Children returning from summer vacation to Navin Elementary School in Marysville, Ohio, are noticing something different in their classrooms this year. Gone are the traditional student desks and chairs. Instead, teachers have worked hard to provide their students with other options for learning throughout the physical space. As part of their district’s journey to become a competency-based system with a focus on personalized learning, the faculty has begun to focus on learner-centered classrooms.
Recognizing that a hallmark of personalized learning is student agency, or the level of control, autonomy, and power that a student experiences in an educational situation, teachers decided to begin with the learning environment. Intrigued by the idea of flexible seating and learning spaces, and encouraged to take risks and try something different by their principal Lynette Lewis, teachers began rethinking their classroom designs.
Out went desks and chairs, and in came pillows, mats, bean bags, child-sized stools, laundry baskets, and exercise balls. The table legs were adjusted to accommodate the change, and students had a hand in the location and placement of the new furniture.
“It has been exciting to watch the teachers shift their thinking,” says Lynette. “Opening up decision-making to include student voice tells me they are embracing the change! My job is to support and encourage them as they take those risks.”
In Kindergarten, teacher reflections have been profound. Hillary Weiser, a veteran teacher who took on the charge, exchanged chairs for bean bags and laundry baskets.
“It’s time to go to your favorite learning spot friends,” Mrs. Weiser tells her students.
As 5 year olds pull apart laundry baskets and unroll mats, nestling in and getting comfy with the language arts task at hand, Hillary takes a moment to reflect. “The flexible seating is not a distraction; it’s the way they now know school. I can’t believe how engaged and on task they are, with something that began as simple as giving kids a choice.”
Mrs. Weiser is not alone in her thinking, as she realizes it is often our youngest learners who have the most to teach us!