I wrote the first part of this post in 2014….when I was making what I knew was a huge first step in my classroom environment. Today in November 2019 – as the last ‘student desk’ came out of my room I took another step. So I thought I would repost & update this for my new space…and my evolved classroom.
I looked out at my room the other day – the same room I started to teach in when it was a new school in in 1997. The blackboard is now a whiteboard, the screen is there for my computer…and wow – is that the same old TV in the corner for video announcements? (Yes!) But even more interesting for me is what has really changed. There is a big difference in ‘how’ my students use the room – how they sit, what they do, and where the focus on learning is. It took me a minute to connect the change in my room setup and my changing educational practice.The journey mirrors the evolution of my teaching…
Single Rows – Focus: Teacher at the front of the room: Those first few years, with their long nights of prepping material and me trying to wrap my head around what I was ‘teaching’. Note the word ‘teaching’. With my students in rows, facing the front, it was clearly a ‘teacher as the driving force’ kind of space. And in those early years, as I worked to discover who I was as a teacher, and even what kind of things I wanted my students to explore it probably needed to be this way. The first few years can be chaotic, challenging and oh so much fun…and clearly, if you looked at my desk arrangement, I was the one ‘in charge’.
Pairs – in a “U” shape – Focus: Teacher at the front of the room/another student: Gradually my room saw a change – from single rows to pairs – and, daringly, not even in rows. This coincided with my degree of comfort in the what and how that I was teaching. Notice again though that the focus was on me and the front of the room. Yes, I thought it had to be as that is where the screen for the overhead – replaced by computer/LCD is located. My degree of comfort in ‘letting them go and interact’ was growing – and I injected lots of partner/interactive time into the class. But clearly the setup still said ” ‘Focus on the teacher – and then shift to practicing with your partner’ (but remember who is in charge! )
“Tables” 4 desks- all facing each other – Focus: Fellow Students/Teacher when needed: And this year – another change for me – and another ‘leap’ in my style of teaching. I had tried the group of 4 in the past – but hadn’t made the permanent shift. But the changes in my teaching, and a visit to Catherine Ousselin (@catherineKU72) and her ‘table setup’ did it for me. If I was going to let my students, and a communicative/interactive focus be a priority, I needed to put my ‘desks where my teaching philosophy is’. So now they sit – pods of 4 desks – a partner to talk to beside them – and pair across the table for broader consultation/interaction. It’s a challenge at times – but remarkably easy to pull them all together for the ‘coaching’ moments at the screen/board. I don’t even think of it as the ‘front’ of the room any more – the focus is now on the students – and my teaching, okay my language coaching – is improving because of it.
Now….Round and Wavy Moveable Tables, Camping Chairs and a Sofa – Focus: Comfortable, More Natural Communication: Loved the pods of desks – the square 4 set that allowed my kids to face each other. But…my needs, and more importantly, my students needed more. They needed to be able to move, to get away from being at a desk and be in a place that made it easier to talk. So initially in came the camping chairs. You can see them in the photo below – under the window, near the front of the room on both ‘sides’ of the board. They cost under $10 each and are light and extremely moveable. With clipboards from the dollar store they are a place kids can do a learning check or assessment and easily be moved to suit what they need. I often use them when we conference and I love how relaxed you feel in them. And then…the desks had to go!
With the support of my colleague (who took the ‘take the desks out’ leap first) I scrounged a couple of round tables and out went a few desks. And then my principal stepped up. In came 2 more round tables and the wavy tables you see on the right. These are great – they are easily wheeled around and, if I need more room, the tops flip up and I can move them almost completely out of the way. My principal even encouraged me (and paid for it!) to get ‘whiteboard’ tables. Kids love it when they can practice/write/think on them. And I’m sourcing large whiteboard squares for the round tables so that they can too.
I also put in a sofa (you can’t see it) which is immensely popular – maybe it’s the large Hello Kitty stuffed animals they like to hold while they talk. I encourage students to ‘move to where you are comfortable’ for almost every task. One of my grade 11’s said today “When we started in Grade 9 there were desks…now there are none..and I like it!!”
I hope that my room now says to my students “the focus here is on you and I’m encouraging you to be comfortable as you are using your language skills to communicate.” What does your setup say about what you value in your class?