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Benefits of a Slanted Desk

slanted desk

Remember back in the day when all the school desks were slanted? Ever wonder why they were designed this way? Unfortunately, in classrooms today, the slanted desks are no longer being used...

Educators figured out a long time ago it is a lot easier to read and write on a slanted surface. It has everything to do with ergonomics. Ergonomics as it relates to reading and writing. When reading you naturally tilt the reading material toward you. It is a more comfortable reading position. This actually puts more of the page in focus at one time reducing the strain the on your eyes. It also allows you to more easily track lines and presents the printed characters at a consistence perspective as you read down the page. The result is the brain having to works less on interpreting what it is seeing and allows more analytical resources to understand what has just been read, which leads to less fatigue and better comprehension.

Pioneering experiments conducted by Dr. Darrel Boyd Harmon; American Journal of Optometry Archive, American Academy of Optometry 1960 Mar; 37:121-137 and subsequent research by Dr. John Pierce Rev Optometry 1977; 114:48-63 and Dr. Steven Greenspan; Optometry Weekly 1971; 62(33): 754-757, Optometry Weekly 1971; 62(34): 776-780 have shown that there is an integral working relationship between posture, work distance and work surface. Their research has proven that there is improved learning performance when the proper conditions are established for near-point visual activities such as reading and writing. Their studies show that by having your work presented on a sloped work surface, with an angle at between 20 and 23 degrees, sitting no closer than fist to elbow length distance from the work surface, will reduce your heart rate, induce a more regular and deeper breathing pattern, reduce neck muscle and overall body tension. A slanted surface compels your body to sit in a more upright posture. This simple arrangement allows your body to naturally move into what is know as the Harmon Distance. This is the optimal distance from the eyes to the working surface.

sitting-graphic1

Concurrently, by writing on a sloped work surface you will reduce the fatigue experienced during writing and increase control. When you write on a flat surface you are only utilizing the muscles in your wrist. I am sure you can all relate to the cramping experienced in your wrist when writing for any length of time. As you raise your arm into a slanted position your body now starts utilizing the muscles in the forearm as well. This posture gives a person more control for better penmanship and allows for longer endurance. Architects and Calligraphers utilize a slanted work surface for this very reason.

slant_board_writing

 Classroom designers and teachers a century ago understood the importance of proper ergonomics in the classroom and the use of slanted desks in a learning environment. It is amazing how something so simple in concept, yet so effective in application can have such huge benefits. It begs to question why slanted desks were taken out of the classroom in the first place. Other than the simple answers being most likely correct, it was more cost effective. Since flat desks were introduced to the classroom, reading scores have dropped considerably. European schools are now reintroducing slanted desks in their school classrooms and we too should rethink the ergonomics of learning.

2 thoughts on “Benefits of a Slanted Desk”

  • Sarah

    Wow!! As a mom who has just begun vision therapy for her son, this is quite interesting to read. My son has been in a Montessori environment since he was three and now I am wondering if that was damaging to his vision as well since half of the work is done on the floor. I am now trying to find a way to purchase a slant board. I am so glad that we had him tested and are now on the road to getting his vision corrected. More educators should be aware, talking about this, and proactive with it.
    Thanks!

    Reply
  • Joe de Braga

    Most schools went away from slanted desks so that desks could be combined together to form a table, and also to use for group work, such as cooperative learning. I recently conducted a study at our local charter school on positional based reading. We had students read with the paper flat on the desktop, then moved the paper upward in what we call the "Reading Arc" until they found a spot where the words were easier to read. 71% of the students found a spot where they would rather have their reading material than to have it flat on the desk. The majority of those liked it straight ahead at eye level. These students experienced increased comprehension, reduced reading errors, and increased words per minute read. I will be posting these results soon on our website at www.readingvision.net.

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