Updated: Mar 5, 2020
Image going to a cafe, ordering cup of coffee with your friends only to find that the only
seating option available is a row of desks that are at best, arranged in small groups. How would your conversations evolve? Would all of you be comfortable? Could you effectively collaborate on a shared task? What if you needed to do independent work? Just like we see in more modern establishments, customers have what educators refer to as “flexible seating” – a wide range of opportunities to sit according to comfort level and type of activity. Some still thrive at traditional tables, while others gravitate to couches, stools or surfaces that accommodate one to stand. If our public places of socialization, as well as workplace hubs are arranged in such a way, then why not have this reflected in the elementary classroom?
After months of careful planning and deliberation, a team of educators and administrators joined with a progressive and highly sought after occupational therapist (OT) to launch the first model of flexible seating at the Hamilton Hebrew Academy (HHA). As a pilot project, the Grade 1 class has removed all its desk and is replacing them with new furniture installments to support movement, collaboration and most importantly, choice.
Studies show that when students are active, their minds can sustain more focus. This means that they are more receptive to teacher instruction, and they are more likely to initiate and complete tasks in an organized, efficient and diligent manner. Furthermore, with group tables replete with adjustable heights and varied seating preferences (cushions, stools, “scoop rockers”, traditional chairs, etc.), comfort is paired with natural inclinations to collaborate, which promotes socialization and creative problem solving. Finally, students are more likely to take ownership of their learning process as they have the privilege of choice. If a group wants to work in a quiet corner of the room, sectioned off by a moveable bookcase, they can grab wobbly seats and clipboards and get started right away. The classroom environment naturally becomes a fun, empowering and highly engaging learning climate for students to do their best work and establish collaborative partnerships.
As a result of flexible seating, this Grade 1 classroom will also become more equitable with
regards to how various learners access instruction and perform on assignments. For hyperactive students, tall tables with stools will be available, or wobbly cushions can be placed for them on the carpet. For others who work best in quiet environments, they can find a corner in the room, prop up some patio cushions and read and write independently. Ultimately, students will have the choice to discover what seating arrangements optimally support their learning profiles. This will promote self-reflection, body awareness and problem solving as they discover how and where they learn best.
To further enhance our differentiated instruction, a core component of the HHA pedagogical
approach, the teacher will have the ability to meet with students at the u-shaped conference
table, which is designed to accommodate up to 6 learners as they are coached through
curriculum presented to them according to ability and learning style.
As you can see, there is a lot to expect from this pilot project. Our hope is that through this
creative and intentional approach to flexible seating, students can learn more about who they and how they learn best. This awareness coupled with skills in collaboration and problem solving will inevitably follow them through grade school, as they continue to refine their work habits and build a strong sense of social cohesion as a classroom community.