Classroom Set-up

Posted: August 9, 2010 in Uncategorized
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So, I’ve been thinking about classroom set-up.

I always rearrange depending on what we are doing etc, but I am feeling more and more that I want need to have a flexible arrangement that can be changed at a moment’s notice. We settled in to a big arc of desks last year. It was more than a semi-circle; it was more like 270 degrees. And, for discussions and independent working it was great or at least good. However, because it was more than a semi-circle, when I needed to do something on the board and have everyone be able to see; it wasn’t effective. It was too hard for some to see the board and be able to write at the same time.

What to do?

Seek out inspiration, that’s what.

I found all kinds of great information and ideas.

I found tweets and blog post from The Nerdy Teacher about his plans for a blogger cafe in his classroom.

I found TeachPaperless’s post showing his flexible classroom.

Since I have lower school students obviously not all that these two were talking about would apply, but still it gets the ideas flowing.

Then this summer I found this article on Edutopia about seating by Evantheia Schibsted.

Here is the part that I found most significant for me:

Robert J. Wankmuller, science chairperson for the Hauppauge School District, on New York’s Long Island, knows this firsthand. When he taught chemistry in another school district, Wankmuller had two classrooms with different seating arrangements. One had tables and lab stations in the middle of the classroom, where students faced each other the entire period; the other combined rows of desks in the front of the room with a lab-activity and cooperative-learning area in the back.

“I saw a big difference in student behavior,” says Wankmuller, explaining that kids in the classroom with two distinct areas behaved better and performed better on exams. “It wasn’t because they were any brighter. It was the seating.”

Wankmuller says seating arrangements should reflect the type of activity going on. “Students need to know that different things are expected of them based upon where they are sitting. They should have a different mind-set [for each area].”

So, he explains, in the lab and cooperative area, they should be talking together and figuring things out. When they’re arrayed in more traditional rows of front-facing desks or chairs, they should raise their hands when they want to ask or answer questions.

“Students need to see some direct connection between what they hear in lecture and what they do as a hands-on activity,” Wankmuller says. The transition from one classroom layout to another can be used to segue between one approach to learning and another. “When they regroup, they need to talk about what they discovered [in the other setup] and link that to the next topic. It’s not easy to do, but the variety helps them focus.”

I also saw this post from David Ginsburg’s blog which sums it neatly in this statement:

“. . . different teaching strategies call for different seating orientations. . .”

So then I went in to school to take a long hard look at my classroom and think about how I too could have seating that reflected the type of activity we were involved in, without spending entire class periods rearranging. As it turned out, there was some extra furniture in another hallway (not for long) that got me thinking. It was clearly an IKEA table: good height, narrow, lightweight, easy to move, and probably inexpensive. Back to my room, table in tow.

Lots of dragging, pushing, shoving, and some more scavenging later, I have a plan:

  • First, I put all the desks towards the back of the room in a circle (almost) with room left for another chair or two to join in (me).
  • I put 2 trapezoid tables in the middle (now it’s a hexagon) for another place to work, put papers, etc. This was the basic plan at the end of last year only at the front of the room.
  • Next, I pushed my desk back a little so that I can get it 2 rows of narrow tables facing the board. (I’m still considering which tables to get these or these, both from Ikea. I’m leaning toward the first because it will slide across the carpet easily.)
  • My thought is that tables can get pushed to the side when not in use (I have checked and am pretty sure I can make it work). Students will have to move chairs, but that’s it.
  • We will now also have the ability to make working group table easily as well.
  • I figure I’ll have to spend some time at the beginning of the year on expectations for transitioning to different work areas, but I think it will pay off big time after that.

Now I just have to get all the other furniture I scavenged out of my room, go to Ikea with a big enough car (which I don’t have–Umm, Mom can I borrow your car?), put it all together, and get other teachers who come into my room to agree that I am on to something here. Well, if that’s all, no problem.

I can’t wait!

  1. I think about room arrangement all the time. Last year I bought two bright green “comfy” chairs from Target so kids could relax while they were reading. Then I added a fun, colorful floor lamp plus a couch someone was going to toss. It all makes a difference. I wrote about some other things I’d like to do here:

  2. mseiteljorg says:

    Thanks for your comment and link to your post. I am fortunate to have a number of the things you mention: small class size, good window with shades, good internet connection and narrative reports. I’m planning an eportfolio project using wikis this year.

  3. Alan Stange says:

    I came across this site and posted about it on my blog. Since the picture was taken in June, my 5-6 classroom has been changed.I now have five large round tables spread around the room. Two study carols for privacy, the classroom computer stations along two walls and three trapezoidal tables here and there against the wall for stations. We invade the hallway and any other available space when we need it. Now that the desks have been banished, I’m ready to exploit flexibility with my students.

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