Rows: Control and Avoid Rows
Please tell me that you got the pun... When I started teaching (at boys' schools), I found that the best way to get control of the class, put them into workable laboratory groups and to avoid arguments (rows) was to put them into rows, all facing the front.
There were variations of this that I tried, but usually only to fit more desks in the same-sized classroom, as roll (and class) sizes grew; this is a topic for a future rant I think. Ultimately, I decided that three rows with an alleyway down the middle worked best for me. Please note..."for me". I had good control of most classes, could look at the quality of most students' work and each row split off to their respective lab stations conveniently.
What it meant, however, was that all discussions had to be carried out via me or done at the lab stations. The only real opportunity for collaboration was at the lab stations. Yes this got the boys out of their seats and did make me plan collaborative tasks in every lesson at the lab stations, but really...!
Groups: Collaborate and Create
I tried this a lot as a younger teacher but it just didn't work. To this day, I do not know why. Maybe I just didn't model collaboration well enough and did not give valuable enough collaborative activities to get the boys doing this. Maybe it was because they were boys. Maybe it was because in every other class they had to sit in rows and generally work (learn??) independently. I generalise, of course. Not every class was like this at all!
|My classroom in 2012.|
However, once I moved to a co-educational school (and yes, an independent one at that), I noticed very quickly that there was a stronger desire to collaborate. Yes there was also a stronger temptation to gossip, chat off-task and distractions were so much worse. However, I wanted to capture the opportunity to try more collaborative work. Rows were not going to do any more....
Imagine the students' shock and surprise when they walked in one Monday morning to see that the rows were gone and groups were there. This isn't what a science lab is meant to look like!!!
This is still not ideal, but it has helped me introduce a lot more collaborative activities, not just experiments. Also, I notice that now they can talk to each other more easily, the students tend to talk more about the work, not off-task topics. No, I am not suggesting they are always on-task, but they tend to help each other more. It is almost as though the change in seating arrangement has told them they are allowed to help each other now.
However, these big, cumbersome desks are hard to move. These groups are static. I want more dynamic group parameters. I want group sizes to change, I want the group participants to vary, I want each group to have a more unique environment. This is a positive start, but I need to go crazy again...
I have some ideas...and they may be nuts. I want every desktop to be coated with whiteboard paint. Students have whiteboard markers and brainstorm together. I want these desktops to have hinges so the groups can present their ideas to me (as a moderator or mentor) or to other groups (as learners, moderators or critics).
I want students sitting on chairs/stools/couches that make them comfortable. Most students have laptops now, so why sit them at a desk? The desk is now a place for collaborative ideas to be shared...and presented.
I can see my classroom in my head but I am not artistic enough to draw it so I can share the idea. Maybe one day soon, I will try to draw what I want and post that image on here...
The issue I face here is that I share my room with other teachers; they may not be able to teach in this kind of environment. I couldn't teach in a room full of rows of desks any more.