Want to increase student engagement and decrease student behavioral issues? Rearrange your room in any way EXCEPT traditional rows. That’s right. If your students sit in rows that face your board, change it. Rows can create a sense of isolation and a more formal and rigid learning environment. And before you tell me that rows keep behaviors at bay, I encourage you to try any of these other arrangements with fidelity for a period of time, reminding students of task expectations, setting systems for behavior, and modeling the behaviors you want to see in their groups. I guarantee that over time, you will see your students adapt.
Okay, here are the alternatives:
1. Group your desks in four. This setting promotes collaboration and communication. Students can turn to a partner and have a quick discussion about a question prior to whole-class share out. Groups can jointly work on a task, brainstorm ideas, co-develop solutions.
2. Make a big circle. A circle still gives students a chance to collaborate with the student left or right of them, while also encouraging conversation and question-asking with literally any other student in the class, since everyone is facing each other. I love circles when I want students to engage in deep discussion around a particular topic. The circular desk arrangement also eliminates the problem of students hiding behind their classmates, making it easier for you to keep everyone on task.
3. Create a U-shape. U-shapes have the same advantages as the circle, however, they are particularly useful when a board (smartboard, whiteboard, etc) is needed to share content or model skills.
You may be wondering where you fit into this equation- quite literally!
While the desks arranged in groups make it easier to circulate the room, the circle and U-shape give you the ability to observe all your students pretty much at one-time. I also highly encourage you to join your students in this formation. Yes, pull up a desk and get in the circle or sit in a chair at the end of the U-shape and next to the board. There is something that students love about having their teachers join them in the formation.
And I know arranging desks can be annoying, but who sets the time for how long desks need to remain in a particular way? If you’re feeling like a change, or just want to switch it up for a particular task, project, or assignment, go for it. All three of these arrangements foster a sense of community, interaction, and engagement.