WHAT IS A FLEXIBLE CLASSROOM?
Flexibility is hard to define in the classroom setting. Are we referring to the colors on the wall? The lighting? The seating? The way students interact with teachers? The real definition is a combination of all of these things, which makes it difficult to determine how flexible classrooms affect student performance. However, a 2015 study conducted by the University of Salford in the UK took on the challenge, exploring 153 flexible classrooms that served 3,766 students aged 5-11. For the purpose of this study, flexibility was defined as “student choice within the space”.
HOW DO I CREATE A FLEXIBLE CLASSROOM?
The three factors they looked at for the study were naturalness (factors like lightness and temperature), stimulation (factors like color and visual complexity), and individualization (factors like flexibility and student ownership). The space should be designed based on the needs of instruction, as well as giving students options that meet their individual needs and can be transformed at any time. It’s a big ask.
Getting student feedback is essential to the process as it fosters communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. Some other things to consider when thinking through the design of a flexible classroom is what you want the end result to be – that is to say, what are the most common ways the space will be used and what arrangement best suits those modalities. At the very least, you will likely want to create a space that can shift between independent work, small group work and whole class work. As in the UK study, another aspect important to the design is the sensory space. Reducing clutter forces you to make intentional decisions about what visual and sensory experiences you want students to have, always being mindful of noise or clutter that may be disruptive, instead of inspirational.
WHO BENEFITS FROM A FLEXIBLE CLASSROOM?
In the study above, the personalization of the classroom, which included optimizing all three of the factors (naturalness, stimulation and individualization) resulted in a 16% academic improvement in the subjects of reading, writing and mathematics.
The individualization piece was perhaps the most important, because it also deals with
inclusivity for students with IEPs, etc. Some of the best technology and innovations in the classroom over the past couple of decades started as accommodations for students with disabilities. Touchscreens, for example, were invented so that students who had a hard time physically using a traditional mouse could still participate. The same is true for things like predictive text, flexible seating and voice dictation. Even flexible seating was originally introduced by occupational therapists in special education settings. These “accommodations” have benefited every student in the class.
Have you started incorporating flexible elements into your classroom? Have you noticed any changes or improvements for students?