Flexible learning environments allow students to choose the space that current works best for them. A flexible classroom space can help students be comfortable, work collaboratively, communicate, and develop self management skills.
At Davis Elementary, 5th grade teacher, Jane Weber, has created a remarkably flexible environment for her students. When you look in the room, one thing jumps right out – no desks, no rows, no assigned seating.
“These students spend more of their waking hours here than in any other place — why would I not want it to feel like home?”
Jane spent time thinking about how her classroom would be unique. “As a December graduate, I spent the Spring semester long-term subbing and just thinking about what I wanted my classroom to feel and look like. While I am a lover of bright colors and rainbows, I started to realize that being in a comfortable space that felt like home was my main goal. These students spend more of their waking hours here than in any other place — why would I not want it to feel like home? From there, I started venturing into more rustic designs and neutral colors.”
Getting it done
Changing classroom furniture doesn’t have to break the bank. Jane’s parents were looking to downsize and donated some pieces. “And that is how I found myself with a dining room and a living room in my classroom!” A thrift store coffee table creates a low table for working while seated on the floor. Flexible thinking led to new pet beds becoming flexible seating cushions. Area rugs complete a welcoming space
Students have responded favorably to Jane’s classroom. Each day students come in eager to choose their place and get started. “I think that is one of the most beautiful things about my room; it has made coming to school for fifth graders almost as exciting as they were in earlier years of education when play was the focus.”
Jane says it better than I ever could:
The room also allows for students to continue developing self-regulation, self-reflection, and collaboration skills. It is so cool to hear a student come in and realize, “I went to bed late because of soccer practice. I’m going to sit at the dining room table today so I’m not tempted to fall asleep in the living room.” I think too often we as “the grown-ups” doubt what a student is able to realize about themselves and believe that we need to think for them… We don’t. I want them to realize that they are entirely capable of recognizing their own needs and being proactive for themselves. I’m just along for the ride to help them realize this, as well as continue to be left in awe by these amazing kids!
Elephant (not) in the room
The need to accommodate standardized testing is a concern many teachers have when redesigning their rooms for flexibility. Jane also had this concern. Standardized testing is well supported by the “traditional” classroom with desks in rows and assigned seating. When Jane brought this concern to her principal, Jennifer Daniels, she was told, “Don’t let testing be the reason you don’t do this. We will figure it out!” Support from campus administration is vital to successfully creating a flexible learning space.