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Flexible Seating Favors Focus

By Diana Martinez
Flexible Seating Favors Focus

This year in my classroom I struggled with a couple of students who were experiencing difficulty staying on-task. One in particular was consistently not finishing his work and his grades were greatly affected because he appeared unable to focus. As a teacher, I try to cater to the different learning styles in my class. I incorporate different outlets that allow my students to express their learning with the aim of meeting the needs of each. But I struggled to get through to this particular student. Coincidently, this year I was also finishing up my master’s degree. So I decided to focus my practical research on Student X. One afternoon, as I was discussing with the school counselor how to best help X, the idea struck me! For my practical research I could introduce flexible seating and see how it affected X’s ability to stay on-task. And by flexible seating I mean giving students the opportunity to learn in a more comfortable classroom environment and giving them options as to where to work, with whom to work, and in what order to complete their work. So off I went for the next couple of months, preparing a proposal for my research paper, getting funding from the school, and doing observations of my students. I focused my research on five students in my class who struggled the most to stay on-task. In my pre-observations, I found that, on average, these students spent 21 percent of their time off-task in a 45-minute period. Student X was off-task 36 percent of the time during a 45-minute period. No wonder X couldn’t get the assignments done! After several weeks of pre-observations, I slowly introduced flexible seating into my classroom. The different options available through flexible seating give students more independence and responsibility and a feeling of greater ownership for their learning. This approach also allows them to be more comfortable—and the more comfortable we are, the more relaxed we are, and therefore the more able to take in information. Some studies have shown that short spurts of movement allow students to focus more in class and therefore prompt an increase in their scores. So why not encourage students to be comfortable? Why not give them the opportunity to learn better in spaces better suited to learning? Why is it that so many things have improved over time but the design of our classroom still remains more or less the same—the same desk and chairs in rows (or now in groups) that our grandparents used? Why have we taken so long to evolve our learning spaces? I don’t know the answer to my questions but I did find that, once the change happened in my classroom, my students were very proud of their classroom and have demonstrated great ownership of their learning. They are making better decisions every day on where to work, in what order to tackle tasks, and with whom to work. In my post-observations, I found that Student X decreased the amount of time off-task in a 45 minute period to 10 percent, which represents a 24 percent increase in time on-task. On average, the five students with flexible seating spend 5 percent of the time off-task, that is an increase of 21 percent of time on-task. I am aware that there are a lot of other variables that could come into play, but this is one change that I’ve made in the particular interest of one student in order to improve Student X’s learning experience this year. Diana Martinez is currently working at the American School of Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

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