A Creative Classroom Space Boosts Student Learning

“I appreciate the choice to pick a seat I feel most comfortable in, because it encourages me to be more productive and engaged during class,” senior Hannah P.

Upper School humanities teacher M Balrain took a nontraditional approach to their teaching space this school year. Anyone visiting the space will be immediately struck by how different it is from the traditional classroom. The room features different levels and is colorful, casual, yet practical. It encourages creativity, conversation, and connection… and overall, it’s effective and fun. The room is a place most students would probably want to hang out in, whether taking a class or not. Exactly which seat they use is entirely up to them.

So what motivated M to take this approach?

“I wanted to have a variety of seats with different purposes for the different learners in front of me everyday: a combination of high-top seating with stools that did not have backs, traditional seating, seats with cushions, bean bags, etc.,” M shares.

“In addition, I wanted extra touches to make the space feel like a cozy coffee shop or student lounge. Pillows, lap desks, and bouncy saucers for the more movement-driven learner are spread throughout the room. Students were in a rotation for the first part of the year to try out each seat while also establishing norms for the space.

Since early November they have had the choice to sit where they want and every student has found the environment that works best for them. Some students need a traditional chair and desk so they opt into the kitchen table. Others love a lounge feeling, so they gravitate towards the bean bags, yogibos, and swivel chairs. Others like a bouncy seat.

They can learn in a space that is best suited for them. And if they can walk away from my space knowing some of the hidden skills of life such as how one is most productive, then to me that is a successful experience.”

How has this non-traditional space worked out for students?

Senior Hannah P. reflected on her time in the classroom and the benefits of the unorthodox approach. “I appreciate the choice to pick a seat I feel most comfortable in, because it encourages me to be more productive and engaged during class.”

“It allows me to focus no matter what my mood is,” says junior Camden L. “If I’m feeling on top of things that day, I can sit at the high-top table or the more traditional seating. If it’s the end of the day, and I’m mentally drained, the bean bag or the Yogibos are the way to go. Being able to choose my seat directly influences my mood and how well I learn.”

Another student reinforced this point, stating that the room seemed adaptable to how a person feels on a given day. Here’s what junior Ellie F. thinks of the space. “It creates a comfortable learning environment, both physically and mentally. When I walk into the classroom, I feel reassured that I am going to be able to give my undivided attention to what we are learning, because we aren’t restricted to the same seat every class.”

M has really appreciated the support of Moses Brown in pursuing this vision for a different type of learning space. “I am grateful to be part of a community that doesn’t shy away from an unconventional setup and embraces and supports new ideas for all members of the community. Come over to Gifford 11 to check out the flexible space for yourself!”