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During last Thursday’s ukedchat I engaged in a mild disagreement with Andrew Hall @ConsultantHead on the best way to organise classroom seating.

He defended the proposition that seating students in rows made behaviour management easier and would therefore lead to better teaching & learning. I begged to differ.

Part of the argument was that if students are mucking around then they’re unlikely to learn anything and unless they’re in neat, regimented rows they’ll muck around. This is not the place to reel off lists of wonderfully effective behaviour for learning techniques and I won’t disagree that it is easier to ‘control’ kids if they’re all sat facing you. The problem is that I’m not interested in trying to control students, I’m interested in engaging and motivating learners. Badly behaved, unmotivated students are students who cannot see any point in behaving. If I can (and I do) demonstrate what’s in it for students to behave and learn then, I’ll be able to trust them to get on with exciting lessons. And sit in groups.

My view is that everything that happens in the classroom (and beyond if possible) should be about learning. I’m sure few would argue with this. It has become a truism that teaching doesn’t necessarily lead to learning. One of my favourite quotes comes from Ian Gilbert’sEssential Motivation for the Classroom, “If you’re not learning, I’m just talking”. Teachers are supposed to be the ‘guide on the side not the sage on the stage’ and seating is just one small, but easy to manage part of the solution. If desks are in rows, students are forced to face front and whilst they can compare ideas with their desk partner, any kind of group discussion is made difficult. If tables are arranged in groups, collaborative group work becomes an almost inevitable part of lessons.

I can find no better advocate of my position than Phil Beadle. In his excellent book How To Teach, he says,

“Having your desks set out in groups is the right way to organise your classroom. Period. No discussion. No arguing.  Having the tables in groups allows you to set them grouped speaking and listening activities that are the way they learn most effectively. Having your table in groups lets them learn from each other. And having your tables in groups is a spatially symbolic move away from the Dickensian notion of the teacher standing at the front talking cobblers about really hard sums all day, every day.”

Try as I might, I can find nothing to disagree with here. Everything I know to be true about managing students and getting them to learn stuff needs them to be sitting in groups, facing each other rather than me. In an ideal world I’d like to be able to infinitely vary my groupings and would love my desks to be singles rather than doubles to facilitate moving them around more often. The truth is that moving desks about is a drag (literally) and I can’t be bothered to do it several times a day let alone several times a lesson.

However, I do put a lot of thought into the way I group my tables. I finished last year with 8 groups of 4 but have decided to start September with 5 groups of 6. This means that activities can be easily mixed up so that it is easy to move from paired discussion, a group of three and then a larger group of up to 6 without dragging desks about. Also, it’s makes good use of the space in my classroom and leaves a central space for students to engage in exciting kinaesthetic learning.

My old seating plan
My new seating plan

I’m not saying there’s never a place for desks laid out in rows, there is: exam halls.

Nifty room layout pics are curtsy of http://classroom.4teachers.org/

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Comment by David Didau on August 26, 2011 at 2:35pm
See more of my blog at learningspy.edublogs.org

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