Imagine walking into a classroom and seeing students lying on the floor, standing up, gently bouncing on stability balls while writing, wobbling on a wobble stool, or sitting in a circle playing a math game on the carpet. This is what you’ll see in a flexible, or deskless, classroom. However, more than the absence of desks, a flexible classroom is characterized as being one that is owned by the learners, where the teacher acts as the facilitator. A classroom can still be a flexible classroom with 22 desks. It’s HOW you use those desks.
Students thrive when given voice and choice. In a flexible classroom, students are given a voice to express their learning styles and preferences, and choice as to where they complete their work. Think about life. It is full of choices. Why do we not take the opportunity to cultivate this in our youngest learners? Students, as young as Kindergarteners, are able to vocalize their choices, and they become quite thoughtful in their responses. You will hear students say things like, “I like to stand up when I’m doing math because I can spread the base ten blocks out and have room to work.” “I like to read on my tummy on the carpet. It helps me stay focused.” “Well, sitting by the window where I do my best writing, so I always go there.”
Two years ago when I was working through this idea and trying to make it a reality, I realized that most of my day was for small groups - guided reading groups, guided math groups, writing conferences, strategy groups. Most of the day I was giving students the freedom to choose where they want to work for those activities, but I was attached to having that place to send them back to. Why was I so keen on having students at a desk? I eventually realized that the answer was control. When I began to release control I saw problem-solving, critical-thinking, and collaborative skills increase. I saw a rise in productivity and fewer redirections. Students were motivated by choice, but also that it was a spot where they truly were more productive. I found that when students are accountable for making their own choices, they want to do their best work.
Lots of teachers are making the move to flexible seating. However, this isn’t just a “trendy” move where the details take care of themselves. It takes a great amount of investment - in the actual seating choices, but also realizing that students aren’t immediately going to be more collaborative, more productive, and know their learning preferences right away. Your classroom management will need to be on point while students are learning the procedures. While a deskless classroom is definitely more flexible and fluid, students must know the procedures to keep it safe and productive. It will take many conversations and think-aloud modeling to make sure students navigate their learning preferences and figuring out where they enjoy working.
I learned that flexible seating wasn’t going out and buying $100 worth of inflatable balls or putting their desks in a closet. It was much more than creating a Donors Choose project and putting it in my classroom. It was drastically changing my mindset to realize that the learners that we serve should have more input in our classroom. That every single decision made should be put through the, “Is this best for kids or is it easier for us?” test. Our students deserve flexible classrooms. Our world is changing; our classrooms shouldn’t continue to look the same as they did 50 years ago.