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6 ways to personalize learning with flexible seating

By Julie Randles
February 17, 2017
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Putting students at the center of learning takes a double commitment. One to ensure that instruction and learning address distinct student needs, interests and aspirations, and one to provide spaces that support a student-centered program.  

It also requires educators to consider the various teaching formats they use and creating learning environments to support them.

Michael Mades, director of technology for the Sun Prairie School District in Wisconsin, suggests teachers ask themselves questions like: What does a seminar look like and how can it be organized in the classroom? What might lecture-based instruction look like in different spaces? Where can pairs or small groups work? How might we display information? How can we share learning artifacts? When do we need room for audiences and when do we need silent working spaces?

Then, begin to create environments that support your responses and the unique learners in your classroom. Consider these options:  

Collaboration spaces. Space communicates intention, and if you want students to collaborate, you need to create spaces that let them work collaboratively and learn from each other. This approach puts emphasis on the 4 C’s – communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity – as an integration strategy, Mades says.

Areas for varied types of learning. Teaching takes many forms – seminars, lectures and group discussions, for example. And learning can happen individually, in pairs or in small groups. Be sure your learning space provides opportunities for different instructional practices and varying student combinations.

A variety of furniture. By incorporating flexible seating into learning spaces, students can decide where they are most comfortable learning. “Popular with students are high-top tables with stools, lounge chairs and sofas with laptop trays, and collaboration tables for partner and group work, floor cushions for cozy reading and workbenches for making,” Mades says.  

Multiple spaces to demonstrate learning. Students also need variation in the types of spaces they can use when demonstrating their learning. Build in spaces that allow for poster sessions where students display text and images of their projects, give a brief summary and answer audience questions, for example. Or a space where students can provide a Ted Talk-style presentation.

Mades points to a recent poster session at his school where students gave demonstrations of their work with 3D printing and models, origami and tabletop games to school employees, parents and guardians.

Space for making. Makerspaces and the materials in them can be as varied as the exciting artifacts students will create. Carve out some space that includes a work surface, a project storage area, access to tech- and non-tech materials and tools that support the use of materials. Makerspaces provide yet another place for students to demonstrate their learning.

Varied sound zones. Loud. Quiet. Silent. Provide different sound zones according to the type of learning and instruction. Loud zones allow for group collaborative learning and teaching. Quiet zones can be used by small groups or pairs. Silent zones are perfect for reading, testing or independent work. Providing zones means students can choose a space that recognizes their learning preferences.

Share the ISTE Standards with your students and download the free 'I am a digital age learner' classroom poster.