It's Spring Break and teachers are hoping to finish the year strong. Students are restless and ready for summer but there are still a few months of school left. If you're considering rearranging your classroom in the hopes of better concentration and focus for your students, now is the time.
Some teachers are attached to traditional classroom designs. Rows of desks, in neat lines, all facing a blackboard, with the teacher positioned at the front of the room. Tradition can be comforting. And, realistically, it can work well for some class dynamics and teaching styles.
But some teachers are trending in another direction. They’ve eliminated their tidy rows of desks and created a more flexible space for students. You can find kids reading together in a corner, all nestled in beanbag chairs or standing around a table, discussing an earth science project they are working on together. Another student may be comfortably seated in a traditional desk and chair, working out math problems.
It can be tricky to change our thinking about how students learn best, especially if we don’t understand the benefits of a flexible classroom. Here are some compelling reasons to consider that might help you make your classroom a better fit for your students.
We all know what a traditional classroom looks like. This type of classroom setup is thought to help students focus, get them on task, and to make it easy for teachers to keep students under control. It has its benefits, including the ability to create a quiet space for all students, an organized room layout, and a feeling of consistency.
For some students, this kind of structure is ideal. They thrive in a highly organized space that is dependable and easily understood. Many teachers are familiar with these kinds of classroom designs and prefer them for their teaching methods. The traditional classroom isn’t outdated. But with the evolution of new ways to teach comes the need to update and evaluate our own methods of structure.
When it comes to managing all learning styles and the needs of every student, flexible classrooms are the key. Not every student works well sitting at a desk for hours on end. Most children are wiggly, full of energy, and learn with their whole bodies.
For example, if you give an eight-year-old a quiet assignment to do on paper at their desk, they might lose focus and pay more attention to what another child is doing in different corner of the room. But if you have them memorize times tables while jumping from one foot to the other, they are more likely to stay focused and complete the task.
Benefits for Students
The benefits of creating a flexible classroom are many, but here are a few important ones.
Most students get distracted and lose focus about 10 to 15 minutes into a project or lesson. But the reality is, true focus starts declining at about 30 seconds. Most of us have a difficult time giving our full attention to anything for very long. The most we can give with concentrated effort is around 45 minutes to an hour (which is why TV shows are about this length). At that point, we need to move on to something else entirely.
Active learning environments, where children can change positions, move to another area of the room, or switch projects, foster better attention. If sitting is making a child feel a bit drowsy, he or she can stand, instantly boosting their focus and interest again.
2) Active Learning
Active learning means participating and engaging, not passively sitting while information is being delivered. Flexible classrooms allow students to become the masters of their education and the teachers to become mentors. When we feel “ownership” of our learning process we also feel more passionate about what we are working on.
Through being able to move about the classroom, change areas as a project or lesson develops, and switch gears when appropriate, students feel empowered to direct their learning effectively.
Humans are naturally drawn toward change. We enjoy shifts in focus and new things easily grab our attention. For students in a traditional classroom, a change might come in the form of another class of students loudly (and happily) playing on the grass right outside the classroom window.
Flexible classrooms make space for change and curiosity. Teachers can build lessons with this mechanism in mind, making it possible for students to follow their interests, take a break when necessary, and to see if a change in work environment helps their focus.
4) Physical Activity
As mentioned above, many children learn best when their whole body is involved in the process. Physical activity encourages the brain to be more alert. Allowing children to stand while working, including physical movement into a lesson, or encouraging children to take a break to do some stretching or jumping jacks - all help bring life and alertness back into the classroom.
Flexible Classroom Furnishings
We know that flexible classrooms help engage learners in new and innovative ways. But what does a flexible classroom include? Flexible classrooms still utilize traditional furnishings, just in new ways! These include:
- Tables: For group work and spreading out books and supplies for a project. Tall tables for standing while working. Smaller tables for students who want to work alone in a quiet corner.
- Desks: For students who thrive in a traditional seating arrangement and for more quiet, solitary work.
- Chairs: Traditional student chairs for sitting at desks and tables. Soft chairs for more comfortable lounging while reading or for group work.
- Rolling white or black boards: These make bringing a lesson to a group of students easy. You can move your learning space and still draw an awesome chart or write a creative list.
Many teachers are searching for better ways to involve students in the learning process. As devoted educators, they want students to not only leave their classroom having gained knowledge but also to feel empowered to be engaged learners. Space truly affects performance, and the way that a classroom is set up can make a huge difference in how students learn. Most children don’t do well in environments where they have to sit quietly all day. Flexible classrooms offer the ability to cater learning to each child, ensuring that they are getting the best education.