I remember my classrooms in elementary, middle, and high school years so well—rooms full of neatly lined individual rows of desks and chairs all facing the blackboard with a teacher squarely positioned in the center front. I also remember classes like art, choir, and even science, where we stood up, moved around, and learned in different configurations than experienced the rest of the day. I could move, I was comfortable, and in many ways, as I reflect back, I think this novelty lent itself to a greater investment in myself and my learning in those classes. I distinctly remember feeling more creative and less anxious.

Understanding the influence of the space in which we learn and our engagement in learning has been explored over the past ten years to a much greater extent than at any time before. Whether it is the design of the classroom, the decorations on the walls, the seating options, student choice, or the technology used, the learning environment plays a significant role in student engagement and ultimately, student achievement (Cole, Schroeder, Bataineh, & Al-Bataineh, 2021).

Active Learning in a Dynamic Space
Referred to as “active learning classrooms,” “flexible classrooms,” or “dynamic teaching spaces,” the physical environment of schools and classrooms influences comfort, behavior, and social interactions among peers and between teachers and their students. In addition, research has indicated that attention, communication, and collaboration all increase in dynamic learning spaces (Haack, 2019; Tobia, Sacchi, Cerina, Manca, & Fornara, 2020). There’s even evidence pointing to the positive impact of flexible seating and learning math—a subject that for many students (myself included!) may be a source of increased anxiety (Kelin, 2020).

Flexible seating can play a role in positive well-being and improved mental health. These thoughtful and intentionally designed learning environments promote the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development of students while promoting academic well-being and inclusion for all types of learners (Aziz et al., 2017).

A Student-Centered Approach

Hailed as a student-centered approach to learning, flexible learning environments help empower students to be agents of their own learning through the increased ability to adapt, create, and cooperate. Self-reliance, self-regulation, and problem-solving skills increase (Cole, Shroeder, Bataineh, Al-Bataineh, 2021). Finally, motivation, attention, and task-appropriate behaviors improve in these dynamic learning spaces (Bluteau, Aubenas, & Dufour, 2022).

As with all things, there will be student outliers. In these environments, teachers continue to tune into the individual needs of students to provide the structure and routine that some students need for their best learning. Similar to the flexibility of furniture design, the educator’s approach must also allow for flexibility, so that students benefit from the choices provided in active learning classrooms.

The Craig School is an independent school in Mountain Lakes that specializes in working with students with learning disabilities in grades 2 – 12. The Craig School’s program features proven, research-based learning strategies based on a comprehensive, whole-child approach and multi-sensory instructional strategies. Our tools allow students to build their academic foundations, increase their ability to be active and independent learners and develop a sense of who they are as individuals and students.

Dr. Kara A. Loftin has been working in education for 23 years and has dedicated her career to developing and facilitating interventions and support for K-12 students with exceptionalities. As Head of School at The Craig School, she oversees an evidence-based school program that values parent-school partnerships and is grounded in Orton-Gillingham instructional practices, multi-sensory learning, whole child development, and organizational skills development. She earned a Ph.D. in Special Education from the University of Northern Colorado. 

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