Flexible Seating in High School

In my second year of teaching this class, I really wanted to make the room more inviting as well as more comfortable for reading (with the purpose of enjoyment). I felt that with the objective of enjoying reading, I would need a different classroom vibe than a traditional high school classroom.

When I started researching online, it was hard to find high school set ups that would work for me. First of all, most flexible seating you will find is geared towards elementary school. There is a major difference in what types of chairs and materials that elementary sized students can use and high school size students can use. So while there are tons of inexpensive hacks you can implement for elementary students, most of those options weren’t realistic for high school students.

A major recommendation that I found when searching flexible seating was, when it comes to taking on the initiative of flexible seating, start small. There are several advantages to this. First of all, you don’t spend tons of money. Secondly, if you spend a lot of money or time on making seats out of crates and fabrics, and the students don’t end up using them… lots of time and money wasted. You will need to try things out and see what works best for you, your classroom, and your students. Just go on Pintrest and search flexible seating… you will find a wealth of ideas and creations.

I started with a bench and 2 floor chairs (total of $100).

However, the floor seating was so popular with the kids that I ended up buying several more and other styles of floor seating that were available at IKEA.

I also brought a rubber mat from home that my kids (6 and 4) no longer were really using. Day 1 I had kids laying on the mat…

On this adventure, two things I had to get over (in my own mind) were, (1) kids sitting on the floor (germs) and (2) a couch/chair situation without fabric which could hold… anything, (germs, bed bugs etc.) I opted for outdoor cushions that had no zippers or crevices for things to hide. I was also prepared to get rid of them should an issue arise.

I was so shocked by how many kids wanted to sit on the floor! For elementary aged kids, there are lots of floor options including these cool rocking round seats. You can get a pack of 6 for about $32 at Walmart, however the size and weight limit would definitely not work. So I found something similar at IKEA (only the top, not the legs, they are sold separately). It’s very ergonomic, provides good back support and also allows kids to rock if they wish. (seen in use below)

Another seat I got from IKEA are these outdoor chairs. They are plastic, comfortable and durable (also no fabric! šŸ™‚ ). Now the funny thing is IKEA makes a child’s size and an adult size. I bought the child size because it was cheaper ($17.99). I was able to sit in it relatively comfortably so I figured the kids could too. But there is an adult version ($29.99) as well that might be more appropriate. But alas… money is a factor! The kid sized chair also takes up less space.

As fun as the flexible seating can be, it doesn’t mean there are no desks or students who choose traditional seating. Below is a pair of students reading and working together at a desk. You can see that they have situated themselves so that they can communicate and collaborate together, yet not be distracted by other working students.

How flexible seating was related to my classroom routines and expectations of students

Lesson area (mini-lesson)

Work Time (Independent or Group)

Share (wrap-up/summary)

  1. Lesson area: This is where students sit at the beginning of the period and the mini lesson is conducted. In this area, there are only chairs, no desks. We are all close together which has increased engagement and participation immensely.
  2. Work Time: Where students situate themselves can change day to day depending on what work they are focusing on. It also depends on the following…
    1. Independent Reading: Students should seat themselves in an area where they will not be distracted. They will be comfortable by themselves based on the work they need to do that day and how they are feeling.
    2. Group Reading: Students will need to be in an area that supports reading as a group. Most likely at a desk or some kind of table where they can arrange themselves in a circle to ensure all students are participating equally. In pairs, students may need less space. Groups should be in their own spaces and not be close enough to other groups that they will be distracted by other groups discussions or readings.
  3. Share: The share is the summary or wrap up of the period. In this time, students have the opportunity to share out strategies or ideas that they have. Location wise, we are back in the mini-lesson area for the student speaker and have any presentation tools students may need (the board, document camera etc.)

Communicate with your admin

Also your administrator’s expectations may be another thing to keep in mind. Mac asked my principal one day what he thought about my new room, and he said “other than the fact that a kid was sitting on a table?” He was joking, but it did make me more cognizant of the fact that even given the flexibility of flexible seating, non-traditional seating may still be surprising when being viewed by people who are seeing a more traditional set-ups when they are going into other classrooms. It is also something to be mindful of that for me it didn’t come across as inappropriate because the objective of that moment of time in the classroom was the lesson when all students are centered towards the front of the room in a smaller space. And as always, remember that safety is a priority. That being said… aside from that dig/joke/indirect reminder of safety he has been completely supportive of the make-over and seems to have noticed the high engagement of students in their new setting.

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