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Flexible seating brings student choice to HNS classrooms

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HARTINGTON — Some Hartington-Newcastle elementary classrooms ‘flex’ different seating arrangements.

Flexible ... it’s a keyword in 2020.

People have had to be flexible this year as many plans have been cancelled, time tables shifted, and decisions have been altered all at the last minute.

People have had to be flexible with their time and plans.

In the classroom, it’s no different.

Some teachers at HNS have embraced flexibility, even in their classroom seating arrangements.

Flexible seating, as teachers refer to it, is an alternative style of class arrangement that allows students to sit in different areas of the room to work.

The idea of flexible seating has been around since the 1980s. Some of these seating arrangements include nontraditional seating options, like couches and bean bags. HNS teacher Abby Dybdal has found that implementing flexible seating in her classroom yields higher productivity and enthusiasm from her kindergarten students. “With my class this year, flexible seating has created a motivation for the students to try their best and get their work done,” Dybdal said.

Dybdal uses lightweight bins for students to put their belongings and papers in, which easily move from table to table, allowing for more movement.

Dybdal also provides non-traditional seating options, like a couch, stools, and cushioned milk crates.

Third grade teacher Leigh Haselhorst, and kindergarten teacher Susan Anderson have also adopted flexible seating options in their rooms.

The flexible seating trend has not transitioned to the high school side of the building.

HNS junior Maya Knutson feels that high school teachers should follow suit, though.

“People learn better when they’re comfortable,” she said. “Some people fidget when they learn, and flexible seating can help calm them down.”

While this trend hasn’t made much progress at the high school level, it has worked in other high schools.

Holli Rausch, a graphics design teacher from New Technology High School, Sioux Falls, S.D., has implemented flexible seating in her classroom.

“Students tend to feel more comfortable in my classroom, and that translates into being more productive and creative in their work,” she said.

Rausch has multiple flexible seating sections in her room.

“I’d been wanting to create spaces in my classroom that feel more like a design agency in some respects. I named some of the breakout spaces (the bistro, the living room, the patio, the boardroom, the studio) to help with identifying the areas as separate spaces.”

Flexible seating is not a fits-all solution, however.

“I have been in many schools where some classrooms use flexible seating and others not,” she said. “Every student is different, and they all need different learning environments.”

COVID has also played a role in the lack of flexible seating options in classrooms.

HNS has defaulted back to desks in rows this year to maintain social distancing guidelines in the classroom, limiting options like tables, desk pods, and group seating such as couches or benches.

“I normally wouldn’t choose to have my desks in equally spaced rows every day. I like to move my desks around to accommodate the activity,” said HNS teacher Teresa O’Brien. “Sometimes the lesson structure calls for desks in rows. Sometimes it requires pods, and other times it needs a circle. I like to have a little variety in my classroom.”

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