This is my classroom. This is the place where I work. This is how I choose to lay it out: the desks in threes, all facing me, all facing the front of the class, all facing the white board. It hasn’t always been like this. But I like it now. I have a poster of Yoda on the wall to the right. To the left there is a wall display explaining how to critique. Above me, pupils will read the words. ‘Stuck? Then it was worth coming in today.’ This is my classroom. This is the place where I work.
It was years before I had any control over how my room was set up. As a new teacher you can consider yourself very lucky to have your own classroom. Usually you have to cart a box about between rooms before you finally arrive home. So I started with pairs of desks in three rows, all facing the teacher. This worked well but made transitions into group tasks very complicated and potentially disastrous. I moved from having groups of six, to groups of four when that proved difficult to handle, than back to six when I was more experienced, before settling on the plan you see above.
I’ve made many mistakes on my way to this point. Deluded into thinking that pupils work best in groups – sorry but it ain’t always true- I stuck to a pattern, hoping that I would be right in the end. Why group work fails for me is because it is very difficult to assess how every member of the group is working effectively and, more importantly, learning from the experience. But, sorry, this is not meant to be a rant against group work. Just the way I’ve done it. I’ve yet to come across a situation where three wasn’t enough for some proper peer collaboration.
This might not be the most popular thing I’ve ever said in my blog but there are times when, as an English teacher, I need to lecture. I need to have students listening to me, looking at me, writing down what I want them to write down. This is not a strategy for control, a strategy to avoid distractions and misbehaviour; it is a conscious choice to ensure that they listen to what I am teaching them. They spend a lot of time working in threes on peer critique and peer assessment and there is the odd occasion when they turn backwards into a group of six. But, at times, I need them to listen and learn.
Of course I want my pupils to be part of this space; I want them, perhaps, to take ownership of wall space at times, displaying their work for all to see. But it is my space. They turn up for fifty minutes a day and I have to make that work with five different classes. I need to be master of my domain and in order to do that my class is set up the way I work best. And the way I work best is the best way for my pupils to work best. If you are a new teacher keep that in mind. This is my classroom. This is the place where I work. And where pupils learn.