By RANDY TATANO
Special to Atmore News
Step into a certain classroom at Flomaton Elementary and you might think you’re in the wrong place.
No rows of desks. Tables looking like they’re about to be set for dinner. A comfy couch.
Nope, not the teachers’ breakroom. These are “brain friendly” classrooms, designed to create a more comfortable environment that makes students feel at home.
A few of the teachers at this school have done some serious “redecorating” in turning what looked like a standard classroom into a warm, friendly place designed to encourage camaraderie and the exchange of ideas among students. Going full-on Martha Stewart with spare furniture and a relaxing color palette that isn’t bold, the teachers have created a more inviting environment that looks like something out of a magazine, while seating children in small groups.
Principal Courtney McBride says these classrooms encourage what she calls an “active environment” which allows students to share ideas more freely. Here’s how it works: a teacher might ask a group of four students who share one table a question, but before calling on one child for an answer, require them to discuss it among themselves. When it’s time for an answer, one name is drawn at random from that table. That student will answer, but also share what his tablemates think since the teacher might ask, “Tell me what your partner said.”
McBride said that simply changing the seating pattern makes students pay attention to a greater degree. “It makes them really listen to what the teacher is telling them to do.” And partnering with others at the table, “makes it safer to make a mistake. Children are more apt to answer because it’s safer.”
Seats aren’t assigned until about a week after school starts, so the teacher has an opportunity to find out which students get along, and those who should not be seated together at a small table who might cause distractions. The handful of classrooms at Flomaton Elementary offer a calming environment which also results in fewer discipline issues.
Other schools using the brain friendly concept have seen an improvement with test scores, since the relaxed environment does tend to reduce the stress level of test taking. Students can’t help but feel at ease in a place that feels more like home than a classroom.
Brewton resident Randy Tatano is a veteran TV news reporter and network producer, and is currently a novelist and freelance writer for the Escambia County School System.