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The City Journals

Seating options keep students on the edge of their seats

Sep 05, 2019 04:12PM ● By Jet Burnham

A variety of seating options are used to meet the variety of students’ needs. (Cari Bergstrom/Bluffdale Elementary)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Gone are the days of students learning quietly at their desks. Teachers are incorporating alternative or flexible seating options that get students out of their seats.

“I don't think there is any real-world job that requires you to sit in a desk and a chair for eight hours a day,” said Bluffdale Elementary teacher Cari Bergstrom. “Even an office job, you'd be able to stand up and walk around, so I don't think a desk and chair is a life skill they need to learn.”

Alternative seating options depend on a teacher’s personality and on their budgets. Common options are floor pillows, couches, wobble stools, yoga balls, bungee chairs and low rockers. Often, a bouncy band is attached around the legs of a traditional desk for students to bounce their feet on to work off excess energy.

Bergstrom has been providing alternative seating options for her students for three years. She said when kids can move around more, their ability to focus improves.

“Their attention increases, and they're more engaged,” she said.

She has seen a rise in test scores in every subject and said the classroom feels more comfortable.

“It frees up a bunch of space because you don't have to have 26 desks,” Bergstrom said. “I have floor options that they use clipboards with so you get more space and more kids can fit.”

Amanda Dohmen, a fifth grade teacher, said alternative seating works well with her teaching techniques. She likes to use collaborative learning and group projects, but she found she was spending a lot of time reminding her students where they needed to be.

“I felt like I was on my kids all the time, and that's not my teaching style,” she said. She began incorporating flexible seating in her classroom at Athlos Academy during the middle of her first year of teaching to allow students more autonomy. Instead of telling them exactly what they needed to do, she empowered students to take charge of their own learning and discover what seating option worked best for the task they had been given.

“By giving them that freedom and that choice—it just changes the entire dynamic of my teaching, and it changes the dynamic of their learning,” she said. “I've seen their test scores rise, and I've seen behavior diminish.”

Dohmen aims to create a homey and positive atmosphere in her room, with diffused scents and comfortable corners to help students feel comfortable and calm.

“This isn't just a classroom to them,” Dohmen said. “It's also home—they spend eight hours a day in here.”

When Dohmen took a new teaching position this year at Summit Academy Independence Campus in Bluffdale, she took her pillows and couch with her but was also stuck with traditional desks in her new classroom. With support from her new administration, she lowered some desks to the floor to be used with cushions and raised some to create standing desks.

April Stevenson faces an even bigger challenge of transferring the successful flexible seating she has used for years with her fourth graders at Bennion Elementary in Taylorsville to her new classroom at Eisenhower Junior High. She believes it will take a few months to challenge old-fashioned teaching methods and classroom organization to be able to adapt the alternative seating philosophy for older students. But she believes it is a needed change for today’s students.

“There’s a lot of teachers that are still doing the exact same thing they did 20 years ago or even five years ago, and our population is different than five years ago,” she said. “Students are learning differently. Students need different opportunities.”

Dohmen said variety is key with students these days, whether it is in teaching methods or classroom seating.

 “If you do the same thing every day, you just get bored and the kids get bored,” she said. “That's when kids start messing around; that's when they're not learning anymore.”

Stevenson believes alternative seating options are just one small part of the necessary changes needed to keep up with the needs of modern students.

“If we want something different in education, we have got to do something different,” she said. “Education is taking little steps, but we’re getting little differences. I think if we really want education to take some leaps and bounds, we really have to think leaps and bounds in change.”