Every 20 minutes, a timer goes off in Bobbi Matheny’s English class. Her students, all nine of them, move from computer to group, group to computer and reading time like a well-orchestrated symphony. Desks, computer stations, and group worktables are utilized on this merry-go-round of activities in a program indicative of the direction of educational curriculum.
The program Matheny and other educators at the middle and high school level are using to help students improve their reading skills is called Read 180. “An integral part of the program is to give each student individualized instruction as well as help them work on their comprehension, vocabulary and spelling skills”, she said. “What is so unique about the computer work is that if they don’t pronounce a word correctly, then the computer tells them they have to go back and try again.” Students working on the computer wear a headset that allows them to listen to the computer and respond. Comfortable seating and appropriate computer stations are essential in creating an environment that allows the student to focus on their work.
Students seem to like the variety in their day, and each station allows them to customize the lesson suiting their individual preferences. “They’re not sitting in one place for 90 minutes,” Matheny said. “Attention spans are about 20 minutes, so every 20 minutes they’re moving to a different activity. We have a more relaxed atmosphere because I actually sit down with them at a table.” This type of hands-on teaching requires seating arrangements that allow for open discussion and interaction. The rectangular desk with attached seats of past are being recycled into lightweight tables and chairs that allow a change in arrangement with each change in the lesson plan.
Small group work and a more cooperative seating arrangement opens the doors for students to feel more personal attention from their teachers and support from their peers. Matheny said her students are more inclined to talk about the areas of improvement when it’s just in front of one or two other students.
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