The Use of Furniture in a Student-Centred Primary School Learning Environment
© 2021, New Zealand Association for Research in Education. Classroom furniture has evolved over time from fixed desks facing the front to maintain order and control to a range of flexible furniture types to encourage student-centred pedagogies. This article reports research that applied a socio-material approach to explore how furniture is used in a flexible learning environment. Data were gathered from observations, reflections, student focus group interviews and teacher interviews in one school in New Zealand. In this context it was found that students used furniture for different purposes. Individual student preferences and differences were evident including unconventional use of furniture. The use of furniture was influenced by the teachers, students, environment, furniture design and the curriculum, and mediated by pedagogy and a focus on developing autonomy and environmental competence. The students demonstrated environmental competence, including awareness of the ways that the available furniture can be used for different types of curriculum activities and how environmental and social conditions can affect comfort, collaboration and concentration levels. In classrooms where students move around the space, environmental competence should be deliberately embedded in the teaching programme implicitly and explicitly. In this context, the teachers controlled the environment and the students had restricted autonomy over their use of furniture. The notion of student-centredness in contemporary classroom environments requires further investigation.