As teachers and leaders consider how to best modernize their classrooms, they often look toward swapping out the old furniture for new, more flexible furniture. But flexible furniture can only make a real difference when paired with flexible learning and instruction.
Learning comes from experiences where we are intellectually and emotionally engaged in a topic and then have a chance to apply it to new situations and share it in a meaningful way with others. Truly flexible learning environments can enhance all of these things by syncing instructional practices, using modern technology tools, and optimizing the physical environment in which learning happens.
Flexible furniture does play an important role in optimizing the physical environment. It helps you create a truly flexible classroom in the following ways:
- It allows for student choice, movement, and agility.
- It sets the tone for a healthy learning environment.
- It builds excitement.
- It sends a visual sign that learning is different in the space.
- It can shape space for creativity, curiosity, and collaboration.
By introducing flexible furniture, you can bring new energy to your teaching and learning, but when you couple it with the following five ideas, you will gain a truly flexible classroom that will have a multiplier effect on deeper learning in your space.
Seek Feedback from Students About Their Learning Space
Ask students about your classroom space more often. Getting feedback from students has so many positive effects.
- It allows the teacher to see the space through a new lens.
- It allows students to become central to classroom decision-making.
- It allows students to feel agency and ownership in the classroom.
New furniture changes the energy in a room for a short time. However, you can permanently change the culture in your classroom by involving students as co-creators of the space and engaging them in a continuous feedback loop. Ultimately, this will give them greater joy and satisfaction in their learning.
Find Ways to Learn About Flexible Classroom Configurations and Teaching Styles
Many teachers are nervous about moving from their current classroom configuration to a completely flexible classroom. These nerves make sense, as this is a big shift, but there are some things you can do to help you become more comfortable with the change.
- Allow your class to visit and learn in a common space that has been modernized, such as a library or learning commons.
- Visit the classroom of a teacher who has already become more flexible with their classroom and their instruction.
- Sample the flexible furniture in other classrooms by bringing it into your classroom while the other classes are at lunch, at their specials, or away on field trips.
- Expand who teaches your class by bringing in guest speakers.
- Look for community partners you can solve problems for and with.
Study Student Interaction with Your Space
Interaction geography is the study of how people interact with their physical environment. It is used by museums and large theme parks such as Disney World to create dynamic user experiences. You can apply this same learning in your classroom by finding 15–20 seconds of time to observe students and ask yourself why those students are learning where they are. You can also use video and photographs to gather information — this helps you look at issues around accessibility and movement. It can also help you identify root causes of chronic behavior issues and which resources on the walls of the classroom are being seen and used by students.
Allow Students to Wander While Learning
This statement can create an image of students being everywhere and being disruptive, but allowing them to wander gives them the opportunity to figure out where they learn best during different learning activities. Do they like to stand while reading? Do they like to sit or lie on the floor to write? Are they better at communicating with others while at a table or standing up?
Desks are not one-size-fits-all learning vessels. Unless students have some opportunity to test different types of learning postures through various types of seating and work stations, they can’t ever really get to know where they learn best. Although teachers definitely need to have the final say, the benefits of allowing movement are clear, including increased blood flow to the brain, reduced stress and anxiety, and improved focus.
Learn more about the benefits of active classrooms and flexible seating:
Give Students Opportunities to Learn Through Sketching and Drawing
Sketching and drawing, both individually and in a collaborative setting, can help to transfer learning from short-term to long-term memory. Sketching helps us explain what we understand about a concept in ways that don’t emerge from text-based responses.
Look for ways to give students access to writable spaces, which are sometimes limited or reserved only for the teacher. This can be done through tables with dry-erase tops, small individual whiteboards, or mobile whiteboards. Push to find new spaces for this type of learning, and continue to look for strategies to showcase learning through drawing and sketching, such as using behavior-over-time graphs and using the Frayer model to encourage students to sketch representations of new vocabulary and concepts.
Learn more about the benefits of using whiteboards in your learning space in “3 Reasons You Need Whiteboards in Your Library or Classroom.”
By starting with some small steps you can create a classroom environment that is more conducive to learning, keeps students more engaged, allows them to be surrounded by a beautiful learning environment, and, most importantly, allows them to feel cared for and supported. Begin with some of the easy on-ramps described above, and allow your flexible classroom to flex the brains of all students through authentic learning experiences.
Dr. Robert Dillon
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