A typical classroom might look something like this. The problem with this arrangement that I see is that almost no one actually works under this arrangement. Why not? It’s distracting! this is similar to the layout in a lot of teacher staff rooms, and it is my experience that very little work happens in the staff room when it is full. There are too many people around and too many things to see and do.
Try this an experiment for your staff. Have everyone bring work for an hour and sit in an arrangement like this. Have someone sit outside the room and peek in through a window and keep track of how much individual work people do, and how often it looks like people are off task. I’m willing to bet that you will see the same thing happen under these circumstances as what happens in our classrooms. The teachers are going to start to chat with each other. It’s human nature.
So where do teachers go to get work done? Well if we are lucky we go to our own office, or we wait until we are alone after school, but for the most part, we do our important work independently from each other and without distractions. We might to discuss stuff in small groups occasionally, or chat one on one, but for the most part, we work alone. Once in a while we’ll join up and have a full group discussion with the entire staff, but rare is the school that does this more than once or twice a week.
So I propose a different arrangement. Here’s a possible variation that might work. The big difference here is, students have their own workspace. They can work in their small groups with a few students working in the middle section, possibly under the guidance of the teacher. They have much fewer distractions available to them.
As well this system preserves what I think is the best structure for when someone needs to lecture, all of the students are facing in the direction of the presenter. Of course in an ideal classroom the students are often presenting to each other and there’s nothing that stops this from happening, it just makes sure that the conversation is generally between presenter and the members of the class. For when you want to have classroom discussions with the whole group, you might book a different room with a better structure (I’m thinking a gigantic U shape would be good, or a large elliptical table).
This may not be the ideal classroom structure but personally, I think that it’s time to rethink what a classroom looks like. There should be no sacred cows in our reform of education.
What we need in schools is not one learning space or another, but more options, and more flexibility on how to use them.