Flex seating transforms third grade classroom

Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Holland Elementary third-grader Bryson Keller glanced at his classmates as he sat on a hokki stool in Breanne Rainey's classroom at the school on Tuesday afternoon. The stool, which features a round bottom, is one of the many options students have to choose from in the flexible seating arrangement. "It helps me concentrate when I can move around," Bryson said.

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

HOLLAND — In Breanne Rainey’s third grade classroom at Holland Elementary School, students can choose from a plethora of seating options.

Some students sit on cushions gathered around a coffee table. Others sit on ottoman or crate stools at shorter tables. Most of the students opt for a spot at a table with either a regular chair or a stool. There are also two traditional desks for students who prefer that.

Rainey’s seating arrangement is an example of flexible seating, a new idea in education that mirrors the open-office model some companies have adopted. Flexible seating offers students their choice of different seating styles to ensure comfort and offer variety. Rainey decided to implement flexible seating in her classroom after seven years of special education teaching at Southridge Middle School.

“Through that I learned that kids need adaptive spaces,” Rainey said

When she learned she’d move to teaching third grade this school year, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to implement flexible seating. She had a blank slate and could roll it out at the beginning of the year with students who had never worked with her before.

But before she decided to take the plunge, Rainey put in months of research on the new classroom trend. She found several qualitative studies saying that flexible seating enhances student focus, independence, collaboration and decision making.

She also found articles and blogs from teachers who implemented flexible seating. Those teachers pointed out that flexible seating doesn’t work for all students, particularly special needs students, so keeping some traditional seating is important.

That information played into Rainey’s decision to include traditional desks and tables and chairs in her arrangement.

Holland Elementary third-graders Collin Harger, left, and Wyatt Polley completed their classroom as they made use of flexible seating in Breanne Rainey's classroom at the school on Tuesday afternoon.

In Rainey’s classroom, flexible seating works like this: Her students come to class each morning and go to their assigned seat where they complete independent morning work. After their morning work, they choose where they’d like to sit for the next lesson. Then, before lunch, the students choose another seat for the afternoon lessons. Students who are sitting quietly and behaving get first choice, so the flexible seating works as an incentive for good behavior.

The arrangement also means that students get to choose who they sit next to, allowing friends to sit next to each other with the knowledge that Rainey can move them at any time.

Evangeline Moudry, one of Rainey’s students, said she likes the flexible seating because she can sit somewhere new every day. Moudry also said switching seats helps her focus.

Although students have several seating choices, Rainey said some students still choose the traditional desks and chairs, especially for math lessons. Language arts sees more students looking for comfy seats, such as the cushions around the coffee table. Eventually, the students will learn what works best for their learning style.

“That’s my hope — that they will be able to figure that out on their own,” Rainey said.

So far, Rainey is the only teacher at Holland Elementary to utilize flexible seating, and while she hasn’t gotten any push back on the arrangement, she has had several colleagues wish her luck. Flexible seating tends to require much stronger classroom management skills than a traditional seating arrangement, Rainey said.

Several articles about the arrangements support that statement. In an entry on flexible seating on her blog, The Clutter Free Classroom, National Board certified teacher and curriculum developer Jodi Durgin writes, “Flexible seating success completely depends on how strong the teacher’s classroom management skills are, the flexible seating design, and how it is presented, implemented and maintained.”

Holland Elementary third-grader teacher Breanne Rainey helped third-grader Mia Phillips as she she made use of flexible seating at the school on Tuesday afternoon.

Rainey said her classroom management skills were just one consideration she had when researching flexible seating. Another was where her students would keep their supplies. Traditionally, students keep their books, pencil bags and other supplies in their desks. Without spaces reserved for a single student, however, that isn’t an option in Rainey’s classroom. Instead, students keep their books in their cubbies, and other supplies — pencils, crayons, scissors — are kept in bins at the ends of tables.

Another consideration Rainey had to consider was how to get the furniture. She spent her summer writing several grants, visiting garage sales and resale shops, and up-scaling some of her finds. She was also in her classroom almost every day over the summer getting the seating arrangement just right.

“I knew that I had to have it ready to roll out the first day,” she said.

So far, it seems to be working out. Students are a week into the school year, and Rainey said her students have been engaged and responsive. She’s also heard positive feedback from her students’ parents. If that changes, Rainey said, it’ll be up to her to either keep the flexible seating or go back to traditional desks.

Rainey plans to talk to her students’ parents more about the flexible seating arrangement during parent-teacher conferences and the school’s upcoming open house. She’s even put together brochures for the parents.

“I’m not saying the other (traditional) way is wrong,” Rainey said. “I’m just saying this is a different way.”




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