Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Musical Chairs

Throughout the year I have experimented with many different seating layouts in my classroom, which I revelled having this year. Each of the different layouts had their own purposes depending on what I was intending on doing with certain classes at certain stages throughout the year. I'm sure everyone has their own particular favourite seating layout. Personally, I still don't think I've found a 'perfect' arrangement. There are pros and cons to each, but I ideally think that your seating layout should fit the purpose of the lesson and in an ideal word we'd all have a set of magical Maths trolls that would come out between each lesson changeover and move the furniture accordingly.

Now, for many teachers I'm sure space in their classroom is a major issue in terms of whether there is literally enough space to have the tables and chairs spread out in groups or in rows. One problem I may face next year, when moving back to the school I was a cover supervisor at (very excited by the way), is that my room isn't as big as the one I've enjoyed this year and has a weird 'side room' within the room. There's currently a load of filing cabinets in this space, but I'm hoping to clear this area for some sort of 'TA table' where my LSAs/TAs can work with small groups as directed/discussed.

I'm sure I'll find a way of rearranging the furniture such as I have this year, but for now let's see the different layouts I've used this year. You'll probably see gradual changes in my room displays too, throughout the pictures. I tried to change things and mix things up as much as I could this year. Mainly due to wanting to keep my students on their toes, give them a stimulating environment to work in and ensure they had that wonderment of what was going to happen in their Mathematics lesson that day; what the room would look like, would they be doing group work etc etc.

Start of the Year:

To start the year off I kept it simple...rows! I kept a walk through in between the desks for me to easily move up and down the classroom. On the odd occasion I'd use the back of the classroom (quite a big area) to teach here too, or use the back wall display to refer to something another class had produced (or remind a class of what they had done previously).
The advantage of the rows at the start of the year was that it enabled me to set out my stall. Rows are great for maintaining discipline and setting out the boundaries. All students are facing the front and so have no excuses for not looking towards the front when expected. It is easy to see those that have turned round to chat to those behind them. I found that it was also good when seating my SEN students at the start of the year and getting to know how much/little support they would need early on. These students were either sat on the front row or on the ends of the rows, easily accessible via the gap going down the middle.
The negatives of this layout are that I found certain students, depending on where they were sat, did not get as much of my attention as perhaps other students did that were easier to get to. The students that are sat on the ends of the rows nearest the walls/windows, especially in the middle of the classroom where those that were just physically hard to get to without having to squeeze past chairs. A major downfall for me was also that, as many of my classes were lower sets they only contained a maximum of 12 students. These students found it hard to concentrate and would need sitting with and extra support to understand their work. The rows made it hard for my LSAs and I to easily get round them all and sit next to them to support them if a row was 'full'.
So, I felt a change was needed.
Before the actual 'change' from rows I did experiment by moving the desks into other arrangements when I was doing group based tasks that I didn't think rows really complimented. Here are a few, 'one off' arrangements that I did for those lessons where I felt rows were not suitable...
What I would call the 'as exam-style as I can get' layout. This was used when I needed the classes to work in exam-style conditions. This mainly occurred when doing the termly assessments. However, this layout was also good for paired work, especially when the tasks were quite competitive between pairings.

