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The Importance of Soft-Seating in the Classroom
As further research is being conducted, it is having a drastic impact on teaching styles. Not only is it affecting the way educators are having to teach, but also the environments students are being taught in are starting to change. 21st-century learning has become an essential change in the modern world and with that comes the need for furniture to assist with this style of learning. A part of this furniture change to what is known as flexible seating is soft-seating.
Personality Differences Reflected in the Learning Styles
As recent research has demonstrated, it is known that personalities respond and react to the world around them in different ways. This directly translates to the intake of learning is completely different for each personality. To better understand this, research was conducted to understand the different personalities and how they learn. Based on this research, it is concluded that students learn differently, therefore requiring a ‘one-size-doesn’t-fit-all’ teaching method.
The Four Personality Traits, as Defined by Myers-Briggs
1. Favorite World: The preference of the internal world versus the preference of the external world. This is called Extraversion or Introversion. (The Myers-Briggs Foundation, n.d.)
2. Information: The inclination to take basic information provided as is versus the inclination to take said information and interpret or add meaning to it. This is called Sensing or Intuition. (The Myers-Briggs Foundation, n.d.)
3. Decisions: In making decisions, the preference of using logic and consistency versus looking at the way people will be affected and special circumstances. This is called Thinking or Feeling. (The Myers-Briggs Foundation, n.d.)
4. Structure: In dealing with the outside world, the inclination to make decisions right away versus staying open to new information and options. This is called Judging or Perceiving. (The Myers-Briggs Foundation, n.d.)
The Four Personality Categories
Using the information and structure traits, Susan Storm, a certified MBTI Practitioner, separated the 16 personalities into 4 categories, to better understand how they learn.
The 4 categories and how they learn are outlined below:
1. Sensing Judging (SJ) Types – includes ISTJ, ISFJ, ESTJ, and ESFJ.
The SJ type is the type that excels in the traditional style of learning. The ST type learns best through experience, hands-on, repetitious learning. They tend to thrive in highly structured learning environments that are set in routines and have clear expectations. Tasks with logical step-by-step instructions tend to be a favorite amongst SJ types. (Storm, 2018)
2. Sensing Perceiving (SP) Types – includes ISTP, ISFP, ESTP, and ESFP.
It is said that “SPs are one of the most underserved temperaments in education” (Storm, 2018). SPs tend to be more hands-on, experimental, and exploring. They often thrive with kinesthetic interaction. However, this type of experimental learning also needs regular breaks to give them time to be active and physically engage with the world around them to lessen the frustration of sitting still. Highly structured environments are unpleasant to this type, as they appreciate the freedom to explore and be active. (Storm, 2018)
3. Intuitive Judging (NJ) Types – includes INTJ, INFJ, ENTJ, and ENFJ.
The NJ types like learning in a completely different style to SJ or SP. NJs prefer highly conceptual style learning. They tend to prefer to explore the grey area, ask “what if” questions, and dislike having a right or wrong answer. NJ types also prefer to map out their learning. Instead of step-by-step instructions, they prefer to receive an open-ended question and be given the freedom to translate that and display it in their way. Because of this, they tend to get bored with details and balk at traditions and conventional teaching. (Storm, 2018)
4. Intuitive Perceiving (NP) Types – includes INTP, INFP, ENTP, and ENFP.
The final type is the NP type. This type has similarities to the NJ type, although their approach tends to be more logical. They tend to have a critical, analytical, and conceptual learning style. Alike the NJs, NPs love to ask thought-provoking questions, challenging their peers and educators to think about something differently. Unlike the NJs, NPs look for logical connections and relationships between concepts to form these questions. They highly dislike structured learning environments and would rather be given space to explore their learning alone. NPs tend to be skilled self-directed learners. (Storm, 2018)
From this research, we can conclude that traditional learning only really works for ¼ of the personality types. Although these types do make up much of the population, at 46.1%, there is still over half of the students being taught in a way that does not work for their personality type. (Personality Max, n.d.)
