A few years ago, I was researching ideas for a flexible seating high school classroom set up when I came across a 1998 research study by Glen Earthman and Linda Lemasters titled “Where Children Learn: A Discussion of How a Facility Affects Learning.” While the authors addressed the challenges with this type of participant-based data, they reported a synthesis of studies and concluded that facilities can affect student achievement, attitudes, and behavior. Personally, this wasn’t news to me because I’ve always felt a connection between my surroundings and my happiness. (Still, I’m always happy when my notions are supported by scholarly research.)
Aside from this study, I wasn’t able to find much research regarding flexible seating in high school classrooms. Therefore, with the support of my administrators, I decided to conduct my own study by implementing flexible seating in my classroom. I made intentional decor and organization decisions to create a flexible learning environment that would highlight reading, writing, discussion, and perspective-taking. I’m going to share the results with you today. My hope is that you’ll find the inspiration I was looking for when I first started. You can find most of the items in my classroom here, and you can visit my Instagram to see a video tour of my classroom.
Flexible Seating Work Space
To me, flexible seating means that students have seating options and the teacher has instructional options based on the physical organization. I designed my classroom so that students have several seating options: table seating, high stool seating, and standing desks. In addition, I have two sections in the classroom that provide alternative chair and floor seating (pictured below). This set up gives students options while also giving me the ability to plan learning tasks that encourage collaboration, like learning stations and Socratic Seminars. I opted for a less eclectic approach to flexible seating, and though it is a bit more traditional, it works really well for my instructional style. This is my second year with this set up and my students have voiced very favorable opinions.
When I decided to move to flexible seating, I first started exploring and asking around the school. I was able to trade my old single-student desks to get these from another classroom that wasn’t in use. The accent chair in the back of the room was donated by my superintendent’s mom, and the accent table is actually an old computer cart that no one was using. Thankfully, we have a really talented and generous staff and administration! The standing desks were designed and built by our ultra-talented middle school principal and our biology teacher. The high stools were purchased by the school.
Choice reading is a key concept in my classroom, so my classroom library is an important focal point in my classroom. This is also a flexible seating option for a small group. You can read my best tips for building a classroom library here. I purchased these chairs with a gift card I received from WeAreTeachers for participating in their back-to-school classroom tour last year.
My original goal was to move to a small standing desk, but this year, it wasn’t in the budget. Instead, I decided to make over my school-issued desk. I wish I would have taken a before picture because the change is really drastic. Not that there was anything wrong with my desk, but it didn’t exactly fit my color scheme or style. (I’ll talk about those coming up next.) I covered the desk in black chalk contact paper. It easily comes off, so I didn’t have to worry about getting permission for this. Then, I covered the top with regular wrapping paper from Joann Fabrics. I just taped it down on the sides and put a black boarder in the front.
If you’re worried about durability, I can tell you that I did similar decor last year, and it lasted for an entire year. I purchased a plastic desk cover for under my computer, which helped with the durability. My desk, microwave, mini-fridge, Keurig, and teacher closet are all together to free up more space in the middle of the room for the student space. Finally, I made the paper flowers at home using leftover cardstock. You can check out my Instagram for a tutorial.
For my theme, I channeled my perspective-taking ELA goals with my classroom decor. I designed posters and bulletin boards to encourage students to see new perspectives.
Try a New Lens Interactive Bulletin Board
When I created this bulletin board, I was trying to answer two questions: 1) How can I encourage students to see new perspectives? and 2) How can I avoid the “What can I do for extra credit?” question that I always get at the end of the nine weeks. This bulletin board answers both of those questions and the images go so well with my theme. You can check out this bulletin board here.
Lenses in Literature Posters
The posters across the top of my bulletin board and white board are my Lenses in Literature mini-poster set to display ten literary perspectives with quotations from literature. You can find them here.
Window to the World Reading Challenge
Because I didn’t have a second bulletin board, I created a make-shift bulletin board with this decorative window frame from Joann Fabrics. I couldn’t find the link to this from Joann Fabrics, but I found it on clearance. It was $80 for 75% off for $20. This bulletin board displays categories for a reading challenge that students can access from a QR code. This challenge is a great way to foster positive reading habits and associations in a low-stakes, fun way. I also plan to put up a picture of each student who completes the challenge. You can check it out here.
