Flexible seating helps to give students greater control over their learning environment and encourages pupils to take an active role in the development of a nurturing and efficient classroom.

Questions you may have: Where to buy flexible seating? What is flexible seating? How to implement flexible seating? Here, we’ll provide the answer how flexible seating works, why flexible seating improves learning, and ways to implement flexible seating.

Shifting to a flexible classroom

Used in work spaces across the country, flexible seating is now becoming commonplace in schools all over the US. Rather than restricting students to traditional desks and seating placements, flexible seating provides an adaptable learning environment which can cater to the individual needs of every pupil.

Whilst audio learners may feel able to absorb copious amounts of information when sitting at a desk, for example, kinesthetic learners may understand key principles more effectively when they are in a less restrictive setting and can carry out tasks in order to assist in their understanding and retention of materials.

Flexible seating options may include:
  • Standing desks
  • Floor mats and rugs
  • Beanbags
  • Group desks
  • Quiet corners
  • Couches and armchairs

The National Education Association (NEA) has drawn attention to the importance of classroom design and the effects that a learning environment can have on pupils. How students are positioned in a classroom setting, what type of desks or furniture they use and the level of choice and control they have over their environment can have a considerable impact on their learning experience and can expose pupils to a wider range of experiences.

When in the workforce, for example, these students will not necessarily be expected to sit at a desk, be prevented from moving around and be restricted in terms of how they perform tasks. By using flexible seating in classrooms, teachers can mirror workplace environments and help students to understand how they can function most effectively when at work or college.

Many job roles and careers require a considerable amount of collaboration with colleagues, for example, and learning tasks given within a classroom setting typically require collaboration between students too. Traditional seating formats, however, do not encourage students to work together and do not foster a sense of team-building or joint participation. In fact, single-seat desks, organized in rows, encourage students to isolate themselves when working and discourage them from collaborating with their peers.

Whilst teachers may allow students to move furniture for group-based activities in a traditional classroom setting, this is not as effective as using flexible seating on a more permanent basis. If students are frequently required to move desks in order to work with their fellow pupils, for example, it can take up key learning time in the classroom and may even lead to health and safety concerns.

Furthermore, setting aside specific times for group activities implies that students should only collaborate when expressly directed to do so by their teacher or instructor. In a flexible seating environment, however, students can team-build and problem-solve in groups, with an emphasis on organic collaboration as opposed to teacher-led partnerships. As well as helping students to adapt to the requirements of their future careers and workplaces, this approach fosters an enriching learning environment within the classroom and ensures students are able to take part in activities in a way which reflects their learning style and strengths.

Flexible seating & the classroom

With many teachers keen to incorporate flexible seating in their classrooms, no two journeys to flexible seating are the same. While some teachers have chosen to switch to flexible seating straight away, others have taken a more reserved approach by adding some flexible seating options to the traditional classroom layout.

Neither route to flexible seating is better than the other and teachers are best-placed to determine what is right for their students. Flexible seating may be easier to implement in elementary schools due to the type of activities undertaken by students at this level, for example, whereas high school students may require access to traditional desks, standing desks and/or workbenches in order to complete assignments and written tasks.

Although teachers often introduce the use of flexible seating into the classroom, it can be most effective when the incorporation of flexible seating is led by the students themselves. Once exposed to a range of seating options, students will determine which type of classroom setup works best for them and should be encouraged to relay this information to their teacher or instructor. Student feedback is crucial to a successful learning environment and catering to the needs of pupils via classroom facilities, furniture and seating is a key component.

Is flexible seating good?

After introducing pilot flexible seating schemes into their classrooms, teachers have been keen to report the changes they’ve noticed in students and their learning behavior. Typically, students have been shown to display more confidence in a flexible seating environment and have been more open to working with other students, even if these students do not form part of their usual peer group.

The NEA has highlighted the benefits flexible seating can bring to the classroom and reminds teachers to heed the knowledge students already have. By listening to feedback from students and observing their learning patterns and behaviors, instructors can determine whether flexible seating works for their students and how it can be adapted to best suit their needs.

Students may prefer to have assigned seating for a particular part of the day, such as morning registration, for example, before switching to flexible seating for lessons. Alternatively, a mix of traditional desks may be made available in the classroom for students who prefer to study in this way, whilst flexible seating can be introduced for students who are keen to try a new approach to learning.

Every student is different and it’s generally accepted that pupils learn in different ways. It follows, therefore, that one classroom environment is not necessarily going to suit every individual and will not enable all students to achieve their potential. By recognizing the needs of pupils, both in terms of academic assistance and practical facilities, teachers can increase student engagement, expose pupils to various working atmospheres and help students to create a healthy and effective learning environment.