Mimio Educator

Can Flexible Seating Enhance Student Success?

Posted by Kelly Bielefeld on Wed, Oct 19, 2016


During the past year or so, flexible classroom seating has become a popular topic for educators.  This term can be interpreted a few different ways, but at the heart of it is the concept that students are able to choose different seating options that fit best with their learning style. 

Here are just a few of the reasons why teachers are branching out and experimenting with this practice:

  1. Motivation through choice: Humans are more motivated to complete a task when they have a choice (i.e. control) over the task. This is not a new concept in student behavior—much of the love and logic discipline format teaches adults to avoid power struggles with children by offering choices. Classroom teachers can embrace this concept and offer choices for projects, assessments, and other environmental factors (music, lights, etc.). Seating is just another option to help motivate students to succeed.

  2. Meeting students’ needs: Beyond allowing students to choose their seat, flexible classroom seating allows students to sit or stand in a way that best suits their body. Some students have a tendency to move, some wiggle, some bounce, some sway, and some sit with perfect posture. Flexible seating allows students to physically become more comfortable while they are learning.

  3. Student metacognition (”metasitting”): Now that students have their physical needs met and are more motivated to learn, they can start to reflect and consider the different seats and how they like them. For example, most students know very quickly if something like a T-Stool works for them or not. Teachers can use this reflection to deepen the metacognition of the class by asking questions such as “How do you learn best?” and “What environmental factors help you learn better?” As secondary students study more at home, the library, and many other places, they need to know what works for them and what doesn’t. This helps them to be successful—both in school and in life.

So how do you put a flexible seating plan into action? Here are some ideas to help you implement this practice in your classroom:

  • Exercise ball: These balls allow a student to bounce and move, which can help keep them more focused. However, these large balls are not easy to store in a classroom, so having too many of them can be tricky. When looking at seating options though, keeping three or four in a classroom for students to choose from works well.

  • T-Stool: These can be purchased, but are also not difficult for someone with carpentry skills to make. T-Stools are much more rigid than the exercise balls, but have kind of the same effect as students are able to balance on them into order to increase focus. Some students really find these fun and effective, although some do not like them at all.   

  • Standing desk: One of my teachers used old TV carts for this—she lined them in the back of the room, giving students the option to stand behind them to do their work. These desks are simple, effective, and very popular with many students.

  • Lower desks: This one takes a little more planning and space, but the basic concept is a table that is lowered for students to use while sitting on pillows on the floor. This feels pretty novel at first, but it can really work for kids. Students are free to move and wiggle on the floor, which is less distracting than doing the same at a conventional desk.

  • Stools: Because some high stools aren’t very practical with regular classroom desks, I have seen some creative alternatives. Cheaper rolling desk chairs can have the back support removed, turning the chair into a stool with wheels. The student has to sit up straight because there is no back rest, and the wheels make it easily movable. 

  • Desk adaptations: There are other ways to modify a desk to help students, too. Some desks can be purchased with a swinging foot rest, which can also be created pretty easily with PVC pipe. Another option is a wiggle cushion, which mimics the sensation of the exercise ball. And for those who don’t want to sit, it may be possible to raise the desks in your classroom and use them as standing desks.

There is a classroom management component to consider, so it may be a good idea to introduce the options one at a time instead of all at once. There should also be a system in place for who gets which seats when. This could be a rotation or a selection process, but think it through prior to starting in order to give every student their best chance at classroom success.

Regardless of how many options or even which ones, giving students a choice increases engagement and motivation.

We would love to hear from you about how seating arrangements have impacted your schools and classrooms. Leave us a comment below and let us know what has, or hasn't, worked in your classroom!

Topics: Classroom Collaboration, tips for teachers


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