Common factors that impact the way students pay attention in class include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, behavioral issues and sensory disorders. However, with the help of flexible seating arrangements, students are finding their focus again.
Flexible seating is a trend among K-12 teachers that allows students with a multitude of both physical and invisible disabilities to feel more comfortable while in school and to concentrate better.
Teachers are putting flexible seating into effect in their classrooms. Arrangements typically consist of yoga balls, stand-up desks, comfy couches, beanbag chairs and various stools.
Senior psychology major Kayla Drozdowski revealed that flexible seating was a part of her everyday routine from fourth grade to sophomore year of high school.
“Every person is unique, so not every seating arrangement benefits every single student. What works for one person might not for another,” Drozdowski said. “The one that worked the best for me had pedals, like a bike.”
As an extremely hyper child, Drozdowski was unable to concentrate in class, often scratching herself or biting her nails. Drozdowski needed to channel her energy elsewhere, in a healthier way. Flexible seating arrangements helped her cope with that.
“Getting my energy out, I was able to do the work,” Drozdowski said.
Ally Glickman, a first grade teacher in New York, is adapting the classroom to her students rather than having her students adapt to the classroom.
“I was the first teacher at my school to implement flexible seating, and I only started teaching at Spruce Street Elementary a year ago,” Glickman said. “Since then, many teachers have followed suit.”
Glickman mentions how she noticed a huge behavior difference.
“First-graders have the attention span of six to nine minutes depending on the student,” Glickman said. “When they sit on wobbly chairs and pillows, it allows more movement for the child.”
Glickman appreciates how flexible seating benefits all types of students.
“Although this is especially helpful for students with ADD and ADHD, as it is a sensory input, it is beneficial for all types of students because it increases blood flow and core strength depending on the seat,” Glickman said.
Glickman also believes that flexible seating and unassigned seats will aid children in gaining a sense of community and responsibility.
“There is a chance that if flexible seating becomes prominent in classrooms, students will be motivated to come to class, consequently lowering their anxiety about schooling,” Glickman said.
Despite flexible seating being helpful in classrooms such as Glickman’s, there is still a strong stigma around it only being for children with special accommodations rather than the mass majority.
Drozdowski hopes this will change in the future and that flexible seating will become the norm everywhere, including colleges and universities.
“If accommodations were more [common] in classrooms, there would be more empathy and diversity,” Drozdowski said. “You don’t have to have special needs to use it. I’ve seen people use special seating for sports injuries as well.”
As for the psychology behind learning disabilities in the classroom, one Montclair State faculty member weighs in.
Dr. Sally Grapin, an assistant psychology professor, studies Response to Intervention (RtI) for students with reading and other learning disabilities. Grapin describes RtI as a schoolwide model for delivering early intervention services to children.
In some cases, these services can prevent unnecessary referrals for special education and can allow children to receive supplementary supports in general education settings.
“I think special education and general education are often artificially separated from one another,” Grapin said. “They exist in silos. However, we have found that it often can take between three and six years to implement RtI properly, which some might find frustrating.”
Grapin hopes that people get more on board with early intervention and focus on providing a continuum of services that meet the needs of all students, regardless of their ability or disability status.
However, Grapin believes that the integrity of service delivery relies on a number of factors.
“Professional development is a huge part of [RtI],” Grapin said. “For an intervention to be successful, schools need to have buy-in from teachers and others.”
Grapin continues to express what factors are needed in order to provide a better service.
“Interventionists also need to understand the rationale and logic behind those interventions so that they can adapt, tweak and translate them in new settings,” Grapin said.
Flexible seating is a tactic that could be implemented but is not necessarily a top priority. The main focus is to educationally reform classrooms the right way, even if that means going through the entire process slowly.
“It requires a lot of capacity building, which essentially involves building the ability of schools to be able to adapt to new challenges,” Grapin said.