Flexible learning spaces are a method of teaching and learning in which the students are given the freedom to decide which ways they learn best. Providing spaces that are flexible and accommodating for diverse needs fosters better learning environments, positive expectations, and an opportunity for students to take control of their own learning. When flexible learning spaces are implemented appropriately, educators will see the impact on achievement as students become more involved in their learning.
What is a flexible learning space?
A flexible learning space refers not only to how the physical space of a classroom may be used, but also to how students can be grouped together, how time for independent study vs. exploration is used, and how the pace and mode of learning may be customized. While this may look different from classroom to classroom, the idea behind a flexible learning environment is that teachers provide students with the opportunity to identify the ways in which they learn best, therefore increasing student engagement and achievement through differentiated means.
The Preservation Hall Education team says, “Our venue is our classroom. Making adaptations to the physical, visual, and auditory spaces increases accessibility in music venues. Flexible spaces are not just about the objects around us, but the sounds, lighting, and ability to go against traditional venue norms. We foster a space where students can naturally feel and react to music.”
Examples of flexible learning spaces may include:
- Flexible Furniture: Supporting flexible learning spaces calls for supporting the developmental need for movement and versatility rather than the traditional classroom seating of desks arranged by columns and rows.
Imagine: adjustable desks, choice of standing vs. sitting, rolling chairs, movable furniture, mobile carts, and furniture that allows a student to move or shift position
- Flexible Design: A learner-centered environment with flexible learning spaces also allows for students to work in different areas of the classroom and to work either independently or in a group setting.
Imagine: students lying on carpet or bean bag chairs, high-top tables vs. seating choices that are low to the ground, quiet or private areas to work, movable doors or partitions, open areas for students to collaborate, or outdoor learning spaces
What are the benefits?
Enhanced personalization of flexible learning spaces in the classroom involves more than just providing students with the choice of where to sit. It is about the opportunity to address diverse learning needs and amplifying student voices to better understand how they would like their classroom to look, sound, and feel.
The benefits of flexible learning spaces in the classroom are advantageous to both the student and the educator. When students are engaged in their own learning and have the opportunity to differentiate the ways in which they collaborate and interact with the content, their achievement increases. For educators, this brings more successful and engaged classes and alleviates possible behavior challenges that may stem from a traditionally more rigid classroom structure.
While flexible learning spaces allow for different styles of learning, they also support different styles of teaching. Educators can anticipate more engaging lessons that encourage collaboration and exploration with content, access to different tools, and innovative ways to deliver lessons.
How can music-integrated classrooms, band rooms, or music venues create flexible learning spaces?
One of the most important factors when designing a classroom, band room, or other music venue to be a flexible learning space, is the collaboration between instructor and students to design a space that is conducive to learning for all students.
In a traditional music-integrated classroom setting, consider:
- Student Input: This can be through student-created designs and blueprints of the classroom, surveys, and classroom meetings. Students may want to create a design including near whom they may work best, where in the room is best for their own learning, and what the desk setup may look like.
- Accessibility: Learning resources should be within reach for your students. Consider the various needs of your student population such as range in height, mobility devices, and overall space for movement.
- Sensory Input and Collaboration: Arrange desks, tables, chairs, and sensory seating in ways that encourage collaboration and engagement.
In a band room, consider:
- Student Input: Depending on the space (there may be instruments or immovable furniture), ask for student input. Allow students to collaborate with you and their peers to determine how the space could best be used when exploring instruments, reading music, working on solo and group projects, etc. Work together to decide where instruments may be kept, rules for working in solo areas vs. groups, and what furniture will be conducive to their best learning.
- Accessibility: Determine what materials are needed and how they can be used to support diverse learning needs. For example, if working with instruments, think about how you can store the instruments for easy access, easy-traffic areas where students can maneuver around the room, and alternative seating options.
“The band room, uniform storage room, instrument storage room, band director’s office are unfortunately not designed with accommodations in mind. Thus I had to improvise,” says former band director, clarinet player and saxophonist Louis Ford.
Mr. Ford described how soundproof cubicles and practice rooms helped support flexible learning spaces in his classroom. In addition, he used sectionals for reeds, brass, percussion, strings, and vocals.
In a music venue, consider:
- Teacher/Student Input: Music venues should prepare to have flexible environments when students are present. Conferring with chaperones prior to the visit is a good way to fully prepare for the visit. When modifying the space, consider the age range of students and the occasion. Modifications may include designated areas for standing or dancing, wobble cushions, floor seating options (pillows, movable benches, various types of chairs).
- Accessibility: Determine the accessibility needs of the students. Accessibility considerations may include ramps, space for maneuvering mobility devices, as well as a safe space for reduced noise or stimulation.
“Bridging the classroom and venue experience is important for our Kids in the Hall field trip at Preservation Hall,” says the Preservation Hall Education team. “Student visitors vary in age and needs. Our benches and chairs can be rearranged to accommodate groups. You’ll see students standing, dancing, rocking, shouting, balancing on cushions, utilizing sensory kits, laughing, moving, singing, clapping, stomping, sitting on the floor, or even watching quietly. Some even enjoy the live performance from a distance in the hallway of the venue.”
When considering the benefits of implementing flexible learning spaces in a music environment, it is important to remember how this approach is similar to any other classroom approach. Teachers, directors, and venue managers must have a clear set of expectations for both the space and the academics, as well as a mutual understanding and respect for varying styles among students. Flexible learning spaces can be powerful tools when implemented strategically, and most certainly will encourage more student engagement and, therefore, achievement.
Best practices and resources. Best Practices and Resources – School Facilities (CA Dept of Education). (n.d.). Retrieved August 16, 2022, from https://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/fa/bp/
Dhami, H. (2019, September 16). Flexible learning definition and meaning. Top Hat. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from https://tophat.com/glossary/f/flexible-learning/
Hein, A., Price, M. A., & Townsend, R. (n.d.). Resources and Technology. Columbia CTL. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from https://ctl.columbia.edu/resources-and-technology/