Top 10 Benefits of a Flexible-Seating Classroom
Two, four, six, eight, what do we appreciate? A good listicle! Especially when evaluating an educational trend, like the shift to flexible seating in K-12 classrooms.
As part of our series on that topic, we've combed through a heap of online data and compiled the ten biggest benefits (in our opinion) of flexible seating. Help yourself to dos or nearly the full dozen, as you educate teachers, administrators, students and parents on why this trend isn't a passing fidget-spinner-fad.
In fact, we see it as critical to enhancing learning across all ages. Plus, educators report that flexible seating is making their careers more enjoyable. To learn easy ways to incorporate flexible seating in the classroom, take a look at the 5 steps to flexible seating in the classroom.
Why Flexible Seating?
Students feel empowered by having some degree of choice and control over their environment. Flexible seating allows students to choose where they work and with whom. It also allows them to change their location and positions as needed.
Kayla Delzer, is the author of the popular 2015 EdSurge story, "Why the 21st-Century Classroom May Remind You of Starbucks." In a 2016 follow-up story on Edutopia, she says giving students choices about their physical classroom space teaches them higher-order thinking skills.
"Outside the windows of our classroom is a dynamic, fast-paced, and ever-changing world full of choices. How can we expect our students to solve problems and make choices independently if we constantly solve their problems and make their choices for them?"
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Children need to move. Flexible seating allows them to wobble, rock, bounce, lean or stand, which increases oxygen flow to the brain, blood flow and core strength. In turn, this burns more calories and increases metabolism. It also helps keep young minds more alert and focused.
It's no surprise that physical activity is linked to higher academic performance, better health, and improved behavior. An academic paper by Matthew T. Mahar, et al, found that simple in-class activities can boost performance. Studies suggest that children who participate in short bouts of physical activity within the classroom have more on-task behavior, too.
An uncomfortable student, is a distracted and unproductive student. For example, picture a student who skipped or didn't have access to breakfast. As the countdown to lunch approaches, the sound of his or her growling stomach will make it impossibly hard to hear the teacher's voice. An uncomfortable chair can have the same affect.
Flexible seating encourages students to find their best spot to stay calm, focused and productive. As one teacher said, "There is no better way to show your support for a student-centered classroom, than creating a classroom from a child’s point of view." In her opinion, comfortable students are engaged students.
Traditional desks can make students territorial or possessive over their space and supplies. Flexible seating encourages students to share both. And, it encourages them to take turns in different locations and with different seating options.
“When preparing kids for the real world, we want students’ learning environment to reflect the environment of the real world,” said Manuel Herrera, a district tech coordinator for the Affton School District in Missouri, as he reflected on the flexible seating movement that began in the workplace. “This [flexible seating] isn’t a fad. I think it will eventually evolve into the way all classrooms look.”
Flexible seating allows students to quickly and easily pair up, work in small groups, or discuss as a whole class – without moving mountains of heavy desks to establish eye contact. Delzer agrees.
"The students we share our classrooms with don't know life without constant connectivity, Wi-Fi, and a global audience. Our classroom environments should be conducive to open collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. This simply cannot be done when kids are sitting in rows of desks all day."
Flex seating sharpens higher order thinking skills, like emotional and problem-solving skills and conflict resolution. After all, taking turns requires patience.
Commitment to Learning
While research on flexible seating is limited, it’s clear that learning environments can have a direct impact on student achievement.
A 2012 study from the University of Minnesota found that students participated 48 percent more in discussions in a classroom with collaborative group seating versus traditional lecture-style seating, and also improved their performance on standardized tests.
How does this connect with flexible seating? Kelly Almer, a long-time educator in Littleton Public Schools in CO, recently switched to flexible seating. She says creating more student control and less teacher control has improved student engagement.
"I have witnessed a change in their commitment to learning and behavior," Almer explained. "By making the room 'ours' instead of 'mine,' the students have a sense of ownership that has made them more invested in their own education."
Almer's students choose where they want to sit daily. There is a variety of high, medium and low seating, and kids move to the furniture based on their needs. But Almer puts academics first. "Wherever they choose to sit, it has to help them be their best learning selves."
No one is naive enough to believe that flexible seating simply happens. Up front, teacher must establish some new classroom management tools. That includes creating a system to make seating choice fair and nondisruptive.
It also requires introducing higher-order thinking skills, like problem-solving, and emotional skills, like conflict resolution. There's also much value in fostering turn-taking and patience – especially for a generation of kids immersed in immediate gratification.
Many flexible seating options stimulate students' sense of touch. This type of stimulation can help children focus and process information. Sensory input is especially helpful for students with ADHD, ADD, and ASD.
Flexible seating helps make learning fun. The benefits far outweigh any negatives, said Almer, who will never go back to traditional seating.
"At this year’s parent-teacher conferences, all of the parents stated that their child has a completely different attitude about school now. The kids love coming to school and learning, and they couldn’t be happier."
She offered a few final tips for educators. Foremost, if you want to make this change in your learning environment, it’s important to bring a positive mindset and recognize that the process takes time. She also recommends being deliberate with your choices, and to not overlook practical issues, like color-coordinating the room.
The results – a more active, engaged, enthusiastic, and relaxed room of students – are worth the effort, Almer concluded.
Take a look at the flexible seating options from Smith System® to incorporate flexible seating in your classrooms.
"Effects of a Classroom-Based Program on Physical Activity and On-Task," Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 38 no12 Dec. 2006
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