Using Flexible Classrooms for Flexible Learning

Educators spend hours each school year attempting to set up their classrooms to optimize the learning space, in order to best meet the needs of their students. Traditional classrooms are quickly proving problematic when teachers wish to engage students in independent learning opportunities or provide differentiated learning.

The Good Shepherd Primary School in Plumpton, New South Wales, Australia, is one school that has sought to provide a truly student-centered learning environment. The school utilizes mixed ability learning groups to differentiate instruction and meet the needs of all students. Portable classroom dividers are one possible way to structure the physical space of a classroom to facilitate such learning, especially when teachers coordinate student groups to be facilitated by support staff and even volunteers.

But why use portable classroom dividers rather than just designate specific areas to small-group instruction? A study conducted in Blackpool, England, during the 2011-2012 school year showed an interesting correlation between the academic success of students across seven primary schools and the manner in which the classroom environment was structured. The use of flexible spaces was just one of several factors identified as having a significant impact on student learning (Vanhemert, 2013). Another study by Herman Miller, Inc. (2007) identified the classroom’s physical environment at the college level as having a strong impact on student engagement and self-directed learning.

A pyramid learning process- portable partition
A study by the National Training Laboratories found that the more active the teaching and learning methods, the higher the retention rates.—Adapted from The Learning Triangle: National Training Laboratories © mindServegroup 2005

Educators have, over the past several years, striven to bring this sort of student-centered structure to the K-12 level. Even at the earliest primary level, there is something to be gained by allowing students to work within a flexible classroom environment that encourages them to take ownership of their learning.

Portable classroom dividers, such as those available from companies like Portable Partitions, Australia, give teachers at the primary level a unique solution to the problem of space and student attention. Young students, by nature, need a classroom environment that is both visually stimulating as well as provides spaces for focused, distraction free learning. A first grade teacher could, for example, utilize a Telescoping Acoustic Portable Partition with a fabric covering to create smaller learning spaces where guided reading or math groups could be held and be physically, visually, and aurally separated from students rotating through independent word stations. Special needs students can have a safe space in the classroom where support personnel and special education staff can work with such children in an area that is free of distractions,

What, too, of schools where actual classroom space must be created from larger spaces? Portable room dividers that reach to wall height can be used in a variety of configurations to divide large spaces into smaller “classrooms”, and then such partitions removed if large groups need to utilize the full space.

The possibilities are endless, when educators are given the tools to be creative in how to use portable room dividers in making flexible learning spaces.