Adding options and making a difference

After Teacher published an article about the results of a study suggesting standing desks lead to increased student engagement, one of our readers got in touch to share a strategy that's made a difference in her primary classroom.

Claire Rich is a Year 5 and 6 class teacher at Darcy Road Public School, in the Sydney suburb of Wentworthville. Depending on the learning activity, all of her students have the option of using a traditional desk, doing their work standing up, or sitting on the carpet with a clipboard.

‘It started off last year when I had a Year 4 class and I had a couple of kids that were a bit fidgety … as you do every year. I thought as long as they're working [and getting their work done to a high quality] what difference does it make where they sit?,' she recalls.

'I'd read a bit about it online in various things ... from people who'd said "it's okay – you don't have to sit at a desk, that's fine" and, I thought I'd try it.

'So, I started to give the students the [three options] and found that they got so much more work done if I didn't force them to sit in a seat - it worked really well. Each year now my kids know that they can stand.'

Rather than purchasing standing desks, the educator found a simpler solution by making space available at elbow height. 'They know they can stand next to one of the bookcases if they want, they can sit on the floor (and there are clipboards available for them), and they can sit in their own seat.'

Rich, who has been teaching for 17 years, says students still have assigned seats and there are times when standing or working on the floor is not an option as it doesn't suit the learning activity but, in her experience, giving students the choice when possible has led to increased levels of engagement.

'My classroom is no bigger than anyone else's room, it's just the way it's set up. We've got table hubs, but they're to the side so there's a big floor area in the middle. If we do need to do anything whiteboard-based [as a whole class] then they bring their chairs [so it's] more sort of lecture theatre style, or they can sit on the floor [at the front]. Or they can still sit at their desks of course, and some do that. As long as they're on task...

'I don't have a teacher's desk in the room, not a formal one, I've just got a student desk with a computer on it – that was the first thing to go because it was just taking up so much space. Then I've tried to minimise the amount of furniture in the room just to facilitate what we're doing, so I've got three bookshelf-type spaces, one's a cupboard and the other two are tray holders. They're grouped in three and that's the standing space.'

She adds the flexible learning space also fits in well with the school's BYOD approach.

So, given the choice, which option do Rich's students prefer? 'It's interesting, it started off where they were saying "we're going to stand", but predominantly they now grab a clipboard and sit on the floor. That was really surprising.

‘They still use tables and chairs throughout the day, but I've still got a core group of students who … (and it's predominantly boys) will find that too hard and even throughout the lesson will move between the both. I've got a small group that stand, but it's getting less and less, which I find interesting because I thought that would be popular.'

How can you adapt your learning spaces to maximise student engagement?