"Aw, what?!" is a cry I have often heard from my students, accompanied by exasperated looks, eye-rolling and moody stomping across the music room floor. What is the cause of such displeasure? Not homework. Not nerve-jangling assessment. Not even the impending demands of a deadline. I have simply changed the layout of the classroom. Again.
The arrangement of a room can have a fundamental effect on the quality of learning that takes place in that space. The tone of a lesson is set from the moment the pupils enter and the arrangement of classroom furniture can send an important message. Rather than allowing pupils to determine the seating plan, I prefer to move their seats.
Using classroom space to facilitate learning is crucial to good musical teaching. How might the following arrangements affect the learning in your music room?
The basic horseshoe shape works really well for music-making. It allows pupils to be seated behind desks, while creating a clear central space for performing. The teacher can engage and involve all pupils in a practical and effective arrangement for classroom music.
This can be great for differentiation, mixing up pupils who play different instruments and encouraging those from different musical backgrounds to share ideas from their own perspective. Resources can be centralised for easy access, but some thought needs to be given to how these tables are arranged, so that pupils do not have their backs to you.
For a completely different feel, try arranging tables in groups of two forming L-shapes. This can be great for introducing pupils to blues music, creating an informal atmosphere reminiscent of a jazz venue. It helps to melt away any preconceived ideas about the music classroom and opens pupils' ears.
If you're feeling radical, how about pushing tables right back to the edges of the room? Asking pupils to sit on the floor can be a great levelling experience that works really well for Indian classical music or percussion work. Not enough drums to go round? Using drumsticks on the floor is a great alternative: everyone has access and no one can play too loudly. Sit with your pupils and make music with them. It builds trust, good relationships and takes everyone on a musical journey.
Tables do not have to be in rows. Nor do they have to stay as they were for the previous teacher. Tables do not have to set the tempo. Tables should be tools, not barriers, to learning.
Anthony Anderson is head of music and performing arts and a coach and mentor at Beauchamp College, Leicestershire. He is a member of the Representative Council for the National Association of Music Educators.
For more classroom layouts, check out Gerard Dixie's suggestions. bit.lyClassroomTables
Get pupils improvising using Graham Hickey's booklet on the history and style of jazz music. bit.lyJazzHistory.