Understanding 21st Century Learning
As mentioned, traditional learning methods are becoming less effective. Not only is it known now that children learn differently, but with the age of technology, what children need to learn is almost entirely different. The traditional teaching of memorizing historical facts, math formulas, and the finer details of where a comma should be placed still holds value in modern-day society, but they aren’t exactly necessary for survival in every career path. Historical facts can be found with a simple Google search, math equations can be figured out with online calculators, and where that comma needs to be placed can be shown with autocorrect or programs like Grammarly. And if worse comes to worst, anything can be Googled and a quick 3-minute video will provide the answer needed.
In understanding this, there has been a push to teach children to ready themselves for the world to come, not the world that has passed. This is called 21st-century learning. A definition of 21st-century learning is “the accumulation of knowledge, work habits, and soft skills, including digital literacy, critical thinking and problem-solving…” (Top Hat | Glossary, n.d.) With the pace of life increasing, it is less important to retain facts, and more important to know how to find those facts. When asked to define 21st-century learning, Karen Cator, Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S Department of Education, stated the following:
“No longer does learning have to be one-size-fits-all or confined to the classroom. The opportunities afforded by technology should be used to re-imagine 21st-century education, focusing on preparing students to be learners for life.” (Rich, 2010)
Other interesting quotes came from Milton Chen, Senior Fellow & Executive Director, Emeritus at The George Lucas Educational Foundation:
“Twenty-first-century learning builds upon such past conceptions of learning as “core knowledge in subject areas” and recasts them for today’s world, where a global perspective and collaboration skills are critical. It’s no longer enough to “know things.” It’s even more important to stay curious about finding out things.” (Rich, 2010)
And Steven Hargadon, Founds of Classroom 2.0 and Social Learning Consultant at Elluminate:
“Twenty-first-century learning will ultimately be “learner-driven.” Our old stories of education (factory-model, top-down, compliance-driven) are breaking down or broken, and this is because the Internet is releasing intellectual energy that comes from our latent desires as human beings to have a voice, to create, and to participate.” (Rich, 2010)
In conclusion, 21st-century learning is simply a way of teaching that prepares students for the ever-changing world. It is a way of teaching that allows students to continue learning as they have the skills to complete courses, develop skills and interact with the world around them.
Flexible Seating as a Compliment to 21st Century Learning
It has now been recognized that the furniture in a classroom plays a role in 21st-century learning. Rows of desks with hard chairs are no longer the answer for a modern classroom. To combat this, flexible seating has become an advancement that many schools are starting to implement. Flexible seating is defined as:
“…a learning environment where traditional seating is replaced with a seating arrangement that gives students the opportunity to pick their own seats. Flexible seating allows students to collaborate more easily with one another in a way that traditional seating does not permit.” (Educators 4 Social Change, n.d.)
This style of the classroom is a flexible area that offers students control over their environment. Although many research papers have been conducted, everyone concludes that there are 9 key benefits to teaching in flexible learning environments. The benefits are outlined below:
1. Choice. This empowers students to take control of their learning. In doing this, it encourages students to take more responsibility for their learning. (Amanda Wagoner, n.d.)
2. Physical health. Flexible learning gives students the ability to move around, which allows for more physical activity. In turn, this enhances their physical health. (Amanda Wagoner, n.d.)
3. Comfort. When a student is physically comfortable, the mental/emotional tension can ease, allowing them to be more alert and focused. Therefore, they become more productive. (Amanda Wagoner, n.d.)
4. Building a sense of community. As Amanda Wagoner mentions, when using traditional desks can lead to students being possessive of their seats. In contrast, flexible seating gives the students choice and promotes sharing and taking turns. This then leads to a building up of a sense of community within the classroom. (Amanda Wagoner, n.d.)
5. Collaboration. Flexible seating provides ample opportunity for collaboration. When it is required that students collaborate, they don’t have to move desks out of the way and can easily slip into groups to collaborate. (Amanda Wagoner, n.d.)
6. Learning commitment. The use of flexible seating allows students to take a level of control over their learning. Which in turn causes students to be more invested in their education. (Amanda Wagoner, n.d.)
