We're 16 years into the new millennium, yet the standard classroom seems to be stuck into a long-gone past. Educational institutions still have to deal with a lot of bureaucracy. Even though most teachers do their best in delivering 21st century instruction, the traditional learning environment — the classroom as we know it — doesn't seem to be an ally. On the contrary, the stiff rows of desks, and the teacher area vs. students area hinder the learning process rather than support it.
The good news is that things start to move in the right direction. Slowly but steady, more and more teachers and school districts dare to throw away the outdated, bolted to the floor desks and replace them with modern, modular, and mobile furniture — or, as I like to call it, smart classroom furniture.
Here's just an example:
These flexible learning environments are better suitable for learner-centered instruction. Students have more control over their learning, can move naturally around the classroom, and take breaks whenever they feel they need one. Teachers are no longer the only source of knowledge, but rather a facilitator; they're still a very important part of the whole learning process, but not the only one. Instead of turning into complete chaos, these classes surprise everyone with improved academic results.
Where there's a will, there's a way
Transforming a traditional classroom in something similar to the above examples doesn't have to be extraordinarily expensive.
Garage sales and flea markets can be a cheap start, as well as donations from families and friends of teachers and students alike. An old armchair can become la pièce de résistance of a reading corner, while a shelf some student no longer needs can become a colorful rolling bookshelf for the same classroom corner.
A vibrant classroom with flexible furniture will have no bored kids. When students are no longer stuck in one place in their individual desks, they interact more with their colleagues and their teachers and pay more attention to what they need to learn.
Instead, they will be happier, miss less classes, and have better grades. Let their academic results speak for themselves, as these will attract principals' interest and eventually more funding.
Smart furniture for the 21st century classroom
Flexibility is the most important aspect of the smart classroom furniture. Every single piece should have more than one usage:
- one desk can be used for solitary work;
- two to four desks can become a table for small groups activities;
- eight or more desks can become a round table for debates and other large group activities;
Continuing this idea:
- the surface of each desk can double as a mobile whiteboard when needed;
- the space under each chair can also store students' backpacks;
- a rolling bookshelf can become a "wall" delimiting a quiet reading corner from the rest of the "louder" classroom;
- the arms of a sofa can double as more storage space.
Just ask your students how they would rearrange their classroom with flexible furniture and be prepared to be amazed by their ideas.
All this mobility and double usage of each piece of furniture contribute towards a flexible work environment that encourages movement. Students can choose what works best for them at a certain time, and then change the setting to meet other new needs. When they're comfortable and when teachers trust their choices, students learn because they want to, not be cause they have to.
Over to you! Do you know about more success stories about smart classroom furniture and flexible learning environments? Would you transform your classroom this way? Do share your thought in the comments section!