Last year my husbands classroom had desks… lots of them… with the chairs attached. The first time I saw this I immediately wanted to ditch the desks. It is very challenging for students to collaborate and group up with this format of seatings. The students were in rows facing forward. The furniture lent itself to being a teacher focused classroom.
While the furniture itself does not dictate what kind of learning goes on in a classroom, it can support and encourage certain types of behaviors. If you are wanting a more student centered classroom, you will want more flexible seating. I like to see students DOING, discussing, creating, playing, exploring, investigating, COLLABORATING and working on projects. For me, this means a more comfortable environment where students feel the learning is about them and not about the front of the room.
We literally chucked the desks outside. Kept a couple of them to place along the back wall just in case, but opted instead for couches, rolly chairs, bean bags and floor cushions. We then created collaboration spaces of different types.
One area is a couple of big comfy couches where students can talk, brainstorm and share. We got hard plastic lapdesks from IKEA instead of tables for the area.
Another area is a work station, individual table tops that are really flexible to move and group up. When students are writing or creating but still wanting them to communicate and collaborate. We have a couple of other work stations. One a rectangular table and the other a round table.
We do not just want student collaborating together, we also want to get them presenting. We purchased three 22″ HDTV’s for the presentation stations. Students can plug in their chromebook via HDMI and present to a small group. By creating these presentation stations we are trying to set the tone that this is what we do in this class.
We are also getting a large rug for carpet time story telling. Catlin Tucker reads books to her high school students. I also have found that high school students are not “too old” for things that were done in elementary school. Students still love stories, fun classroom walls and bulletin boards, making things with glue and playing games.
By changing the layout of the room we are signaling to students that something different is going on in this place. To change their mindset away from the teacher giving them information, to realizing their ideas and opinions and knowledge matter. By having couches that face each other, students are signalled that they should not sit quietly facing forward, but should value the ideas of their classmates and they should work together. The world has changed, so should our learning environments.