7. Communication. The concept behind flexible seating is to give students choice and allow them to take control, and in doing so the studies show an increase in students' communication skills. One reason for that is the promotion of collaboration in this style of classroom. (Amanda Wagoner, n.d.)
8. Sensory Input. This enables students to rid of excess energy because their sense of touch is engaged as a response to their seating. Whether it be soft-seating, wobble stools, rocking chairs, or they are standing their sensory input is being engaged. (Amanda Wagoner, n.d.)
9. Mindset Shift. Flexible seating allows students to be more self-aware which can lead to a deeper understanding of why learning is important. (Amanda Wagoner, n.d.)
In conclusion, flexible seating is a tool that assists educators in the shift to 21st-century learning techniques. It aids teachers in providing real-life examples of the life skills 21st-century learning is focused on: critical thinking, communication skills, problem-solving, and many more.
Just Right Zones Within a Classroom
The basics of 21st-century learning and flexible seating have been explained, but how does this translate to assisting with the lack of instruction for every personality type? This is where the zones, within the flexible seating, classroom, come in. Not only does the classroom provide flexible seating, where students can choose their comfort zone, but it also provides areas for the different personalities and/or tasks.
Within a 21st-century classroom, you will generally find 7 zones. The zone names may differ, but the idea is the same: community zone, discovery zone, quiet zone, news zone, teaching zone, supplies zone, and subject zone. The zones most affected by furniture are the community zone, discovery zone, and quiet zone. These 3 zones take up the majority of the space, and each one caters to the different personality types. (Lopez, 2015)
The Community Zone
The Community Zone is the area where the students can come together as a whole, or in breakout groups to collaborate and discuss ideas. This is a favorite amongst extraverted students and generally, furniture is sparse or movable, allowing students to bring their favorite seating over or stay standing, whatever makes them feel most comfortable to express their opinions and share ideas.
The Discovery Zone
The Discovery zone is a favorite amongst hands-on personality types. Generally the SJ or SP types. This zone generally features makerspace-type furniture that supports experimenting and exploring. Things like arts and crafts, games, puzzles, and more are all a part of the discovery zone. It is an area where students can experience a more hands-on approach to learning and discover the results for themselves, instead of having a textbook tell them.
The Quiet Zone
And moving on from that, there is the quiet zone. This zone differs more drastically from the other zones. It is valued most by introverted students and students who prefer digging deeper into independent studies. This zone is also referred to as the reading zone, but the quiet zone is for much more than just reading. Furniture most often found in this zone is soft-seating. This is generally the place where students go to seek internal, silent discovery. Often study carrels are used to block out visual distractions and headphones are provided to give the students the feeling of being alone, within a classroom full of students. Sometimes, this zone is simply the place where students will come to wind down or read. Other times it can be used to study or write independently.
The Importance of Reading
Following that, the next point is the importance of reading. Reading has always played an important role in education, and now more than ever it is becoming increasingly significant. So much of the time spent reading, in the past, has been replaced with screentime, watching those same pieces we used to read, but in a video format. However, it is known that reading has benefits for humans that screentime could never provide. Reading is known to improve your thinking and analytical skills, improve writing and communication skills, and also strengthen mental muscles, which in turn can enhance an individual’s creativity and memory. (Harappa, 2020)
There is no official data stating that lounge seating, couches, armchairs, etc., is the perfect solution for reading. And of course, one size doesn’t fit all, so depending on the personality of the student, this may differ. However, when the research was conducted for this report, it was discovered that every article recommending the top chairs for reading contained almost solely lounge chairs. On Book Riot, The Spruce, and many more the recommended reading chairs were upholstered, a little oversized, comfortable armchair. In speaking about the Quiet Zone in classrooms, placing soft seating, specifically, child-sized soft seating in the younger grades, is likely to have an impact on how much the students enjoy reading time.
Comfortable Spaces Decreasing Anxiety
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that within the years 2016-2019, 9.4% of children between the ages of 3-17 were diagnosed with anxiety. That is approximately 5.8 million children. Further to that, 6.0 million were diagnosed with ADHD, 5.5 million with behavior problems, and 2.7 million with depression. This means, although there is some overlap, approximately 20 million children in the USA suffer from mental disorders.
