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Flexible seating: a trend favoring attention

Working while standing, reading lying on the floor, discussing on a stability ball… Here are some examples of what can be done in a “flexible” classroom!

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Working while standing, reading lying on the floor, discussing on a stability ball… Here are some examples of what can be done in a “flexible” classroom!

See our flexible planning directory to find other ideas!

Derek, student of 3e cycle, great creator of multiple universes in Minecraft and lover of video games, considers school as a necessary evil that children must endure, despite all the love he has for teachers who have crossed his path for more than five years .

When we shows pictures of classrooms arranged in flexible seating, he is impressed and strongly seduced by these environments which remind him of kindergarten, which look like " cool "And" take it easy ".

What is the flexible seating?

Open a classroom door and see these students reading while lying on a mat, or standing together working on a math problem while others bounce gently on stability balls. Welcome to a class with flexible furnishings (flexible seating).

In a flexible classroom, with or without a desk, the teacher leaves much of the control and several choices of learning activities to his students. Problem-solving, critical thinking, collaborative skills as well as productivity increase, according to those who have adopted the approach.

Le monde change. « Nos salles de classe ne devraient pas avoir la même apparence qu’il y a 50 ans », estiment les promoteurs du flexible seating.

What does the research say?

Already in 1912, Maria Montessori observed that children sitting at their desks for long hours became restless, unruly, lost their concentration or even became limp.

The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, NY, following a study of nearly 300 students over an entire school year, found that standing at tables, moving around during class, and using a variety of particular postures would burn more calories. Standing room only in classroom of the future report this experience.

The Ranjana Mehta research, from the Texas A&M Ergonomics Center, also report that being active improves learning abilities. Students not only burn more calories, but they also pay more attention. Blake, Benden and Zhao (2015) also come to promising conclusions regarding student engagement.

Stability balls are especially great for boys, writes K. Wuatt

Studies continue and indicate that these types of classroom layouts have positive learning effects.

One can also consult this one, suggested by Mr. Samuel Puszkarek, which reports about the fact of learning standing, as it is sometimes the case with the high tables which one finds in the flexible classes, "7 to 14% improvement in cognitive performance across several executive function and working memory tasks; this improvement range was consistent with that reported in a 13-week low to vigorous exercise program ”(Standing up for learning, Mehta et al., 2015), paragraph 4. Discussion, lines 10 to 12.

A Facebook group for mutual aid between teachers

In Quebec, it is teachers who take the initiative for changes and who often pay for the new furniture they buy themselves at garage sales, in discount stores or even by building them outright. All of this shows a good dose of creativity on the part of these teachers.

Josée Portelance created on September 10, 2016 the French speaking Facebook group Flexible seating. You can also read his blog Josée's class, where she describes her classroom transformation process.

Le groupe Facebook est très dynamique. On y trouve non seulement de magnifiques photos, mais aussi de multiples trucs et conseils. Par exemple, une enseignante demande « Quelle est la hauteur de vos tables basses? Je suis en 1time année ».  Ce à quoi une autre répond : « Le concierge a coupé les pattes des tables avec une scie à métal pour qu’ils travaillent assis sur des coussins ou à genoux. La table est à 37 cm du sol. »

Selon les échanges dans le goupe Facebook, la plupart des élèves aiment le type d’aménagement « flexible », mais certains préfèrent encore les bureaux classiques. On conseille de respecter les préférences des élèves. Certains jeunes élèves de première année seraient même déçus de ne pas entrer « dans une vraie classe »!

Here are some interesting quotes:

« Lorsque j’ai commencé, j’ai permis à mes élèves de s’installer là où ils le souhaitaient. Aujourd’hui, ils ont toujours une place assignée. Certains choisissent d’y passer la majorité de la journée, alors que d’autres n’y sont que lorsqu’ils y sont obligés. »

« Pour certains enfants, choisir une place demande un trop gros effort, ceux avec le TDAH par exemple ».

« Vingt cinq enfants qui se disputent quatre bean-bags, it's not flexible seating. » Une enseignante a donc élaboré un tableau de réservation des places « spéciales ».

One of the teachers in the group explains that the flexible seating is the best way to organize your multi-level reception class (first to sixth year).

Where to start?

Erin Klein, in EdSurge News of March 2016, gives the following advice:

  • think about how to maximize the space you have;
  • conserve as much floor space as possible;
  • have a number of different seats to accommodate the tastes of the students;
  • research indicates that monochromatic layouts and less vivid colors work best;
  • the ideal is to use natural light as much as possible;
  • include green plants in your landscaping plans;
  • avoid laminated posters that reflect light;
  • accrocher les affiches  au niveau des yeux des enfants;
  • provide spaces to place student materials;
  • provide more seats than there are students in the class.

On recommande aussi d’impliquer les élèves lors du processus de transformation du local. Dans le groupe Facebook mentionné précédemment, un enseignant écrit : « Penser l’espace de travail avec les élèves, c’est aussi montrer qu’on s’intéresse à eux, ce qui n’est pas négligeable pour le climat de la classe et favorise les apprentissages ».

To enrich your reflection, you can also read Jean-Paul Moiraud, The body in the training space.


Thanks to: Édith Beaupré, David Benay, Julie Berthelot, Julien Boisvert, Julie Chandonnet, Caroline Desfossés, Mélanie Demers, Marie-Ève Gagné, Lyne Dugas, Dominik Laforge-Leblanc, Marie-Josée Laprise, Amélie Larrivée, Josée Portelance, Peggy St -Laurent and Caroline Vigneault for allowing me to use their photos for the short video accompanying the article. I hope I haven't forgotten anyone!

About the Author

Ninon Louise Lepage
Ninon Louise Lepage
Ninon Louise LePage is a pedagogue and museologist who recently came out of premature retirement to be reborn as an educational designation. She has taught at the Université du Québec à Montréal and the Université de Sherbrooke in science education, in addition to working at the Canadian Heritage Information Network as a museology consultant. She also writes for our French friends at Ludomag. She also invites all interested to contact her so that she can talk about you, your students, your school and your particular experiences in digital and computer education.

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