Queen of Peace teacher says students ‘sometimes get into these weird positions that make you wonder how they are comfortable.’
In Devereaux Stark’s third-grade class at Queen of Peace Catholic Academy, students might be sprawled out on bean bags. Or standing up. Or lying down on a large, square rug.
But that’s not a problem for Stark. It’s how she wants her classroom to look.
Stark, a 15-year teacher, restructured her classroom in the Tioga-area private school this year, adopting a flexible seating design. Flexible seating is a term that describes desk-free classrooms that give students a choice in what kind of learning space works best for them. It’s been a trend, mostly among teachers in the primary grades, for several years.
“This kind of learning environment helps the students make decisions on what they want to practice and where they want to practice it,” Stark said. “How many decisions do kids make when they’re outside of school? This helps them start learning what works best for them and what doesn’t.”
Alachua County Public Schools spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said some teachers in the county’s public schools also use the still-somewhat unconventional seating method, more often in the early grades, where pre-kindergarten and kindergarten teachers especially use learning “stations” to give children a variety of seating options.
Stark’s class is also divided into different work stations. Each station has a different practice for the subject they are studying. Some students enjoy sitting on the bean bags, and others lying on their backs while reading upside-down.
“They sometimes get into these weird positions that make you wonder how they are comfortable,” Stark said. “It works. As long as they are critically thinking and engaging in their work, that’s all that matters.”
This non-traditional learning method has students often working in groups of fours and Stark says it allows her to more easily engage with students one-on-one, she says. Students can more easily interact with each other by playing fun learning games.
“You can be with your friends and pick someone good to help you with your work if you need it,” said 8-year-old Cooper Coleman.
Stark said she expects to keep using the unconventional method.
“There are a few things that I would change, but only to allow the flow of the classroom to improve,” Stark said. “The structure I have created has helped the students understand what is expected of them and keeps them motivated to come to school ready to learn.”
That’s not to say she never faces discipline challenges in her classroom, however.
Stark doesn’t hesitate to break up any huddles that aren’t productive. If students aren’t making good choices in their chosen seating arrangement, she’s not afraid to switch things up.
“At any time that they are not making the right choice, then I reserve the right to help them make a better choice,” she said.