By Jackie Bartell, MS Ed, Internationally recognized autism & special education trainer and consultant
Incorporating active and flexible spaces allows for student movement in the routine and structure of a school day, is showing dramatic results in changing how students self regulate and learn. Educators in the 21st century classrooms with a student-directed learning focus who had alternative seating like the Vidget 3-in-1 Active & Flexible Seating System™ in their classrooms have reported a 90 percent decrease in disruptive behavior after three weeks of use.
One teacher stated that a student has “taken off in her ability to attend to written tasks. Before Vidgets, the student consistently wrote just a word or two during a writing task. After a week of using the Vidget, the student was writing, using one to two sentences and is now sitting down for extended periods of time to write five-to-six-sentence paragraphs. The student often sits to write of her own accord. I’m so grateful to have the Vidgets to give her the sensory input she needs so that the output matches her ability level. Vidgets are an amazing seating option.”
The success of the Vidget® lies in its capacity to provide students with the sensory input they need to pay attention, focus, and engage in the learning process. This sensory input, largely focused on the proprioceptive and vestibular sensory systems, supports this attention through self regulation.
Active Student-directed Learning
21st century classrooms are stepping away from being teacher centered and moving toward student-directed learning where students are actively engaged. In fact, student-directed learning shifts the responsibility for learning from the teacher to the
student. The student has the opportunity to make choices on how to learn, making the experience more meaningful, relevant and therefore effective. In contrast, traditional teacher-directed learning puts the ownership of the process squarely on the teacher, and the student is a passive subject in the learning process.
Active student-directed learning requires that the teacher becomes “the guide on the side,” as eloquently coined by [ (Speicher, 2009)]. And this learning occurs most easily when students are poised to pay attention and engage. But in examining how this happens, how can we ensure it happens for each student? It’s only when the guide on the side understands each student’s unique profile that they can assist in focusing the student’s attention to easily engage with instruction. Additionally, making the effort to understand each student allows for an environment that encourages and nurtures relationships and sensory organizing activities, necessary for successful learning, which in turn result in improved educational outcomes. In other words, teachers who use sensory input-based interventions can stimulate vestibular and proprioceptive sensory systems to assist children in improving on-task behaviors.
Sensory Input-based Interventions and Adaptive Responses
While standard or traditional seating options provide a certain level of sensory input, some students may require a higher level of intensity and/or amount of sensory input to actively participate in learning. Vidgets go beyond traditional seating to encourage a level of active engagement that allows students to facilitate and maintain their own optimal levels of arousal.
Adaptive responses happen when students actively and intrinsically engage in controlling how much and what type of sensory input their bodies need. The sensory system includes the five traditional senses plus two more: proprioception and vestibular (the organizing senses). Proprioceptive and vestibular senses provide information about where a body is in space and how it is able to move through space; however, when these two systems are not working well, it becomes difficult to attend and focus because these organizing functions are not in sync with the body. Since classrooms can be very busy environments and require multi-sensory processing, it can be difficult for some students to maintain an optimal level of attentiveness or arousal because they are sensitive and/or under-responsive to various sensory stimuli. Receiving input into their proprioceptive and vestibular systems therefore can become an organizing factor for improved attention and engagement. The proprioceptive and vestibular systems’ role in student-directed learning is paramount, because it supports student self-regulation.
Organizing Sensory Input To Self Regulate
A student in a 21st century classroom is expected to be able to self regulate or organize the sensory input they are experiencing in order to make an adaptive response. Self regulation is their ability to process the sensory information from all seven senses in order to manage their emotions and behavior in step with the demands of the learning environment. However, if a student is unable to regulate this sensory input, higher-order cognitive processes, including relationship building, attention, focus, and, ultimately, learning, suffer.
Each student comes to the 21st Century classroom with a unique profile in how they organize the sensory input of the environment. Their sensory modulation or regulation is on a continuum (see Figure 1) that includes people who under or over register sensory experiences. For example, we have all seen those students who passively experience instruction, those who actively experience instruction, and those who seem to be in just the right place. Each student has to work differently to achieve the self regulation that brings them to just the right place, the spot that optimizes learning and their educational outcome. Students may begin or fluctuate throughout the school day to the left or right of just the right place, but through ongoing self regulation, students can find their way back to just the right place.
What's the buzz?
"Since incorporating the Vidget in our classroom, I have noticed an improvement in attention span, participation, and regulation in my students"
Tara, Occupational Therapist
"The little girl I used it with sat down and ate lunch which she usually does not do - she tends to stand or sit and wiggle in her seat."
Melanie, Director of Occupational Therapy
"When Pearl is in a Vidget, her behavior is 100 times better than when she’d in a normal chair. She’s still has difficulty sitting for that long, but it makes a HUGE difference! Without it, she’s everywhere."
Lara, Pre-K Teacher