The Creative Classroom - Desk Arrangment

  • Tristan, Alex, Lucy, and Kayla really needs to sit near the front if you want them to focus.

  • You can't put Ashley next to any of her friends - which is most of the girls in the class because she will constantly talk to them.

  • No one wants to sit next to Bradley. He is that kid no one likes, and he doesn't bathe enough.

  • You'd really like all desks facing forward, but rows are so very out of vogue these days...
So many variables to consider. Whatever is a teacher to do? There are many articles on classroom seat arrangement. Here is a good one complete with animations. Environmental Engineering also has some great ideas. Honestly though, they probably don't tell you much that you don't already know from your own experience. So, in this post, I will try to bring out some points you may not have considered.

In Defense of Rows Walk into a classroom with straight rows of desks not touching and words like boring, uncreative, highly structured, and traditional may come to mind. However, sometimes this arrangement is exactly what is needed, and not just for test taking. Having your own space is great for messy art projects and it keeps all those wiggly bodies facing forward for instruction. In addition, we all know that this arrangement really does result in kids staying on task a higher percentage of the time.

This arrangement also works well for "quirky" kids. These days every classroom seems to have its share of ADHD, Asperger's, anxiety, kids with sensory issues, introverts or just kids who like to do things in their own way. Yes, they need to learn to work in groups, but all the time? As adults, few of us work side-by-side, with our desks touching our coworkers'. Why should we make kids work this way?

Still, the straight rows does give the classroom a traditional, almost militaristic feel. One way to get around this is to angle your desks and make rows like chevrons.

Clusters Great for group work, of course, but it comes with so many issues, and not just kids talking. I believe that many teachers are woefully ignorant of what is really going on socially in their classrooms, especially in the upper elementary grades. As adults we don't really get what is going on just outside our hearing. When we place students in close proximity, we may be making an already difficult situation worse without even knowing it.

I'm not saying we should never cluster desks. If you have actually managed to create a positive, emotionally safe learning environment where everyone is respected and student really do work together cooperatively, then clusters are great. They are also good for learning these skills. I just think we should proceed with caution.

Clusters of 4 seem to be most common. One thing to consider trying is clusters of 3 - by having one desk face the front of the class and the other two facing each other, sideways to the front, no one has to sit directly next to another person. If you do a lot in partners, you can just partner two of the ones that are not facing each other together.

Some More Things to Consider There are also U shapes, circles, and any other number of other arrangements, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Whatever you choose, I think it is a good idea to rearrange often. Change is good for stimulating creative thought, and I think it is also good for kids to experience sitting near many different people in many different parts of the room.

And finally, please don't stick that one kid in the corner away from everyone else unless you absolutely have to. I have seen this more than I would have expected and it always makes my heart sink.

Be sure to check out the rest of The Creative Classroom Series.

Next week, I will be doing the 4th installment of the Creative Classroom - Making an inviting classroom library. So be sure and come back for more ideas!

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cossondra said...

Good ideas, but who has only 22 kids in a class! With 36 kids in a class, it is tough to do much more than have militaristic rows. Even with them, it is next to impossible for travel between seats.

Carol Rauschenberger said...

I am also a proponent of all desks facing forward, as an OT in school I have many children that have enough trouble looking up and down to copy from the board - having to turn and look sideways is more disconcerting to many. Even adults - have you ever sat at an event or PD class having to look sideways the whole time? I often get sore neck and back.

What is easy for the teacher is not always easy for the kids.

Peppermint said...

"Quirky" kids? That's not very nice to say.

Anonymous said...

Obviously you are not in the classroom around kids! Some of them are quirky, some are stinky, some are irritating, rude, obnoxious, and disrespectful.. Our job as teachers is to create the best environment for learning. Some kids ( who will grow up to be the adults we see walking around in everyday society! You know, those homeless , those hoarders, those addicts and convicts, spouse abusers, and child molesters)just are of a different bent. We try to teach them in spite of all of their weirdness. We don't control what goes on at home in their personal lives!

Anonymous said...

After trying to please everybody with cute groupings over the years, I will do rows for the first time ever this year. I do agree that kids like their own space...I teach 7/8 and they simply need to stretch their legs and arms as they hover over their work! I agree that we need to think of ourselves in their positions...I would definitely appreciate my own space too.

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