'Circle Time'. I used this layout with my Year 7s a few times as I liked the way we could discuss certain things together. One particular lesson involved looking at sequences. Another, collecting like terms.
After the rows (with some dispersed 'one-off' layouts) I went to a 'spine' layout...
The 'spine' layout was possibly the least successful layout for me personally. Although, another teacher that used my room when I was free said that they really liked it and was a bit disappointed when I changed it.
Note to any NQT/ITT (or teacher for that matter) whose room gets used by other members of staff when you're not teaching in there...make sure you make those members of staff that teach in your room aware of any changes to the seating layout! Some members of staff will get a bit 'perturbed', shall we say, of constant unannounced changes, others will adopt an attitude of 'it's your room, do what you like with it'. Know your colleagues!
What I was hoping to do with this layout was to have a layout that allowed the ability to work in groups at the same time of everyone being able to face the front and still act as if they were in 'rows'. However, what I found was that there were far too many distractions for my larger classes. Not only could they see the person sat next to them, and the other pair that were linked to their table, but they were also able to see over to the other side of the room. This led to some silly behaviour at times with the more difficult students. There was a lesson where the poor student sat on the back right's bag ended up under the table at the front left in a game I'll call 'pass the parcel whilst Collins' back is turned'. My smaller classes (size wise, not height wise) did benefit from this layout however, as my LSAs and I were able to support students easier and were able to teach the students in smaller groups, which at this point in the year was becoming far more important as it became evident quite quickly that they, as a group, did not have the attention span nor concentration to be taught 'as a class'. Teaching in groups was how I found best to teach my lower sets - with the much needed support from my amazing LSAs (who I briefed at the start of each lesson/ beforehand if possible).
So, this 'half way house' just wasn't good enough and so having tried grouped seating when doing group work in the odd lesson here and there I decided to go the whole hog and change the seating layout to 'groups'...
The 'groups' consisted of 5 grouped desks, which each sat 6 students. There was then a single table for 2 students to sit on that I had at the back of the room. The difference this layout had on my set 5 classes was just what I needed. It allowed me to work with one table of 6, my LSA/s to work with the other table of 6 and then we'd swap over for me to check understanding of the other table/teach them whilst my LSAs went and supported the other table with the work they had just been taught. This worked well for these classes (of which there were 3). It may not seem like the most practical way of doing things, and yes it did mean a lot of repeating what I had said on a number of occasions. But, what it did do, is for me to easily see where everyone was with the work, move those students on faster that were capable to do so and give further support to those that were struggling. It meant I could sit students on either of the tables based on where they had got to in previous lessons and there was a good element of competition between the groups when the task allowed it.
The larger groups didn't lose out either. My classes where I had 32 students remained working well as they had done. From the dispersed group work lessons at the start of the year, and from the feedback my survey monkey survey provided me, my classes liked doing group work activities. My 'exam classes' were now sat based on their mock grades so I had students of similar ability working together, allowing me to differentiate class activities more easily. I even used the front table in my top set year 9 class as the table for my G&T students. They were all sat on this table, right under the class board, which allowed me to go through trickier problems/concepts as and when they finished the main class tasks. I did of course invite others that had finished elsewhere to join in the discussions as and when this happened, rather than singling out the front table as being the most able.
Luckily, the room space allowed there to be a lot of room still between desks and it was much easier to ensure I got round each student in the class, more so than I was able to do (subconsciously anyway) with the 'rows'.
Finally, towards the end of the year, I thought I'd go completely bonkers and combine the two main layouts ('groups' and 'rows')...
Now, I feel I need to give this a bit more of a go next year, as I see potential here. Half the class in 'rows' the other half in 'groups'. This allowed me to do the best of both worlds in terms of my set 5 classes could still work on 2 of the grouped tables, and we ignored the 'rows' half of the class, unless of course I needed to use this space for naughty students! The larger classes were slightly tweaked in terms of who worked best on groups and those students who perhaps worked better individually and preferred a bit more quiet to just get on with their work. Knowing my students helped a lot here.
As I've mentioned above, I think I may need to try this out this coming school year to really examine the benefits of it. Possibly at a time of year where the activities I'd be doing aren't so much 'end of term'.
A few things to note about changing the layout of your room:
Make sure their is a purpose for doing it, and not just because you got bored in a free period.
Be aware of any students with SEN (particularly ASD) as they will need to be given prior warning of the change and will need to know where 'their' seat is/will be.
You'll need to change your seating plans, this will take a bit of time to change if it's an electronic version, easier if you just take a photo and write over it.
Let other staff know if/when you're going to change it.
Don't change your expectations just because the seating changes. Reinforce your classroom rules in the first lesson of each new layout.
Where will you sit your most 'tricky' students? At one point in the year I thought it'd be a good idea to sit my 'trickiest' 2 students together, at the back of the class. My reasoning being that they'd distract less students all that way back their...WRONG! This didn't work, and neither did they!
Where are your LSA/TAs going to sit? Get their opinion on the new layout/s.
Tell the class why you've changed the layout and their seating positions - they'll feel as if they've been involved in the process rather than just told what to do with no explanation!
If anyone has a particular favourite layout that they've used, be it one I've used this year or one I'm yet to experiment with I'd love to hear about it. Comment below or tweet me @mrprcollins.

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