How do you set up your classroom? What motivates you to put the desks where they are? How does your desk arrangement facilitate learning? My answers to these questions prompted me to change my desk arrangement a few years ago and I love it!
I have standard desks and table with sinks (not the best for non-lab days). After arranging desks in rows for years, I attended a PD workshop where all the students sat at tables and faced each other. I was curious how this would work and paid attention to engagement and distraction of the participants that week. It was interesting enough that I decided to rearrange my desks into groups. I learned through trial and error not to have any desk with its back to the front of the room. In my groups, I had two desks facing forward right next to each other and two desks facing each other in front of them. I also allowed three students to sit at each sink. Though it took students a few days and occasional reminders to give me their attention when I needed it, the results were wonderful. I loved having students in groups as the norm and not the exception. This encouraged me to offer more opportunities for science conversations, group concept mapping, quick “think, pair, share” exercises, etc.
One of my disappointments last year in distance learning was the loss of that group work setting. Breakout Rooms on Zoom do not give the same experience as table groups in person. When we returned to the classroom last winter, I could not do groups as students were required to keep distance. It was truly a disappointment.
This year, though, the table groups are back!! I can only have three desks together (two next to each other is not enough spacing for COVID safety) but it is working just as well. On Wednesday, the students worked on an activity in their groups. As I walked around the room, every conversation I heard was on topic. They were discussing the activity and helping each other make sense of the work and learn. It was exactly what I wanted to hear!
I may be late to the game of desk grouping arrangements, but I am so glad I finally got here. If you are still putting desks in rows, consider trying this setup for two weeks. The first day or two may be tough as kids are so excited to sit by each other they just want to talk. Once you set the expectations and provide those talking opportunities through guided and purposeful group discussions, the conversations and classroom dynamics will shift in a positive way. It may just surprise you.