|St. Rose of Lima second grade students Harrold Thomas, left, and Brooke Becker work on an assignment while sitting on large yoga balls at their desks. Teacher Katie Carney introduced the flexible seating arrangements to her classroom this year and said it has helped with student confidence and accountability.|
Remember walking into your elementary school classroom and seeing that the teacher had changed the desks around? What a surprise for everyone. The same room, same people, same teacher, but a new perspective. Maybe you were now sitting in a grouping of four desks. Or your desks were arranged in a circle or square. You could look at the faces of your classmates rather than the backs of their heads and it gave a whole new outlook on the day and learning experience.
A second grade teacher at St. Rose of Lima School in Murfreesboro has gone beyond just moving desks around; every day she offers students a range of flexible seating choices. And as a result, so far she is seeing improved engagement, concentration, and maturity in the children.
Katie Carney, a 13-year teaching veteran, began exploring adopting the concept after researching success other teachers had. Ideally, flexible seating offers many learning experiences for students.
With classroom flexible seating, the traditional rows of desks and chairs are gone for the most part, although a few may be left for students who prefer it, and new seating options are added. In an article Carney wrote for parishioners of St. Rose of Lima Church, she said flexible seating gives children with Attention Deficit Disorder an opportunity to move around during the day as well as the chance for children to become more self-aware of the choices they make and those outcomes.
In Carney’s class, students may choose among several seating options:
• Standing table with stools to rest a knee.
• Traditional chair and table.
• Crate seat and table.
• Yoga ball and table.
Many like working off a clipboard while sitting in a bean bag, lying on the floor, or the newest option, the inflatable air chair. Most students prefer the clipboard over the table and the favored seat is the yoga ball. For group instruction all the children sit on the floor.
She said about one quarter of her 20 students have figured out where they work best and attached to that location. But regardless of their favorite way to work, it comes down, Carney said, to students “taking ownership of their learning” by making good choices.
And while the students can change at any point during the day and may choose a different kind of seating the next day, only about four will migrate to different types of seating during the day. There are even a few students who prefer the traditional desk and chair.
“That’s an accomplishment with this age,” she said, “that they’ve realized that.”
Children at ages 7 and 8 need to move – some more than others. A couple of students need to move frequently and they can change their seating if they desire.
One boy chooses the yoga ball because he knows he can bounce and roll on it and that satisfies much of his jitteriness. No longer being called out frequently for moving, there are fewer disruptions and his confidence is increasing, Carney said.
Students have also been more inclined to self-correct when they start talking or playing. Carney may just need to give them a look or a cue word, and the student will relocate to a seating option that is less distracting.
“They want to make good choices,” Carney explained. “And this (seating arrangement) makes them more accountable.”
She has seen differences in behavioral and learning outcomes between this class and previous classes. She notices a decrease in corrections and increase in concentration. Being in a small school, she was already familiar with her students as first graders so she can also draw a comparison from one year to the next.
Carney said there have been no conflicts with her class over the diverse seating arrangements. The keys are more seats than students, as well as rules.
Children learned that flexible seating is a privilege, and they will lose it if they don’t abide by the rules. Carney has them sign a type of contract that ensures they understand that they must choose a seat where they will do their “second grade best”; use the seat properly; take care of community supplies; move if they are having difficulty where they are; and realize that Carney can move anyone at any time she sees fit.
The first week each student stays one day in each seat before they choose a favored spot. An added benefit has also been a growth in maturity and sharing. Carney said that she has overheard children several times offer their seat to children who have expressed disappointment upon seeing their desired spot taken. One child has his parents bring him to school extra early so he can be assured of obtaining his preference.
The children love the freedom of choosing a seat that is most comfortable and effective for their individual work. At this time, Carney is the only teacher at St. Rose who offers flexible seating, and the children move to another class with traditional seating for 40 minutes each day. Although the children say they don’t have difficulty adjusting, they say the traditional arrangement is not as “fun” as flexible seating.
When she introduced flexible seating at the start of the school year, her fellow teachers offered “every imaginable reaction” from support to “you’re crazy.” Parents have gotten on board with flexible seating, even donating some of the new equipment.
“I’m sold on it and I would like to keep it,” Carney said. But she also added a caveat. “I don’t know how well this would work with older children. I wouldn’t want to tell anyone they have to do it, but if they want to try it, go for it.”