Case Study: Movement-Friendly Desk Transforms Classrooms for Children with Learning Challenges
The Hyde Park Day School, with campuses in Chicago, Northfield, and Lemont, Illinois, provides a specialized educational environment for intelligent children who also have learning disabilities. The school’s Northfield location has 59 students in grades 2-8, with challenges that include ADHD, dyslexia, expressive/reception language disorders, and other conditions. HPDS emphasizes a multifaceted approach to give students the skills to successfully transition its students to mainstream schools.
The core of the HPDS approach is the belief that the complex nature of significant learning disabilities requires a program that focuses on the remediation of fundamental skills, the development of strategies to compensate for learning challenges, and the use of appropriate accommodations. One of the most important accommodations for children with these conditions is the encouragement of movement during class time. Simple, non-disruptive movements like standing, shifting weight, and stretching provide sensory feedback that helps children access working memory and stay on task. The effect is enhanced by dynamic classroom arrangements that can be moved for group work, discussions, or testing.
This important learning strategy, although embraced by HPDS teachers and students, was difficult to accomplish with conventional classroom furniture. The traditional paradigm of children seated quietly in fixed rows cannot accommodate a movement-friendly class structure. Fixed-height standing desks pose their own problems, since they require children to stand all the time or use awkward high stools for seated work. Most non-powered adjustable desks require adult assistance to raise or lower, forcing children to interrupt the teacher and ask for help when they need to stand. Further, traditional desks of any height tend to be heavy and hard to rearrange, limiting the ability of teachers to make spontaneous adjustments as needed.
HPDS was approached by The Marvel Group’s Nancy Dellamore, whose children attended the school. She proposed the development of a desk prototype with child-operable height adjustment, allowing students to self-regulate their need to stand or move in a non-disruptive way. The prototype would also address “wish list” items from teachers and students to promote organization, flexibility, and comfort to support students in their learning.
In addition to its height adjustable design, The Focus Desk also includes dedicated storage spaces which include color coded hanging files, pencil cups, cabinet space for notebooks and tablets, and an attached backpack hook.
Development of The Focus Desk
Over the course of 12 months, The Marvel Group’s product design team collected surveys from HPDS faculty to identify important features for their innovative desk. Two prototypes were brought to HPDS classrooms, where children of various ages shared their own feedback. The final version, called The Focus Desk, addressed the school’s goals with targeted design elements, including:
Within a year of its development, classrooms at HPDS were equipped with Focus Desks for all students.
Teachers and students at HPDS have enthusiastically incorporated The Focus Desk into their daily lives, taking advantage of the increased versatility the desk provides.
According to 5th grade teacher Erin Jacobson, “The desks at HPDS allow for the flexibility our students need. At any given moment in my classroom, some students are standing, sitting, using the privacy folders, utilizing the extender to hold their learning tools, or rolling desks around to rearrange for group seating during projects. When visiting students enter the classrooms, it's often the first thing they notice! It's hard to imagine ever transitioning back to a more traditional desk style.”
Other teachers noted that it has been helpful to have the entire class outfitted with the same desk, rather than having a few standing desks in the back of the room. As Tara Montgomery, Instructional Coach and former 6th grade teacher remarked, “The Focus Desks are easy to rearrange in the classroom for individual or group project work, because the wheels can be locked/unlocked. Students can adjust the desk height to be "just right" for them. They can also elevate the desks to a standing height. This option is fantastic during afternoon classes, when the students need to stretch and move to maintain attention.”
The overall impact of The Focus Desk on the school environment is appreciated by Casey Crnich, HPDS Director. “The Focus Desk helps kids take control of their learning,” says Crnich. “The desk is configured to help them do a variety of things on their own. It makes them more independent and thus helps them progress faster.”