The average American child spends around 1195 hours a year at school. Meaning educators play a huge role in these children’s lives. Due to lack of funding, educators are not provided with the best tools to assist children with mental disorders, as they are there to teach, but the way classrooms are laid out and students are taught can have a major impact on hindering or helping these children.
Having a place where a child with anxiety can feel safe and comfortable is known to ease their anxiety, meaning they can become more relaxed. In turn, it allows students to be more focused on their schoolwork. TJ Desalvo, diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder, as well as being on the autism spectrum, speaks about how he knows firsthand how the furniture he sits in or is around, can impact his anxiety. His conclusions were the following:
“Surround yourself with things that physically make you feel comfortable and secure to the best of your abilities…” (Desalvo, 2021)
First hand, Desalvo has proven that if the furniture in an environment is comfortable it can assist in easing the mind, allowing him to be more relaxed and focused. Of course, an armchair or a couch is a lot more comfortable than a task chair. Providing that option allows students suffering from a mental illness to have surroundings that ensure they are set at ease. This in turn allows them to put a greater focus on the task at hand.
Scholastic provides tips for educators on how to create the perfect reading/quiet zone. In this they have the words:
“And of course, your reading space has to be comfortable…” (Scholastic Editors, 2019)
Proving the point that creating a space for children that can be an oasis in this crazy world, can drastically increase their focus.
Although soft-seating is only a small piece of the puzzle in this shift to 21st-century learning, it is a vital part. The shift whole change of teaching style is a long and slow process, but using flexible seating can assist in the transition. As it is known factory-style learning is no longer working the way it once did. With the recognition of the different personalities and the way, they learned 21st-century learning is the best solution.
Desalvo, T. (2021, November 17). Why Comfortable Furniture Helps Me Relax. Retrieved March 22, 2022, from Healthy Place: https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2021/11/why-comfortable-furniture-helps-me-relax
Educators 4 Social Change. (n.d.). Teaching with Flexible Seating. Retrieved from Educators 4 Social Change: https://educators4sc.org/classroom-practices/teaching-with-flexible-seating/
Harappa. (2020, August 10). Importance and Benefits of Reading Skills In Communication. Retrieved from Harappa: https://harappa.education/harappa-diaries/importance-of-reading/
Lopez, V. (2015, July 28). 7 Essential Elementary Classroom Zones. Retrieved from Edutopia: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/7-learning-zones-classroom-veronica-lopez
Personality Max. (n.d.). Distribution of Personality Types in Percentages. Retrieved from Personality Max: https://personalitymax.com/personality-types/population-gender/
Rich, E. (2010, October 11). How Do You Define 21st-Century Learning. Retrieved from Education Week: https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/how-do-you-define-21st-century-learning/2010/10
Scholastic Editors. (2019, September 05). How to Create the Perfect Independent Reading Environment. Retrieved March 22, 2022, from Scholastic: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/teaching-tools/articles/culture/how-to-create-perfect-independent-reading-environment.html#:~:text=Great%20light%2C%20ample%20space%2C%20and,to%20provide%20light%20for%20reading
Storm, S. (2018, January 12). The Learning Styles of Every Myers-Briggs Personality Type. Retrieved February 01, 2022, from Psychology Junkie: https://www.psychologyjunkie.com/2018/01/12/learning-styles-every-myers-briggs-personality-type/
The Myers-Briggs Foundation. (n.d.). MBTI Basics. Retrieved February 01, 2022, from The Myers-Briggs Foundation: myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/
Top Hat | Glossary. (n.d.). Twenty-First Century Learning. Retrieved from Top Hat: https://tophat.com/glossary/t/twenty-first-century-learning/#:~:text=Twenty%2Dfirst%20century%20learning%20refers,part%20of%20the%20classroom%20experience.&text=Life%20skills%20include%20flexibility%2C%20leadership,efficiency%20and%20network%20with%20othe