and more. Flexible seating often accompanies flexible learning models such as personalized learning and project-based learning.
What does a flexible seating classroom look like?
A flexible seating classroom may only resemble a traditional classroom by its four walls. What is inside the four walls, however, is what sets a flexible seating classroom apart from its traditional counterpart. A traditional classroom will likely have 20-30 student desks, arranged in rows, pods, U-shapes, etc. A flexible seating classroom will give students seating options to help them feel more comfortable while they learn.
I’ve often heard flexible seating classrooms described as “Coffee Shop Classroom” because, similar to a coffee shop, students can choose to sit in a place comfortable for their learning–a table, a couch, a chair, etc. By allowing students a choice in their seating, they can develop a sense of independence and self-management. Some students may discover that although a couch is comfortable, they learn better at a table. And, others, may discover the opposite–that a comfy couch or chair is just what they need to zone in on their work.
Not all students may enjoy flexible options, so many teachers I have heard from still include a few traditional desks as seating options. Some students will prefer a solitary desk to a group table or a beanbag or a couch. These students cannot be overlooked, so the desks become one of many options–and as the term implies, the seating should be flexible to meet student needs.
Can I use flexible seating in a high school classroom?
Yes! You can definitely use flexible seating in a middle or high school classroom. An obstacle you may run into, however, could be your administration and their desire for classroom uniformity. They may have heard of flexible seating, but they may misunderstand it or not want to deal with it. Your administration may have concerns about how the custodial staff will be able to keep the furniture clean since it may include fabric (couches, chairs, etc.).
Some high school classrooms are also shared, which can make flexible seating difficult. The teacher who uses your room might not be excited about your flexible seating. There may also not be enough room to fit options into high school classroom.
I know one fellow teacher who has approximately half traditional desks and half flexible seating options in her high school English classroom. This seems like a good compromise for our administration and a good option if/when someone needs to share her classroom.
Ultimately, it is possible in high school–my experience tells me that it may not be as easy to implement in high school as in elementary school. Comment below if you have positive or negative experiences to share!!!
Where can I find affordable flexible seating options?
Don’t hesitate to ask friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, etc. in your quest for cheap flexible seating options! You can also check rummage sales in the summer, thrift stores, or even big retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, and Ikea.
Sign up for a classroom grant or crowdfunding site, talk to your PTA, search out freebies online–it may take some time to build your classroom seating inventory, but your hard work should pay off in the end!
Will flexible seating affect my classroom management?
Flexible seating will most likely impact how you manage your classroom. Your guidelines and expectations will have to be adapted to consider flexible seating concerns: students arguing over the “best” seats, students being tempted to talk to their friends, students adapting a workspace when they have no table top, etc.
Knowing your grade level, try to anticipate the issues that might arise with flexible seating. Develop a plan and set of procedures to address those issues, and be ready for developing new procedures as unanticipated issues come up your first year using flexible seating. As the months go by, you’ll realize what is working and what isn’t–so you can adapt as you go. That’s not ideal, but sometimes, it is the best option–especially when trying something new!
How do students write or take notes in a flexible seating classroom?
Students adapt quickly, and like many adults, they will prop their computer on their knees, set it on their lap, use a laptop lap pillow. If students are taking notes by hand, the teachers may have clipboards, personal whiteboard, or just a board that students can use as a temporary writing surface.
Will parents support flexible seating?
Some parents may walk into your classroom and, upon seeing the flexible seating arrangement, be extremely skeptical of the type of learning happening in the classroom. The parents may be super traditional, and they may not have an open mind to new-fangled teaching ideas.
However, you may get parents on the opposite end of the spectrum as well. They will walk in and their eyes will light up, dazzled by the look and feel of your classroom. The atmosphere and ambiance will take their breath away. They may comment how they wish their classrooms in the past had looked like this. They may say how uncomfortable they were in desks and rows. They may say how much better they would have focused in a classroom like this.
It’s important, as a teacher, to be prepared to talk to both types of parents (and those in-between as well). For the skeptical parents, point out the traditional options that still exist (assuming you have a few desks still available). Take pictures and videos of your students at work so parents can see the classroom in action. Invite parents to stop in and watch as well. The more open and transparent you are about your classroom, the more open and receptive the parents may become as well. You can also share research, articles, and observational findings with parents. Talk with confidence and conviction, and the parents may buy in more.
And, for your parents who are already sold on the idea, relish in their support. Soak it in. Show them videos and pictures to, letting them share in your excitement. Ultimately, their support will feed your confidence in talking to an unsupportive parent or administrator.
I would love to hear about your experience with flexible seating. Do you use it? Does your administration support you? What grade level do you use it in? Are you a parent curious about flexible seating? Do you have other experience — good or bad — with flexible seating? Comment below!