How should I set up my classroom?
This is a question that I have pondered at the beginning of every school year. I play around with the idea of arranging the desks into tables so that students can easily work with one another. I move the desks and look at the room imagining the classroom management nightmare that may ensue should I allow my high schools sophomores the ability to sit with one another all day, every day. I fear that the temptation to talk will just be too strong and we will never get anything done. Don’t get me wrong, I love to have my sophomores work in partners or groups of 3-4 (depending on the activity), but what I like even more is the ability to move the desks back and forth to fit what we are doing. The beginning of the 2013-2014 school year I had this luxury. The end of that school year I did not. It is a long tale about the testing monster, but to keep it short and sweet, I was forced to move classrooms in February 2014. I was displaced until the end of May. My new classroom had tables. TABLES. When I first peeked into the window I remember thinking to myself- “They have got to be kidding me. How do they expect anything to get done at the tables?”
I was nervous in my own ability to take on this challenge. My students are pretty well behaved, a little talkative, but good overall. What were those evil tables going to do to them. Were they going to take my little angles and turn them on me? As a new teacher, I was still getting a hold of this whole classroom management thing.
My original classroom was made up of five rows of five. Every day my 25 students would come in and sit down. If they were working in pairs, they knew what to do. We would just move the desks. If they were working in groups they knew what to do as well.
Moving into the new classroom I was not sure what to expect. I knew that I would have to change my teaching style to fit the new classroom environment. I decided very early on that I was going to work with the temptation to talk instead of against it. The move to a new classroom transformed my teaching.
Suddenly, I stopped relying on lectures. They just did not work. I would be able to hold my students attention, but only for so long. I started making the notes short, sweet, and to the point. The rest of class would be filled with interactive activities. Maybe my students would work on writing a group summary. Some days they would come up with their own definition of a term we were learning in history. Other days they would be working together to create a presentation or poster about an assigned topic. My teaching became much less teacher centered and much more student centered. And, you know what? I started enjoying my job so much more. I remember my professors telling me that the students should be working harder than the teacher. This is a little piece of advice that I always kept in the back of my mind, but I didn’t quite know how to implement. As a history teacher, aren’t I supposed to be the one to impart the knowledge to my students? This assumption, however, does not take into account all of the skills that my students do bring to the table.
Yes, my students are young. Yes, my students can be immature. Yes, my students can be lazy. But, they have knowledge and skills that they need to use. I need to encourage them to use those skills instead of allowing them to fall into the trap of being passive learners. When you are involved in your learning you own it, so to speak.
Making the switch to a classroom that had tables was a blessing. It allowed me insight into the insecurities that I have about myself as a teacher. Beyond that, the switch transformed my teaching and allowed me to gain confidence in my ability to manage a classroom. My experience has not been smooth sailing. There have been good days and bad days, but it was worth it. I like having my students work at tables. No, I LOVE having my students work at tables.
If you have been considering having your high school students work at tables, I encourage you to do so. It might just be the best thing that has happened to your classroom yet!