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Pull up a Chair; Flexible Seating Boosts 21st Century Educational Skills

Pull up a Chair; Flexible Seating Boosts 21st Century Educational Skills


Picture a room full of children. Some sit at kitchen tables with wooden chairs. Others sit on bar stools at pub tables. Around the room, they’re propped on folding chairs, office chairs, giant spools, large exercise balls and even on the floor.

 It’s not a birthday party at a classmate’s house, but rather a new classroom seating style that is changing the way students learn as part of the 21st century educational philosophy.

 “Collaboration and problem-solving are two critical 21st century skills,” said Rebecca Acosta, principal at Jasper Elementary School, where two fifth grade classrooms have been rearranged to an informal flexible seating arrangement.

 “The concept of flexible seating is to make the classroom more of a real-world setting where students collaborate in groups to mirror what they will encounter in future careers,” Acosta said. “Just like adults, students are more productive when they’re not sitting in the same place all day, every day.

 “As attention deficiencies in students continue to rise, educators across the nation are implementing various strategies to help children maintain their focus,” Acosta said.

 Jasper fifth grade teachers Sarah Moore and Kimberly Aguilar implemented full flexible seating classrooms this year, while other Jasper teachers have introduced various flexible seating elements.

 “We focus on the four Cs – comfort, collaboration, commitment and community,” said Moore, who is a first-year teacher at Jasper. “The classroom environment is now much more like the real world and encourages students to work in groups. If there are conflicts, we address those with a single rock-paper-scissors, but we haven’t had conflicts.”

 Students are grouped in sets of four – all at different tables and seating styles. They have their choice of where they can sit and are encouraged to sit at different tables with different students. The groups change every day, although Moore said some students with specific needs are strategically placed closer to the front or with certain students for specific activities.

 “Some prefer to have assigned seats, and a few navigate to the same place every day,” Moore said, noting that the seats on the floor and on swivel chairs are among the most popular. “The point is that they think about where they sit and that they make smart decisions."

 The result is anything but a free-for-all. In fact, students aren’t allowed to race to sit at their favorite spot or with their best friend. If they do, they wait until others are seated before finding their own place for the day.

 That was one of the ground rules students learned during the first week of the school, when they were still in assigned seats. After indoctrination into the concepts of the four Cs, students were given the opportunity to pick where they sat and who they sat with, with the understanding that rules would be strictly enforced.

 “They know this is a privilege,” Moore said “There are reminders of the four Cs in their binders, but if they seem like they don’t remember, I’ll give reminders. They lost it for a week and a half early in the year, but they earned it back. They take a lot of pride in this.”

 The commitment students make is to learn while they are in the classroom.

 “They know they can goof off outside of class, but inside they are committed to what is best for their own learning style,” she said. “They also know to respect the classroom. This is their community.”

 The flexible seating concept is not without its challenges. For example, the tables don’t have cubbies for children to store their books and supplies. Instead, books are arranged on bookshelves. Supplies such as pencils, markers, glue and rulers supplied are kept in caddies on each table. Personal supplies and other items remain in student backpacks when they aren’t being used.

 A seating chart is used when there is a substitute teacher.

 “The hardest part was figuring out how to manage it,” Moore said. “But I always knew I wanted to do this. I researched flexible seating in grad school (at Whittier College) and wanted to create this kind of classroom environment. It took a while to get established, but we’ve all gotten used to it and it’s working.”

 After trial and error, both Moore and Aguilar are happy with their arrangements. They have the freedom to make adjustments to fit the educational needs of their students, while laying the foundation for the future for interactive classrooms.