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Could 'ditching the desks' improve classroom learning?

While many students are accustomed to traditional lesson plans, classroom settings and behavioral boundaries, there are plenty of children who could benefit from alternative approaches to certain elements of education.

These alternative approaches don't have to be substantial to be significant, either. There doesn't need to be an overhaul of the grading system or billions of dollars poured into a specific program to improve a child's academic experience. In some cases, a change could be as small as changing the seating in a classroom.

"Starbucks" seating

According to this article from the National Education Association, so-called Starbucks seating is gaining popularity in classrooms across the country. Referencing the seating setups in coffeehouses like Starbucks, teachers are experimenting with alternative classroom configurations.

Instead of rows of chairs and desks, some teachers are utilizing standing desks and cafe tables, or they are doing away with desks altogether. Children in these classrooms can choose to sit on couches, rugs, beanbag chairs, stools or inflatable balls. They can sit (or stand) where they feel comfortable.

Benefits of alternative seating

Adopters of alternative seating say that it reinvigorates the classroom by encouraging collaboration and improving communication. It also allows children who might have attention disorders or physical limitations to sit in a place where they can better focus. Further, freedom of movement could improve student health by reducing the harmful effects of extended periods of sitting.

Drawbacks to consider

Alternative seating might not be appropriate in every school or for every child. Children who cannot concentrate in social situations or a loosely-structured environment may not benefit from this classroom model. Further, there are concerns that students could be more likely (or able) to misbehave and act out. 

Small solutions can have a big impact

Something as seemingly simple as changing student seating could have a dramatic effect on a child's classroom experience. However, not all schools are able or willing to make these or other adjustments.

This can be a problem for any struggling student, but particularly for students with special educational needs. In these situations, it may take parental action and legal measures to ensure a school is providing the necessary accommodations and alternatives a student requires.

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