Going beyond the coloured desk and chair
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 123 No 5, 27 July 2018, p27
Transforming classrooms into flexible seating and learning spaces
It all began with a small group of teachers and teacher-aides sharing some images, stories and posts from Facebook and Pinterest in an attempt to help some of our students who had sensory disorders, hyperactivity and disengagement.
I found an article online about flexible classrooms, a relatively new way to make learning spaces more student-centered and empower student choice, increase student engagement, and improve student participation.
Students learn differently and have different bodily-spatial and kinesthetic needs. Classrooms have to use common spaces for a variety of purposes, and students listen, learn, and perform work in many different ways. Combining our experiences with research-based best practices and advice from occupational therapists, my school now implements several different forms of flexible seating, including standing desks, low kneeling tables, bean bags, bean chairs, ottomans, lap tables, stability gym balls, stools, swivel chairs, laying floor mats and cushions.
Several years ago, I had a very hyperactive student who couldn’t sit in a chair at a desk, found floor group work difficult, was disengaged, wasn’t completing learning tasks and was being isolated socially by his peers because he was disruptive in class. After trialing many different strategies, I decided to take the chair away from his desk one day. He responded very positively by standing, rocking from side to side, and for the first time completed the set task.
To make sure this was not a one off, I persisted, and introduced a purpose built standing table. He continued over the coming weeks to be more engaged, completing set tasks with increasing complexity, and his classroom behavior greatly improved. The other children began to positively interact with him again and he had more control over himself when we worked in groups on the floor.
A study from the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health found that students with standing desks are more attentive than their seated counterparts. In fact, preliminary results showed 12 per cent greater on-task engagement in classrooms with standing desks, which equates to an extra seven minutes per hour of engaged instruction time.
I became so excited by what I was seeing transpiring in my classroom that I spoke with my principal about doing flexible seating on a larger scale. With his overwhelming support and the support of other teachers, our P&C and an occupational therapist, we researched appropriate sized furniture for my class, seating options and seating positions that would support the development of core strength, muscle tone and body positioning.
I was given a grant to furnish my room and make it into a flexible learning space. I continued to see positive results with students who had either behavioural or sensory difficulties. Even my independent learners embraced the ability to be flexible with their choice of learning spaces.
All children are encouraged to try the flexible seating choices during the first term of school. The students are responsible for finding what feels best for them and what kind of seating will make them the best learner that they can be.
Evolving the classroom space to meet students’ individual needs impacts on how they learn, how they interact, and the entire classroom experience. We have noticed that when a learning space evolves to allow students to choose seating that works best for them, they became more productive, focused and engaged in their learning.
I am continuing to collect data as I undertake this active research project. For me the evidence is in what I can see within my own classroom, the increased student engagement and academic achievements and their own vision of themselves as a successful learner. The challenges of changing a classroom layout and its furniture is far outweighed by the positive learning outcomes achieved by the children.