Evolution of elementary learning environments
March 23, 2022
Many current high school students will remember their elementary school classrooms: the stand-alone desks, hard plastic chairs and perhaps a round table. However, today, there has been a push for a more flexible classroom setting that accommodates students’ needs and more closely resemble life outside the classroom.
Over the past decade, student learning has changed due to the developments in technology and social expectations in and out of school. Sixth grade Pierce Downer Elementary School teacher Christine Balagtas believes that the classroom environment fosters student learning and growth potential.
“To me, it [flexible seating] is a shift in teacher and student roles; it’s a different outlook on learning,” Balagtas said. “This may look different across classrooms, depending on a teacher’s philosophy and learning goals for students. Teachers may set their classroom into bean bags, tables, you name it. It all depends on the needs of the class.”
Fifth grade PD Elementary School teachers Lauren Minardi and Kelly DeMarco value the importance of allowing students the freedom to choose their seating based on their own needs in any given situation.
“We saw kids that needed it [flexible seating] and would benefit from it,” Minardi said. “It’s allowed kids to work in groups a lot easier and allowed students to have different opportunities to collaborate with different individuals.”
“It’s great for them [students] to recognize what they need at any moment. If they need to be an ‘island’ because they really want to stay focused, then they should have that opportunity,” DeMarco said. “If they feel that they need a wobble stool to move around because it’s reading time, but during math, they would prefer to stand, we wanted them to have that flexibility.”
Fine arts teacher Frank Piekarz has taught the Introduction to Teaching class for the past 12 years. Aside from fostering student growth, Piekarz believes flexible seating options are essential in establishing consistency in a student’s day.
“With flexible seating, what you’re doing is trying to make the school environment feel more like the students’ home environment the rest of their day,” Piekarz said. “If students see connections between the way they live their lives at home and the way they live their lives at school, they’re more likely to be their best selves.”
The current generation of students and teachers has had more open discussions about combating the rise in mental health issues. One way to ease the stress of the learning environment is by providing students with ways to accommodate their own needs for their learning process.
“This generation has been more of a champion for mental health than any other, and that’s connected to the shifts in the classroom,” senior and Introduction to Teaching student Emery Teague said. “Teachers who understand that student mental health is important, understand that the same style of learning does not work for everyone.”
However, allowing students the freedom to choose where and who they sit with comes with the possibility of distraction. Introduction to Teaching student, senior Will Ruddy, attests that sometimes it can be difficult to control the noise level.
“[Flexible seating] can be good and bad. The students can get distracted easily, but I think that just comes with them being back at school finally,” Ruddy said. “It has become better throughout the year, but at the beginning of the year it was rough; they would always be distracted.”
Flexible seating has been proven to increase student engagement and motivation in the classroom. In the future, classrooms may continue to shift from the conventional setup to one with hardly any traditional desks.