Learning to Be Flexible


Today’s Contributor: Tanya DaMommio

Tanya is a 5th grade ESL/Reading teacher at Summitt Elementary. She grew up in Austin and attended AISD schools as well as UT. She received her M.Ed. from Texas State University in 2009. She loves teaching at the school that all 3 of her children attended.


In fall 2016 I started experimenting with Flexible Seating in my 5th grade classroom. I lowered tables, raised tables, inflated stability balls, laid down carpets, found cushions, created Pinterest-worthy crate seats, appropriated a standing desk and made a trade for some wobble stools. I even ordered filters for my fluorescent lighting. I won’t lie, it was a lot of sweaty work; luckily I have family and friends who are willing to help on a weekend. All in all, this adventure has been fun for me and beneficial to the students.

There were a lot of unanticipated challenges as the year went along…it’s not as easy to pass out papers when students are sprawled all over the room or group them for quick activities. You can’t say “Table 2, talk about question 5”. It’s not as easy to get to students who have their hands up, or to get their attention, when they aren’t all pointed one direction. It can be difficult to keep the room clean or make it accessible for custodians. So, there is definitely a steep learning curve for classroom management in this new system. I had to come up with all-new systems and classroom management became more important than ever before.

Because of the new arrangement, my students naturally became more independent. Instead of passing out papers in the traditional way I created an area in the classroom where materials would be set out for students to come and grab. The bonus to this scheme was that students always knew where to look for materials if they came in late or returned from pull-out.

Another problem I encountered was that certain seats were more popular than others and students would try to rush into the room to claim them first. I solved that one by returning to the idea of tables. I created work groups that were about 5-6 students each and rotated which group chose their seats first each day. This worked wonderfully; students felt they were getting a fair shot at their favorite seat. Additionally, I was able to use those groupings for other things like quick turn & talks, rotations (centers), lining up, etc.

This year I started with Flexible Seating in place. I made a few changes, but for the most part I didn’t worry about making drastic changes because I knew from experience that the room would continue to evolve all year. I love the joy my students have upon entering my room every day and I love how comfortable they feel here. The only major addition I made this year was another large carpet to create a meeting space in the center of my classroom. It adds a further sense of community connectedness and ownership that has been really positive.

Flexible seating has provided greater student choice and ownership in their learning. My aim was to accommodate the individual needs of as many students as possible. After all, adults don’t sit in one place all day to do their work, why should kids? As for navigating around the room … that continues to be a challenge. Students tend to clump when they work in partners or groups and they love to sprawl on the carpets when they can. But, they are working effectively and collaborating so I’m ok with the trade off. I feel like my classroom successfully meets those goals even if it appears to be a chaotic mess most of the time.

6 Comments

  1. Thank you for this post. I am a high school chemistry teacher and I *sort of* have flexible seating in that during work times a lot of my students choose to stand at lab tables to work instead of sitting (which is fine with me) but I wonder how I can take this further in a science classroom where you have so much lab equipment and furniture everywhere. I am still thinking about how to do it in my room but it’s nice to see other teachers have successfully implemented this.

  2. Thank you for sharing all of your insights, challenges, and successes! It is always such a pleasure to collaborate with you and your students in your learning space. The level of student ownership and choice always blows me away.

  3. Tania, This is such a great reflection on how even the physical space of the classroom has an effect on student agency and independence. I love how you have shared the obstacles and how you’ve solved for them. What lucky students you have!

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