When it comes to innovative practice in the education system, there are arguments for both sides. The level of debate is undoubtedly as healthy as it is passionate. The most commonly discussed shift towards what is generally referred to as 21st Century Learning is the rapid rise of the SmartBoard and the integration of the interactive whiteboard into classrooms.
Many will argue that this has resulted in higher levels of student engagement and authenticity of learning. But equally true is that many teachers, experienced and inexperienced have continued to use the SmartBoard as a glorified blackboard, replacing chalk with markers and Microsoft Word and continuing to simply project images and words on the screen in the same way that the overhead projectors of the 70s through 90s were used.
But one aspect of the modern classroom that is rarely discussed is the comfort of the students and how their very presence in the room and teachers' expectations can directly impact engagement and learning.
Active or dynamic sitting is a relevant facet of any classroom and yet it is incredibly overlooked as a means of improving student outcomes. There are studies that date back to the early 1980s that describe the various health disorders that can arise from restriction of movement. Did a teacher ever say 'sit still' or 'stop fidgeting in your chair', whilst you were at school? Perhaps they totally misunderstood your brain’s need for movement.
The best way to understand how restrictive adhering to the archaic classroom construct of 30 chairs, regimented in military lines, aimed directly at a whiteboard at the front of the room can negatively impact concentration and ultimately learning is to sit in a rigid chair and watch a 45 minute TED talk on a laptop. During this time, you are not allowed to move. As an adult, you will have most likely stopped paying full attention to the talk after around 10 minutes and after 20 minutes of sitting completely still your joints will have started to ache. This will occupy a high percentage of your thinking.
Teachers often scare children who rock on chairs with stories about kids who've broken their backs, yet send those same children off to Friday sport where the chances of worse injury are greater. Teachers are often grated when pens are clicked or when fidget spinners are brought into class, yet do not understand that their own monotonous tone of content delivery can be just as grinding to the students in the room.
The concept of active sitting should be debated at length to include the matters of sitting still versus lying, lounging, standing and kneeling. The rhythmic and kinetic drive of the young and exuberant average 9 year old should be considered when banning fidget spinners and pens that light up when they touch the page.
The classroom that sticks in my mind the most was in a school in Sydney's South West. I've never seen engagement and on-task behaviour at such high levels. Within the classroom were desks and chairs, bean bags, cushions on rugs, laptops on standing-height benches, squeezy toys and two different respite spaces (a quiet adjoining room and a learning space on the outdoor balcony).
Watching students in this space made it entirely clear to me just how diverse we as all humans are when it comes to finding the right space we need to concentrate and learn. Some kids had their shoes off, some had a piece of fruit and a water bottle with them and there were windows open, creating a fresh space.
Contrast back to the church-like classroom with rows of still silent children and I know which class I'd pay dearly to see my child grow up in.
by Alex Stuart