Dr. Maryrose Caulfield Here. I know I am getting older, but it gets harder and harder for me to sit in one place for long periods of time. When I am required to sit still for extended periods, I find my attention and thoughts wandering. Even when I am watching an amazing play on Broadway or an engrossing movie, I need to get up and move. Thank goodness for intermission!
I simply cannot imagine how children, with all their energy, can possibly sit still for long periods of time. It is so important that environments for learning be designed to meet the needs of children. Merely adjusting a lesson is not enough. Knowing students in depth and having spaces which allow children to ready themselves to become involved in an important activity are two of the most significant things we can do for children. Providing choice for student involvement is also key, as the task will vary from one lesson to the next and from one activity to the next.
Research on how the brain functions has informed areas such as classroom and seating design. These areas can positively affect emotions, engagement and learning. Adding to the research is the importance of student feedback. Gremmen, et al, includes the need for pre-service educators to receive specific training in this area prior to beginning any classroom experience.
“Moreover, using more well-considered seating arrangements can improve students’ behavior and learning. It can thus be concluded that teachers need to become more conscious about seating arrangements as an important part of classroom management. Teachers need to be informed about the possibly preventive and intervening effects of a seating arrangement on students’ academic and social behaviors”(Gremmen et al, 2016). https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11218-016-9353-y
Teaching Tolerance,2016, opines that when children have choice and ownership, they are more inclined to self-regulate and even assist with the positive behavior of other students in the class. Many of the research studies speak directly to significant gains in reading, language arts and math. These results included a diverse population of students and schools.
In the study, The Holistic Impact of Classroom Spaces on Learning in Specific Subjects,
“…a few insights surprised even the researchers. Flexible, welcoming spaces had a startlingly large effect on learning in math—73 percent of the students’ progressthat was attributed to classroom design was traced back to flexibility and student ownership. The reasons are a mystery, but Barrett and his team hazarded a guess: Academic subjects that provoke anxiety—in math, that’s a known issue—are better addressed in classrooms that feel comfortable and familiar to students. Another way to look at it: Classroom flexibility, isolated from other measured factors, appears to be roughly as important as air quality, light, or temperature in boosting academic outcomes.
Barrett thinks it’s the old dictum that form follows function at work: Flexible classrooms are successful because they go hand in hand with a change in pedagogyEnviron Behav. 2017 May; 49(4): 425–451.).”
We are now fully aware, thanks to Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, that emotions are integral to learning. Students who love their classroom, their space, and their choice of how to learn, will love learning. When we view the educational process from the lens of the child who is learning, it emphasizes the notion that where they learn contributes mightily to how they learn.
So, how can you shape your classroom layout and seating to become more conducive to learning? Begin with the idea that less is more. Instead of looking at the classroom from the standpoint of “resources” for the year, think of the work as cumulative. Each day, each lesson, each project drives what the arrangement will be and how the lesson relates to the classroom spaces. Start small. Try simple changes at first. Clearly the amount of space in a classroom will factor in. However, as you go along, the more traditional look of desks will be replaced by flexible learning spaces.
Flexible classrooms and seating go hand in hand with flexible learning. This type of seating is conducive to this type of learning which is more independent and individualized. The responsibility for learning becomes the student’s, not the teacher’s, which opens the space for the teacher to become a thinking guide and coach. Through this type of seating and learning, we mirror the world our students currently live in and prepare them for new worlds fast approaching. Working with different teams of students at different times, strategizing solutions, being willing to take chances and to learn from mistakes, thinking creatively, “failing forward” – these are all future skills we must cultivate in students and this is the classroom that will take them there.
While there will be more noise and activity, it will be a function of student engagement. Students learn in styles most comfortable for them. Your work will be exciting and engaging as well as you begin to see your students have the “ah-ha!” moments that we always hope collaboration brings.
For your reference, below you will find resources with a description and link to help guide you towards a more flexible classroom. Try something new and let me know how it works. Be brave. You are truly changing the future. And remember – whenever you can – have fun.