The large poster you see hanging in the picture above is one of four perspective-taking posters that I created. I uploaded the posters to Staples.com and printed them as 24 x 36 inch colored blue prints. (This is a trick I learned from my friend, Ashley @Buildingbooklove, and it saves a lot of money if your Staples will fill the request for you.) Then, I purchased eight strips of wood at 25 inches each from Home Depot. They cut the wood for me for free. Using hot glue, I simply glued the wood to the top and bottom of the posters with the wood on the top. Lastly, I added a string with hot glue and hung it using a 2-lb Command Hook.
My style is farmhouse inspiration with a touch of modern. Therefore, I went with farmhouse wood bulletin board backgrounds, modern black and white stripes, and floral patterns.
I don’t care for the fluorescent lights in my classroom, so I left my windows as opened as possible for natural light. To go with the farmhouse feel, I added two strings of Edison bulbs on the ceiling, and I used these hooks to hang them.
I purchased these Modern Rocking Chairs with a gift card that I received for doing a back-to-school classroom tour for We Are Teachers last year. They are definitely a fan favorite! The area rug was from Tuesday Morning for $24.99 and my parents bought me this wood stool during my first year of teaching. Finally, the Black and White Pillows are from IKEA.
This camera is so special to me! I asked my mom and dad if they had any old cameras to display in my classroom for my perspective-taking theme. My dad found this amazing camera in a box of my grandparent’s old things. Now, whenever I look at it, I’m reminded of my grandma.
My husband spotted this beautiful typewriter for free on a table in our neighbor’s yard. It was so heavy to get here, but it looks so nice in this spot under the window.
Since we do a lot with stations, I made six station frames with these TOLBSY White Frames from Ikea. At $.99 each, they can have so many classroom uses.
My desk supplies were courtesy of Yoobi, and they match my color scheme so well. You can find their products on their website or at Target. What’s great about Yoobi is that for every item purchased they donate an item to a classroom in need.
Displaying Student work
To build a reading and writing community, I love displaying student work. I bought three 23 x 35 inch bulletin boards from Target and spray painted them with chalk spray paint to get the chalkboard look. The bulletin boards will be great for adding student work. I also found the white peg boards from the Target Dollar Spot and used command strips to hang those under the bulletin boards.
Results and Insights
This classroom setup was an experiment. After a full year of implementing this setup, I can report it was success on all accounts. Here are my top findings based on student surveys and teacher observation:
- This setup made it possible for me to implement engaging, kinesthetic learning, like learning stations and escape rooms, without the hindrance of bulky desks.
- On the other hand, it also supported traditional lecture better than ever as all students had the opportunity to focus in a seat that made them feel comfortable and ready to learn.
- Students were free to move around the classroom to work with anyone they chose. This meant if they had a conflict with a student or group, they could seamlessly and discreetly move to another seat.
- Most of the time students found a seat they liked early on and didn’t stray from it. My students were wonderful about sharing, and I never had to get involved with seating issues.
- Classroom management worked just as it did before implementing flexible seating. I was intentional and specific about my expectations for my class, including the seating. I’ve always taken a proactive approach to class management in an attempt to limit problems before they start. Part of this plan is minimizing or eliminating downtime. Flexible seating has made it possible for me to seamlessly move from one activity to the next without having to move desks around.
- Also, the open space in the room made it easier for me to walk around the classroom and conference with students while they were working. In addition to classroom management, the classroom community definitely benefited as a result.
Although this setup might not work for everyone, it works beautifully for my teaching style. Initially, I considered more cafe style seating variations with my seating options; however, I decided I needed a bit more structure. My best advice is to design your classroom setup with your teaching style as the focus.
First and foremost, I have to acknowledge my school district for their support, assistance, and encouragement. To keep my out-of-pocket expenses within budget, I applied for several grants. (Some of which I got, some of which I didn’t, and some of which I am waiting to hear about. I have my eye on a couch that I’d love to add to my classroom but will only purchase if I receive a grant.) I also have to add that there are a lot of other materials in the room that I’ve acquired over my ten years in teaching.
Finally, I have to thank my friend and incredible ELA teacher, Ashley Bible, for her Classroom Design Challenge and poster making course as a major reason that I was able to create classroom decor that supports my flexible seating and student learning goals while also staying within budget.