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Flexible Learning Environments Spur Student Focus

January 17, 2017 – Active minds and active bodies are the guiding principles in many classrooms throughout West Ada School District as modern education allows for flexibility in learning space. Alternative seating arrangements, noise-cancelling headphones, and even access to water during the school day is encouraging students to take ownership of their personal learning styles and keeping them engaged with lessons.


“We believe learning is the constant in our school culture and being comfortable physically, enhances the student’s ability to focus and to be present and engaged,” Central Academy Principal Donell McNeal explained. “We have found having choice in education is a vital aspect of our students’ success. The choice to sit in a seating arrangement which is conducive to your learning style, creates a pattern of thought where students consider what they need physically to comfortably engage in learning.”


Central Academy’s students and staff have access to a filtered water station near the front office throughout the day where water bottles are constantly being filled. “It might seem small but it shows an interest on behalf of our students to take care of themselves daily,” McNeal explained. “As our students take care of themselves, they are able to commit to a process of learning which is rigorous.”


English teacher Tracy Poff spurred the active minds and active bodies movement at Central Academy when she began researching ways to keep her students engaged while also burning off some of their excess energy. When she received her new seating equipment the second week of school, staff and students celebrated by hosting a “building” party to prepare it for use.


“I currently only have six traditional desks in my classroom, but the students who do sit in those must be using one of the stationary pedal bikes or the stationary elliptical machines,” Poff shared. “There is no student who is not moving when they are in my room. My room is full most of the time, so I do believe this concept has drawn students to my room.”


Fifth-grade students at Pepper Ridge Elementary are learning self-monitoring skills in their flexible seating classroom. “Students who are naturally wiggly often choose the chairs or areas where they can be in motion without disturbing the class. Other students choose seats where they can easily access items around the room based on their activities, cutting down on transition time,” Teacher Amber McVey shared. “The best part of the seating arrangements is having students take accountability for their own choices. They have the freedom to choose how they best learn, leaving me free to monitor for learning needs.”

Noise-cancelling headphones are a tool used in many classrooms creating independent learning opportunities and providing lower volume situations.


“For students who focus best in a quiet environment, it allows them to create that environment at will. This is especially helpful when we are completing an activity which tends to be louder,” McVey explained. “Additionally, I can request students wear them during times where the class needs to be quiet like during testing and independent work. This easily enforces quietness and allows students to be fully focused.”


These flexible learning environments are preparing students for success in post-secondary education and career.

“Research shows the highest level of attrition or dropping out is during a student’s first year of college and is often due to stress, unpreparedness for the workload, and lack of proper planning. These are things students need to start learning early,” McVey explained. “Giving them choices and asking them to make the choices which best suit their learning needs gives them the chance to problem solve, to create and to think for themselves.”