Many studies have shown that classroom students’ seating positions contribute to learning gains. The seating arrangement will not improve a student’s ability to resolve math problems or write grammatically correct paragraphs. However, seating positions will make a difference in a student’s motivation to learn.
Indeed, students’ classroom positions can be manipulated in a way that optimizes motivation, especially among challenged students with learning differences. We know that students who sit in the front tend to be active learners with higher achievement scores than students who are somewhat hidden from the teacher’s field of vision. Moreover, seating at the back of the class has been associated with problem behavior.
Open learning spaces, flexible seating, and classroom aesthetics enhance students’ engagement in the learning process. Engagement in the learning process is defined as motivation to learn. As educators, we argue in favor of a seating design without stationary desks or work spaces where students are able to freely navigate a classroom allowing for increased interaction and collaboration between students and their peers as well as between students and their instructors.
Such designs are ideal in inclusive classrooms allowing for inter-personal engagement. The mobile chairs and desks allow students to interact with each other, check on each other, and help each other in a casual, less structured way. Flexible seating ensures that the learner with difficulties is visible and validated instead of secluded in one fixed classroom location, usually escorted by a “shadow teacher.”
In addition, scaffolding from higher-achieving peers is made possible in flexible seating designs. Inhibited students who are usually forgotten in the back seats now have an opportunity to get noticed, mingle with others, and be involved with group work. Flexible seating arrangements can eventually lead to increased social opportunities like being invited to birthday parties.
Another value of increased motivation to learn facilitated by flexible seating is self-efficacy or self-esteem. When students are afforded the opportunities to validate each other while working in small groups, where each one has valuable contributions to the end product, they grow in their sense of self-worth. Such validation increases the motivation to achieve more.
In flexible classroom designs, these learning groups are continuously changing throughout the year and every new group consists of diversity in learning styles, perspectives, and problem- solving skills. Students with learning difficulties who are merged into these small groupings are thus allowed to implement their unique areas of strength. For example, a student’s artistic talent can be a great asset in illustrating a story written by another student with writing talents.
As an educator, how do you manipulate seating to enhance learning for all students in your classroom?
“Flexible seating helps make learning fun. The benefits far outweigh any negatives”. Kelly Almer, a long-time educator in Little Public Schools in CO who recently switched to flexible seating.