Recently I wrote about arranging the space of my very first classroom and how the dream of this compared to the reality. You can read more about this and also check out my ideal classroom layout at my recent post: Do You Have An Ideal Classroom Layout?
I received a comment from Michelle asking how I ended up actually laying out my classroom and what I feel works and doesn’t work, so I thought I would talk a bit more about this.
The space that I had in my very first classroom was quite limited. When considering the layout of the room I really had to decide what the most important feature was, as I couldn’t really do much of what I wanted. I decided that the single most important feature for my class layout was to include mat space. This is where we could all sit on the mat as a class for such things as direct instruction, reading aloud and modelling a particular skill.
With limited space this can be quite challenging. As you can see below I started out with two big groups of desks in two columns that were joined by a row of desks across the back. This allowed for space down the middle of the 2 groups of desks as well as at the front of the room for mat space.
This layout seemed to work quite well in the first week. I allowed students to choose where they wanted to sit on the first day. As I didn’t really know the students, this enabled me to see who chose who to sit next to and observe the interactions that occurred between students.
I quickly learnt those students who shouldn’t be sitting next to one another, and made changes to the seating arrangements. Other than moving students who couldn’t work well where they were, the actual arrangement of the desks and the use of space worked surprisingly well.
I read somewhere that when you start with a new class you have a 2 week window of opportunity where you establish the routines and expectations of the class. So when I had the seating arrangements of the students working well, I didn’t actually change the layout of the class for the first two weeks.
However, like all things in my classroom I like to change things up regularly. I decided that I would change the layout of the desks for each Monday, and that students would have new seats to sit in and new people to sit next to each week. On Monday mornings students knew this was happening so when they arrived, they would take their trays out from under the desk and place them on top ready for the shifting.
There was always quite a bit of buzz on Monday mornings as students had anticipated how the room would be arranged and then wondered who they would be sitting next to for the week.
Whenever I rearranged the desks I had in my mind the need to include mat space. I found that the best layout of the desks to achieve this was to have them in groups, or in the two columns as previously explained.
Some of the other ways that I chose who students sat next to included:
Teacher choice – I would choose where each student would sit in the class. I would often draw the layout of the desks on some graph paper and then add in where I wanted each student to sit. This was particularly helpful when I was away from the room and there was a relief teacher as they had the name of all the students and a map of where they should be sitting.
Sociogram – This is a graphic representation of the relationships in the class. I surveyed students and asked them to list in preference order the students they would choose to sit next to. I gave them up to 5 preferences. This information was then used to help me determine where to place students. I implemented this in Term 3 with my class, and it worked exceptionally well. I had students sit in either groups of 4 or 6 and I managed to have at least every student in the class have someone that they had listed sitting in their group.
One final thing that I implemented was to actually get rid of the dreaded student tray. These are the trays that students have under their desk to place their everyday supplies in, such as pencil case, workpads etc. These become so messy and full of items that sometimes the trays don’t even open.
During Term 2 I had to work very hard to convince my Principal that I wanted to do away with these. As students in my class were constantly moving seats and sitting in different places I felt that they could better be replaced with cardboard magazine holders. It would be much easier for students to then take their possessions with them when moving around the room.
These holders just sit on top of the desk tops. This is also a really good way to keep an eye on how messy the holders are becoming.
Oh my goodness, this was one of the most important things that I did in that first year of teaching. The reaction from the students was nothing short of amazing. They were allowed to decorate the magazine holders how they liked. We talked about responsibility and the need to take care of them as they would not be replaced if ruined. I was completely surprised that most students rose to the challenge and there were only about ½ dozen students whose holders did not last the remainder of the year.
So after all this trial and error in my first year of teaching with arranging my classroom, some of the things that worked for me included:
- Arranging the desks so I always had room for mat space;
- Using a sociogram to assist with arranging students; and
- Getting rid of trays and replacing them with magazine holders.
Some of the things that didn’t work for me:
- Changing the arrangement of the room and the desks every week. This became too much work to do on a weekly basis, so in Term 2 I only changed the arrangement of the room three times. However, students still sat in new seats each week.
- I did also try having students in rows. This didn’t work either as many of my lessons and the way I teach involved students working collaboratively, in either pairs or small groups.
So I would surmise that there is probably no preferred way to classroom layout. But it’s more about knowing your students and how you can maximise the space you have for the best learning to occur.
Have you tried anything different in your room like I did with the magazine holders? Please use the comments below to share your experiences.