Thursday, April 7, 2016

A Flexible Classroom

I have always given my students the option to work around the room using clipboards. Over the years I have noticed that the majority of my students would take this option, rather than sitting in their desks. Since transitioning over to a 1:1 iPad classroom, I noticed that we were using the desks less and less.  We would have whole group lessons in the reading area or in the front of the classroom, and my students were working around the classroom independently or in small groups throughout the rest of the day.  It seemed like the desks were becoming more of a barrier to our learning.  They took up a lot of space and made it difficult to encourage collaborative groups.  We had limited spaces for students to work in small groups, especially if they wanted to spread out.

Looking through other classroom blogs, I noticed more and more teachers moving to a flexible, or agile, classroom environment. I loved the idea of giving students more options for working around the classroom, but I knew that having all the desks in the room would make it difficult. After doing a lot of research on classroom blogs and Pinterest, I went to talk to my principal.  He loved the idea! Then it was just a matter of moving some of the desks out of the classroom over spring break and coming up with some alternative seating options.

Our current reading area and the front of the classroom
The 10 remaining desks and the center of the classroom
The other end of the classroom.
Prior to moving half of the desks out of the classroom, we had a class meeting.  We talked about how little we use the desks, and about bringing in some other options for working around the room.  The kids discussed how they liked to work (standing, at a desk, sitting, laying down, on the classroom couch, etc.). As a class, we decided to try it out.  I moved about half of the desks out of the way, brought in some folding chairs and stools from home, and tried it out.  After the first day, we met as a class again to discuss what we liked and didn't like.  The students were quick to point out that they enjoyed having different options. Several of the students stood and worked at the counter during the day, some chose to work at a desk, while others moved the chairs and stools around to find a good place to work.  The kids loved it! Now it was time to actually make the shift permanent!

Over spring break I did some shopping.  I purchased some scoop rockers from Walmart, pillows, and seat cushions. I also rearranged the classroom (multiple times) until I found a setup that I felt would work.  My principal asked the custodians to move out half of the desks, and brought in a table for the students to use. 

Scoop rockers
The custodians lowered the table by removing the silver part of the legs. Students are now able to work at the table while sitting on seat cushions on the floor. The beach chairs and scoop rockers are constantly moving around the room as students find a spot that works for them. With the help of a colleague, I moved two computer desks back into the classroom.  With the addition of some pillows underneath and some tap lights, the kids have a great little nook to work in during the day.

The computer desks with pillows. I added contact paper and duck tape to make it more colorful.
The desks also make a perfect storage spot for the kids' book boxes!
The lowered table with seat cushions. We store the cushions on top when not in use.
There were several things that we had to figure out as we started implementing the flexible seating.  The first was the expectations.  One of the blogs that I read referred to the seats as a smart spot.  As a class we brainstormed what a smart spot would mean.  We also discussed how that smart spot might change depending on what we are doing. We came up with three rules for our smart spots:

1. Away from distractions
2. Stay in one spot for the entire time
3. An adult can move you without a warning

Using the beach chairs while playing a math game.
Using the scoop chairs while playing a math game.
Playing a game on the couch
The kids love being able to sit and work near their friends. The only time students aren't allowed to sit next to another person is during a test.  During tests, the students have to be at least an arms' length apart so that everyone can concentrate.

Playing a math game.
Using the stools while they play a game.

We also had to figure out how to store all the things from inside our desks.  The kids already had book boxes that we used to store any books that we were reading.  These are portable, so the students just take their book box with them when we have free reading time.  A few years ago (with the help of my dad and some friends), I made some cubbies for the students.  Everything that was in the students' desks, fit in their individual cubbies.  Crayons and other art supplies are kept in a basket so that the kids can bring their basket with them when they are working at different spots around the room.

Our cubbies. We have three of these, so each student has their own cubby space.
The kids also use these when they choose to stand and work.
Since implementing the flexible classroom, I have noticed some great changes in our classroom environment! In general, the room seems more open and welcoming. The kids are more focused and are starting to realize where they learn best--advocating for themselves throughout the day!  The majority of the behavior issues that we had are gone because the students are constantly moving around the room as we change subjects. As for whole group lessons, the students have always been more focused when they are closer to me, whether its in the reading area or in the open space in the front of the classroom. 

Working at the table.
Reading under the desk. Next task--add curtains!
There will definitely be changes again next school year as I welcome a new group of students, but I can't imagine going back to a "traditional" classroom with an individual desk for each student!


  1. Brittany,
    So fun to read about and see your classroom. What a great experience for both you and your students!

  2. This is so neat, Brittany! Love it!!!

  3. I am a third grade teacher and I am considering a flexible classroom arrangement for next year. I am wondering about how you plan to tackle standardized end of year testing with your seating arrangement.

    1. Thanks for asking! Any time we take a test the kids pick a smart testing spot. We discussed this concept when we first started and it has quickly become a routine. During a test the kids have to sit at least an arm's length away from each other. For our state standardized test, the kids are all in the computer lab. For our MAP testing (Measures of Academic Progress), the kids can take it on their iPads, so we just take the MAP test like a regular test--in a smart testing spot. So far we haven't had any issues! In fact, I think the kids have done a better job on their tests because they are more comfortable. I hope that answers your question!

  4. A very nice idea with flexible classroom. No wonder they really enjoying learning. Great method! Respect!

  5. Love how you've set everything up! I am just starting this year. 3 weeks in. Still figuring things out. Great job!