It is quite easy to get caught up in what is new and trendy in education, and often those trends are just that, trends. I heavily weigh moving forward with anything new, as I must see true instructional value in the changes I make to the classroom. Flexible learning spaces have been on my radar for awhile, and last year I had the opportunity to make it a reality in my K-5 technology classroom.
My view of the flexible classroom may differ a bit from others, but what I see as valuable is what is important to me. My classroom had five tables each with five Ikea stools, a large 12×12 rug, a futon, crate seats around a smaller 5×7 rug, two stools, and two small collapsible chairs at my two PC station. Each space was loved in my room, but that futon was by far the big hit! Kids loved it!
This space was amazing, but the space itself doesn’t just happen. Classroom management must be at the heart of any flexible learning space. I taught over 700 kids last year and made classroom management at the heart of each class. I can say without a doubt the pros outweigh any cons one finds along the way when it comes to flexible learning spaces with good classroom management.
Classes began with 8-10 minutes of direct instruction to guide students into the task they would do for the remaining 35 minutes. Students had to take part in the direct instruction in one of two places. They could sit on the carpet, or they could sit at a table. This helped me keep consistency, make sure everyone knew the path we were headed on, and avoid having to repeat directions over and over during class.
Once we had our learning path set, students had to FIRST log into the Chromebook, and then they could choose ONE space that worked best for them. I did allow a bit of flexibility with this in K,1st, and 2nd grade. Not always was the first chosen choice of seating best for all, so often we made a second or third choice that would help us make everyone successful!
When our class time was coming to an end, all students needed to return to the carpet or the tables, and return five Chromebooks to each table. We would wrap up the activity and reflect, and a week later we would do it all again! I honestly didn’t fear this classroom strategy with any grade level, but I certainly had to adapt it for certain grades and classes. It was an amazing learning experience for sure. What I found was that SPACE was huge. It allowed students to have lots of elbow room for learning, and that meant hardly any behavior problems at all. Sure, we had to work out a few “he took my seat” issues, but in the grand scheme of things, it made my room run so smooth every day!
Now looking forward, I have made a leap, and I have decided that I am ready to go back to the classroom. I will be teaching 3rd grade in the fall, and YES, I will have the same classroom philosophy! The best part is that I taught 2nd grade every week last year, so my kiddos will come into my class in the fall and already know how my learning space works! I will be adding a futon, and swapping a teacher desk for a kidney table for small groups, but overall we will be running the same vision of learning. It truly is about structure. If you have a clearly laid plan, and you are consistent, what you will find is that you are building ownership in learning. Eight year olds can absolutely work within this structure, they simply need guidance and support in showing them what task based learning looks like. Amazing things can happen when you let go of “sit still, and work quietly”, and apply more of the “work where and how you learn best”. Let’s face it, movement is key to getting through a day with little ones, and when we embrace something as simple as a flexible learning space, amazing things can happen!
Share your thoughts and ideas on flexible learning spaces with us in the comments below.
Author: Jaime Vandergrift, a ClassFlow Ambassador and an Instructional Technology Specialist at Sara Harp Minter Elementary School.