Get on the ball!

Olivia Blazer

August 22, 2014

Gone are the days of lectures and students sitting silently and listening, completing assignments individually in a room so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Over the years, the culture of the classroom has changed dramatically. Students are interacting with technology and each other to enhance learning. There is less direct instruction and more small group instruction. Educators are less and less the “sage on the stage,” and have moved more into a facilitator’s role – the “guide on the side.” Teachers are using unorthodox tools and strategies to encourage and sharpen student focus.

One such tool is the stability ball. “Out-of-the-box” teachers are choosing to replace student chairs in their classrooms for stability balls in order to increase focus during lessons and aid retention through movement. Movement and learning are indelibly connected. Children learn best when they are moving, and what better way for them to be focused, learning, and moving than sitting on a stability ball?

A 2011 University of Kentucky study demonstrated that the use of stability balls was effective for students who exhibited hyperactivity and problems paying attention. When the body is engaged, the brain is engaged. Students must engage the muscles and the parts of their brains needed to remain balanced on a large ball, resulting in a heightened focus during instruction, and an improvement in the ability to concentrate. This ultimately leads to improved academic performance for students who are “actively sitting.” Following are tips and tidbits of information for those interested in implementing this new and innovative learning strategy.

Give the stability balls in your classroom a catchy little name that correlates with learning. Continuously saying “stability ball” can be cumbersome, and naming them “focus” or “thinking” balls definitely sets the tone and places emphasis on learning in the classroom.

Compose a set of rules (no more than five) for the balls once students begin to use them, and enforce them. This will give them a sense of ownership and pride in the use and care of the stability balls. They will come up with some great ideas on their own, but encourage them to include appropriate rules for basic safety. For example, the rules below were brainstormed by a group of students on their first day using the stability balls.

Allow students to train newcomers on the use of the stability balls, then reinforce the rules as needed. This gives the students a sense of ownership and pride in the use and care of the balls.

Keep several chairs in your classroom for good measure. Sometimes students get tired, and prefer a chair. They must use core muscle strength and balance to successfully stay on the ball, and may not realize how tired they have become. Retaining several chairs helps the teacher to meet the varying needs of all students as well as the needs of any visitors that might come in.

Be aware that there will be an increased noise level in the classroom as a result of use of the balls. Whether the classroom is carpeted or tile floor, students moving on the stability balls altogether cause a low rumble and/or growl. The less students move on the balls, the quieter it is. Consequently, the more students move on the balls, the more audible the rumble.

Integrating stability balls in the classroom allows students to move throughout the day, and benefits a diverse spectrum of students. Teachers find that after a training period, students will sit with minimal movement, improved posture, and will more consistently attend to task. This innovative focusing strategy will create in the classroom a novel, high interest environment, ultimately promoting overall student and teacher satisfaction.

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