There is a new philosophy circulating around educational circles that promotes best practices to support learning styles of students, especially first graders. It encourages the freedom for students to sit, learn, and work in a manner that is most comfortable and successful for them. This new philosophy is called Flexible Seating.
A study from East Carolina University found that, “Simple in-class activities can boost performance. Studies suggest that children who participate in short bouts of physical activity within the classroom have more on-task behavior, with the best improvement seen in students who are least on-task initially.” The University of Haifa also conducted a study on how emotions influence learning. The study found that, “emotions are not only the product of the processing of information by the brain, but that they also directly influence processes of learning and memory in the brain.” In other words, emotions play a big part with learning and cognitive development. When a child has a choice and is happy, he/she has a better capacity to learn.
For many children, sitting on hard school chairs creates problems for their focus, posture, and attention – interrupting their learning. Many children, especially young "first grade" children, need to move; sitting in one spot for long periods of time is quite difficult for them. I understand, as I was one of those kids in school who could not sit still in a chair. I would much rather have been sitting on a pillow on the floor doing my work.
An article written by Kayla Delzer, a columnist at EdSurge, entitled “Why the 21st Century Classroom May Remind You of Starbucks” made me ponder this concept further. Flexible Seating allows for children to make a choice to stand at a desk, sit on an exercise ball, stool, or the floor, or kneel. This plan promotes a variety of seating options that meet the requirements of what the learner's body needs throughout the school day. It will create a more positive environment in our classroom as each student, in conjunction with their learning style, seems to find just the right spot to sit. There will always be standard chairs, as some children prefer them, and there is a time and place for them, but this innovative option can create a more productive learning environment. Children learn to choose the space and equipment that will encourage the most successful learning environment for them.
Children are taught to "sit, kneel, stand... just learn!" Rina Heavener, my first grade colleague, and I experimented with various seating options in the classroom last school year and it made an immense difference in our classrooms. Children were happier and less disruptive, resulting in more focused learning happening.
We're excited about this approach, as we continue to look at children-centered philosophies. By using the Responsive Classroom Approach, which all of our teachers have been trained in implementing into the classroom, we will begin introducing the various seating options and ask the students what it looks like, feels like, and sounds like when they are sitting in their preferred seat. Before allowing our students to self-select seats, we will have them try all of the seating options. They probably won't know where they learn best until they try all the options. We will discuss each option and give pros and cons for this seat. After selecting a seat, the child will sign a contract and have a discussion with his or her parents at home about the new classroom protocol. Rina and I plan to check in with our students to see how their choices are working for them throughout the first few weeks of classes. We will ask them to think about the various options and which one(s) work the best for them and why.
I am excited to be getting away from a teacher-centered seating arrangement and implementing a child-centered classroom. Will there be bumps in the road? Of course. But, together with our students we will make it a new learning adventure.