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How Flexible Seating Can Transform the Classroom and Improve Student Engagement

Educators report that flexible classroom seating is empowering students to take ownership of their classroom and their learning.

By Calli Welsch May 4, 2017

What is Flexible Seating or Alternative Seating?

In traditional classrooms, students sit at desks or tables, often assigned to them. They may have limited opportunities to move around the room before an official break, but for the most part students stay at their desk or table spot.

In flexible seating, the classroom is arranged to give a variety of options. Students can choose where they would like to work on their current project. Students might choose a location based on how they're feeling that day or what project they are working on.

Flexible seating options can include low tables, couches, a cushion or rug on the floor, clipboards, tray tables, bean bag chairs, exercise balls, wheeled chairs, standing desks and more. 

Educators Share How Seating Choice Leads to Student Engagement in Learning

Educators are sharing on social media, Pinterest and blog posts how changing their classroom design has changed their students. 

Overwhelmingly, educators report that student choice empowers them to take ownership of their classroom and their learning. Educators are seeing improved concentration, engagement and focus:

"While doing classroom observations, I notice that the students are significantly more engaged in learning when they have choices with regard to seating. They need to be able to move and be comfortable." 

-Christie Bray Burns, Digital Learning Coach, Brazosport ISD, TX

When it comes to incorporating education technology into the classroom, a station-rotation blended learning model with flexible seating options could be the perfect match. 

"I have noticed that the students who are utilizing the flexible seating options stay on task more. They are able to complete more ST Math puzzles because they can focus better."

-Kimberly Rutledge, Kindergarten teacher, Brazosport ISD, TX

"I am finding that my students are the most quiet that they have been all year.  I’d like to think it’s because of two things.

  1. They are working hard and don’t want to be moved due to unnecessary talking with their neighbors.  
  2. They are sitting in a place that allows them to focus and work hard on the task at hand."
-Angie Olson, Lucky Little Learners

Tips for Incorporating Alternative Seating in Your Classroom

1. Establish rules and guidelines immediately.

Many educators recommend starting with the basic rules for the flexible seating, and reserving the right to move any student at any time.

2. Ask students to try a different location each day.

We are creatures of habit, and may choose the same seat as soon as we get comfortable. Many educators recommend asking students to try different spots for the first couple of weeks. Then, they have data to compare and can choose the spot that works best for them.

3. It's okay to start small.

Maybe test flexible seating in a small section of the classroom, or for a limited project or lesson type. 

4. Be open to continue to iterate and change the space.

Some things may just not work for your students. And that's okay. Think of it as an opportunity to model growth mindset for your students by learning from your own mistakes.

5. Shop your school's storage, or use donorschoose.org to fund the changes.

Educators are super resourceful, but that doesn't mean you have to fund everything yourself. Educators have expressed success using donorschoose.org to fund new classroom furniture or materials.

6. Establish storage for individual belongings as well as other items that used to belong in desks.

Many educators report that getting ready for learning takes less time now, since students are no longer having to search through messy desks for materials such as books, pencils or paper.


Have you used flexible seating in your classroom with education technology? Share your story with us @MIND_Research!

Calli Welsch is a digital media analyst at MIND Research Institute. She loves playing board games and editing their rules, which she often talks about on twitter @CalliWelsch.

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