The setup and layout of a classroom says a lot about how learning goes on in it. This is definitely nothing new but then why are so many teachers continuing to place student desks in rows and columns? This year, I abandoned the isolating student desk in favor of tables organized into large groups (about 8 chairs per group). I’m still perfecting the layout, but in this first semester, I’ve already noticed a huge change. Students are talking to each other instead of to me. They are asking each other for help, getting to know their interests, and sharing their learning.
Take, for example, the dreaded “bellringer” (or daily warm-up, or whatever you call it). I take this opportunity every day to teach and reinforce grammar concepts in context. Even with an entertaining story and digestible chunks (thanks to Jane Bell Kiester for her Caught Ya! series), grammar is still synonymous with “death” in the minds of most, if not all, high schoolers. No one likes grammar, and I’ve almost come to terms with it. Almost. However, this year, I picked up on some interesting murmur going on while the students were working…They were actually talking to each other about grammar! They checked with each other, offered explanations, and gave more examples. Now, it doesn’t matter who is picked to provide corrections because they all have learned.
This isn’t the only social learning happening. They have accomplished numerous projects both in their home groups and in mixed groups. They like the tables. It breaks them out of the mindset that education is every (wo)man for him/herself. Learning is something we do together. Also, they have more workspace. They can have a book and a notebook open comfortably. They can move to a table to work by themselves or join others if need be.
It took a bit to get used to the additional noise, I must admit. But, it’s good noise. It certainly hasn’t solved every classroom management problem. Those will exist in any classroom environment. What it has done, though, is retrain the students and accustom them to the type of learning I expect from them.