Over the past three years I have been slowly making changes to my classroom. Thanks to some very supportive principals, who had faith in me when I told them the classroom of old had to go, I have been able to make the move away from a “traditional” highschool classroom setup to one that is much more relaxed and conducive to collaboration, project based learning, and a 21st century approach.
The first thing to go was the teacher desk. This was, by far, the most transformative change in my classroom. When you don’t have a desk to sit at you have two choices as a teacher: walk around and see what your students are doing OR have a seat with your students and talk to them about what they are doing. With no where else to sit I have become one of the learners in my classroom.
The next to go were the individual student desks – you know the ones, grey, rectangular, with a nice ledge for textbooks and garbage. In their place, hexagonal tables, in a nice maple finish, that could be split into two trapezoidal tables. Perfect size for groups of 4 students, and space for 6 students when needed.
Why these tables instead of round tables? Simple. The trapezoidal tables can be re-arranged into many different configurations aside from a hexagon: long rows for debates, large groupings for meetings, tables for two for tests, boardroom style, and whatever crazy arrangement you and your students can think of.
This was my classroom setup for nearly two years. I cannot begin to tell you how it transformed the learning environment. It changed the dynamic in my classroom, making it a lively and engaging place to learn. Students talked more, they shared more, and I know they learned more. But I would be lying if I said the transition was seamless. Seamless enough for my Grade 9 students who, having just left similar environments in middle school, didn’t seem to notice that my classroom was different. But the Grade 12 students – they were not impressed, at least not at first. But once they got used to the tables they would regularly share how they wished all of their classes had the same arrangement.
Most importantly, however, the tables took the focus of the classroom away from the “front” of the room and the teacher and placed it on the students and the conversations they shared.
This year I was fortunate enough to add two additional table styles to my classroom. By the windows I added two cafe tables and towards the back of my classroom two stand-up cafe tables. Like the hexagonal tables these were received with some trepidation by my students – but after a couple of weeks they see regular use. The desks are utilized most often by students who are looking for a quiet place to work on their own, or by students (in the case of the stand-up tables) who need to move around during a very lengthy 75 minute period.
What I have learned since changing my classroom seating is that classroom furniture absolutely matters. I notice it when I teach in classrooms that still have the old student desks – the focus is in one direction, the front of the room. In my classroom the learning environment has changed, the focus has changed. Yes, furniture helped make it less teacher focussed.
There is discussion and debate where there was once quiet contemplation. There is sharing and collaboration where there was once individual effort. There is an energy in the classroom that was once missing. Yes – classroom furniture matters.