Dear Future Teachers,
Welcome to the fourth and final installment of my Flexible Seating series! If you missed the first three posts, make sure to check them out: What is Flexible Seating In the Classroom?, How to Make Flexible Seating Work in Your Classroom, and Managing Classrooms with Flexible Seating. So far, we've explored what flexible seating looks like in the classroom, how to manage a classroom with flexible seating, and other tips and tricks for converting your classroom! The final blog post of our series will focus on the benefits of flexible seating, exploring the pros and cons, and ultimately deciding whether this recent method of classroom seating is worth the hype.
The research on Flexible Seating is still developing, but there are some academic articles and personal anecdotes that share some advantages and disadvantages of flexible seating in the classroom. We've already discussed that flexible seating does take a lot of work and planning to successfully implement. Does flexible seating work? According to various blog posts and academics, it can have various benefits!
According to the blog, Top 10 Benefits of a Flexible Seating Classroom, there are several positive elements of flexible classrooms. I've listed a few below:
Student choice. Providing opportunities for students to make choices can empower them to recognize what helps them learn best. Several times in my research for this min-series I've stumbled across an analogy of adults in a coffee shop. If you go to a modern coffee shop, you may see adults sitting and working in various kinds of seating options. They choose the space that works best for them, so why can't we expect the same with students? A study posted in the NWCommons found that students are able to identify the seating choices that work best for them (Burgeson, 2017). This same study showed that different options worked for different students.
Collaboration. Setting up seating in more strategic ways can create more opportunity for collaboration between classmates. It's difficult to collaborate in groups if students are sitting in rows. While sitting in rows may be ideal to facilitate more individual activities, it leaves little opportunity for group work.
Comfort. Students are able to focus better if they are comfortable! Imagine trying to focus on a lesson when you're physically uncomfortable in your seat. Flexible seating allows students to choose the spots that work best for them. Teacher Heidi Songs mentioned in her blog that her students are a lot more attentive when they are in their "comfy seats."
Sensory input. Different seating options that allow students to move around a bit more may help students with ADHD and ADD because their sense of touch is more stimulated. Students are able to choose the seating option that fits more with their sensory needs.
Physical health. Flexible seating options can improve the physical health of students because they are more likely to move around, stand, wiggle, and more! Students can burn more calories, use up excess energy, increase oxygen flow to the brain, and improve their metabolism (Hardin, 2017).
Students are engaged in their learning. Several teachers in blog posts and academic papers find that students are more engaged in their learning with flexible seating. In an Edutopia post, Albermarle County Schools is used as a case study. This school system implemented flexible seating and they reported that student grades improved, student seem more engaged, and students are participating more. Another teacher also found that their students who were typically less attentive could work on their tasks for longer periods of time in their chosen seats (Hardin, 2017).
There are a few identified disadvantages of flexible classrooms. I've listed some from the academic article "Flexible Seating: Let's Get the Wiggles Out" and a blog post titled "The Pros and Cons of Flexible Seating in Second Grade."
Cost. Funding a flexible classroom can get pricy, but there are options available to make your flexible classroom more affordable. I listed cost-efficient options in my previous post, How to Make Flexible Seating Work in Your Classroom.
Potentially developing feelings of disorganization. Having different seating options all around the classroom can lead to disorganization if not maintained consistently. To prevent the classroom from becoming too chaotic, make sure that part of your classroom expectations include leaving seating options in designated areas and cleaning up the space before exiting the classroom. I list some other ideas in my post, Managing Classrooms with Flexible Seating.
Potential disagreements between students. I've mentioned before that disagreements are bound to arise with all the cool seating options available. It's important to have a system in place to mitigate any arguments that may come up. I explain suggestions for this process in more detail in Managing Classrooms with Flexible Seating.
Maintaining rules might be a challenge. All teachers know that the dynamic of your classroom will change with every new cohort of students. Maintaining the rules may be harder with some groups of students than it is with others. It's totally okay to switch back to traditional seating if certain classes struggle with staying productive and on-task in the flexible classroom.
Disruption may increase. Some studies have found that students who select seats may increase disruptive behaviors, like talking to friends during work time (Hardin, 2017). In my post, How To Make Flexible Seating Work in Your Classroom, I discuss the importance of establishing expectations with students. Flexible seating can be a privilege in the classroom, and students will have to follow expectations, including not talking to peers when they are supposed to be focused on work.
Space. Different classrooms have different amounts of space available for seating. Smaller classrooms may have more difficulty in creating various seating options. It is still possible, but I definitely recommend discussing with your principal to try to make a plan that will work best for the space you have available.
Is flexible seating worth it?
This answer may be different for each teacher, but I think flexible seating really can make a difference in your classroom! If you want to tackle the journey of flexible seating, I feel that it can definitely be rewarding. It's not for everyone, and that's okay! If flexible seating seems like too much of a hassle, it's completely fine to stick with engaging and interactive lessons in traditional seating.
I had so much fun with researching and writing this mini-series! I hope to be able to explore more topics in depth in the future. If you have any topics that you want me to check out, please send me a message through my Contact Form on the Home Page or by email at email@example.com.
Hardin, C. L. (2017). Flexible Seating in the Early Childhood Classroom. NWCommons, 1–15.
Burgeson, S. (2017). Flexible Seating Influencing Student Engagement. NWCommons, 1–15.
Anderson, P. J., & Hartley, M. L. (2018–2019). Flexible Seating: Let’s Get The Wiggles Out. TEL Journal, 46(1), 55–60.