Classroom Setting: The Great Equalizer
Updated: Sep 13, 2018
Whether you're a fan of (or limited to) traditional classroom seating or are an advocate for flexible seating, how you choose to set up your classroom is one of the easiest ways to make or break a class culture or a lesson. It's also one of the cheapest, all it costs is a bit of labor and some time to push furniture around.
This post won't cover flexible seating, as that's an entirely different ballpark and much less cost-effective than the ideas we'll be discussing today, but if you want to learn more about the wonderful world of flexible seating, here are some resources to check out:
As a teacher, how you choose to set up your classroom is a personal choice, and what works well for one person may not work well for others - that's a given. I don't mean to say any of these layouts are necessarily bad and don't mean to offend if it's your preferred layout, but these are just the layouts I've found don't work quite as well.
I've always thought of the Madeline books when looking at this sort of seating arrangement. I think it reminds me of the row of identical beds, and all the identically dressed children who had to get into perfect, uniform lines and do the same exact things. I've never really felt like that was the right set up for a classroom of incredibly unique children.
The Madeline style of seating arrangement, most importantly, screams classroom. Now, you might be a bit confused. "They're in a classroom, so isn't that a good thing?" I hear you asking. Unfortunately, it's not. Our students have grown up hating being in the classroom, thinking school is a waste of time, and just wanting to get out of there. C'mon, you were a high schooler once too.
You want your classroom to feel inviting in a way that the Madeline doesn't provide. You want students to come into your room and feel like things are different in here. You want them to feel comfortable and welcome, and want to get their guards down. Instead of having a room that looks like the same rooms they've already spent four hours in, you want a room that invites creative energy.
The Madeline is also harder to do group work in. Sure, you can have everyone get up and turn chairs around or drag desks around, but it makes something that can be streamlined so much messier.
It also promotes partner work over group work, which isn't necessarily a bad thing! For some people, however, smaller groups are more vital to a class environment than partner work, and these rows don't make that style of teaching very easy.
This is definitely veering further into personal preference, but I just can't handle this classroom setup. Obviously, it totally works for what it needs to do: fit as many kids into a room facing the front as possible. However, if any other option is available, it's probably better. This style is hated my the people sitting in those seats as well, considering just getting to their seat if they aren't on the end is a workout.
It's awful for students. To begin with, if you sit in the middle row, you have to climb over backpacks, laps, feet, service animals, and who knows what else just to reach your chair. No one enjoys that, and it encourages students to sit in the back and the ends, right where you don't want them.
It's also not great for you as the teacher. The wide set up means students on the sides are ignored, and you become really close with that group in the center front row. Forget being able to walk around the room if your classroom is an arch, you can observe the ends and that's it (it also makes passing out papers a pain).
Not only that, but these cramped quarters make sneaking in phones and unwanted distractions incredibly easy for students, and it's unlikely you'll ever notice among all of the other heads and clutter.
These are, again, personal preference and based on my own experiences in a variety of different classrooms with different learning styles. Each of these obviously has its cons, but I think the pros far outweigh those.
This is probably my personal favorite, and often known as "clusters" or "pods". It's an amazing space for students to work in groups or in pairs if that's your preference, and typically this arrangement is done using tables, which make it easy to move furniture around for large group work.
Every single one of these set-ups has some issues, and The Peas-in-a-Pod has plenty as well. First of all, it can be harder for all students to face the front and see the teacher. Usually swivel chairs make this a simple fix, but it also requires students to be willing to face the front
This can also be an issue for getting conversations down and more general classroom management. Students being in these smaller groups means an increase in potential chatter and lower attention spans.
As an English Educator, I really like The Horsehoe. It makes for very easy collaborative class discussions, and a great classroom environment. Students are able to see each other with little effort, as well as the teacher, and as somebody begins speaking, it's easy to make eye contact with them and give them the attention they deserve. It also makes it easy for the educator to see any phones or students who aren't paying attention.
The Horseshoe is pretty terrible for teachers who prefer having a "student-centered" learning environment, because the students are arranged around the "leader" and "center" of their classroom, the teacher. This puts the teacher on a very authoritative level potentially.
It's also harder for group work to happen, as the desks are harder to rearrange effectively and it's difficult sometimes to navigate the room outside of the center of the desks, but partner work is still quite straight forward.
Personally, I think all of these arrangements have their merits. I think whatever works best for you and your students is a good arrangement, but I hope this post was able to highlight some arrangements you might not have considered, or point out the potential flaws of certain arrangements you hadn't noticed before. Regardless, always seek out a second opinion when making the decisions on your classroom setting, and don't be afraid to try something out and change it again if needed.
Thanks for reading!
What do you think of these set-ups? Is there one I missed that you prefer? Make sure to leave your favorite below!
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