At a middle school in Virginia, some very lucky 7th-graders are learning English literature from the comfort of a couch.
Jason Augustowski, a 25-year-old teacher at Belmont Ridge Middle School in Lansdowne, decided to renovate his classroom by swapping the desks and chairs for couches and coffee tables. He also allows students to select the curricula they wish to learn, and choose when they are ready to take on something different.
If it sounds lax, hold your judgment. It's actually getting kids way more interested in learning.
"Although students have always been engaged in my language arts class, this year, I noticed a wider gap in my students who were connecting with class, and those who were not," Augustowski tells the Good News Blog. "I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to really increase student engagement and excitement about learning. I approached my principal about the idea of swapping desks for couches, coffee tables, recliners, and rugs in November, and he agreed with trying the experiment."
Not only were the kids on board with the idea, their parents were too, even donating furniture. The way it's set up now, there's a library in the classroom. Students share the couches (three per couch, one per chair) and change seats every class so they are always working with new people. There are also two large communal tables in the back for those who wish to sit upright.
"Effectively, every space of the room has been turned into a "reading area" which has in turn really increased student reading," Augustowski remarks. "This makes the environment so much more comfortable because kids learn from a diverse group of people, make new friends, and are more confident in themselves, and respectful of others. There are no lines of divide in our classroom, it is one big space where every kid is welcome to learn at their own pace."
The creative teacher also wanted to change the process of learning from what he deems a "Swiss cheese education," in which every student is forced to study subjects in the order outlined by the instructor. In Augustowski's classroom, students select what they will learn and when they will learn it from nine standards required by the state of Virginia.
The 7th-graders absorb the material at their own pace and are given individualized assignments for their comprehension levels. Once they've mastered the standard, they move on.
While the new methodology has yet to be officially evaluated, Augustowski says he's already seen an impact.
"The response so far has been overwhelmingly positive," he notes. "I have received several parent emails stating that this has completely changed school for their kid, that they rush home every day to talk about English class and everything they are working on, reading, and learning. Also, students really enjoy the comfort, the level of choice, and the ability to work at their own pace."
It's everything you love about the coffee shop without the bad Wi-Fi!