What’s your favourite place to work?
Where do you go to do deep work?
Is it different from where you do reading?
Where do you do most of your correcting?
Do you have that favourite chair where you love to read?
This is where, each morning, I spend time reading, free writing, and meditating. It’s my comfort space.
But it’s not where I spend time doing research or deeper writing.
I’m a big believer in flexible seating – providing students with different options for where they sit/stand when doing work during the day. I am noticing a stream of pictures and articles of classrooms focused on flexible seating. There are definitely some amazing looking classrooms with all kinds of seating arrangements and different options for sitting and working.
But is it all necessary? What are the key aspects that should be considered?
My wife, a Learning Resource Teacher, spends a great deal of time working with teachers helping them with implementing flexible seating in their classrooms among other things. Everything from standing desks to squishy seats. But, she is also very aware that this doesn’t work for all children.
As a parent, she knows that our 8 year old finds it difficult to concentrate in the classroom, especially with so many options. At times, according to his teacher, he is almost overwhelmed with the options. Although he likes the different options, flopping across a ball, bouncing on a squishy seat, he finds it very difficult to stay on task unless he’s at a more conventional seating arrangement. As parents, we’ve experienced this same situation with a couple of our children. Providing options can be a great thing but it can also become an overwhelming distraction.
As I discussed in my post Classroom Design – Not everyone likes learning at Starbucks about the importance of classroom design on learning, we need to be careful in decisions about classroom environment and ensure decisions are based on sound educational practices. As Eric Sheninger discusses in Research-Influenced Learning Spaces
“We need to move away from classroom design that is “Pinterest pretty” and use research/design thinking to guide the work.” – Eric Sheninger and Tom Murray
Much like the ‘Ditch-the-teacher-desk’ that became a trend, flexible seating seems to be something that has become a topic of conversation.
The Teacher’s Desk
I know that there are great reasons for getting rid of the teacher’s desk. I got rid of mine years ago. But, I also learned that there were other considerations to keep in mind that, well, I didn’t consider before I made the move. I needed a working space in the classroom and had to make adjustments in order to manage this. When I was an administrator and a few teachers wanted to get rid of their desks, we met in each room to discuss the different ways to accommodate this while still providing options for the teacher to work. With 5 of us in the room, brainstorming ideas about the advantages and disadvantages was also a discussion about classroom design which eventually led to further classroom changes.
Barrett, Davies, Zang, and Barrett (2015) identified three dimensions, or design principles, to be considered in classroom design:
•Naturalness: relates to the environmental parameters that are required for physical comfort. These are light, sound, temperature, air quality and ‘links to nature’. In particular there are specific requirements needed for children’s learning environments.
•Individualisation: relates to how well the classroom meets the needs of a particular group of children. It is made up of Ownership, Flexibility and Connection parameters. Ownership is the first element and is a measure of both how identifiable and personalized the room is. Flexibility is a measure of how the room addresses the need of a particular age group and any changing pedagogy. Connection is a measure of how readily the pupils can connect to the rest of the school.
•Stimulation (appropriate level of):has two parameters of Complexity and Colour. Colour is straightforward, but does encompass all the colour elements in the room. Complexity is a measure of how the different elements in the room combine to create a visually coherent and structured, or random and chaotic environment. It has been suggested that focused attention is crucially important for learning.
We all have different preferences for doing work and, usually, it depends on the work we are doing. When I’m doing research and writing, I like to work in a space that allows me to focus and is free from distractions and has natural light. My wife works at the kitchen table. Our 16-year-old likes to work in the living room in a chair or at his desk in his room, depending on the work he is doing and his mood. The 14-year-old likes the kitchen table as it allows him to be social while working. As for the 12-year-old, you can find him on the floor, lying on the couch, sprawled across a chair or sitting on his bed but he likes a quiet space. The 8-year-old will read to someone wherever but it usually involves a great deal of shifting and moving and probably a few side-bar conversations about something that catches his fancy. When our older daughter was in university, her favourite study place was the library (away from 4 energetic boys)!
From the back of your classroom:
How do you view the learning environment (as a student or a teacher)? Is this view based on opportunities for learning?
What was the main focus for how you designed the learning space?
Where did you get your inspiration for the space?
Did you consider Naturalness, Individualisation, & Stimulation in the design?
Have you asked others about the design? What were the reactions (learning focused or other)?
Have you considered safety and movement in your design? Can it accommodate all learners?