Get the desks back in line

14th November 2003 at 00:00
I always think if you get the little things right, the big things work even better. And where a child sits in the classroom is one of those little things which really does affect the big picture.

It drives me mad as a support teacher when a classroom is made cramped by desks arranged in groups. Apart from the fact that I personally can't move easily in beside pupils, or conduct quiet one-to-one conversations, it seems to me sheer madness from the class teacher's point of view.

Instead of pupils in rows, all facing the board, they are squashed higgledy-piggledy facing whichever way. The teacher has lost the best ever silent sanction - that steely eyed glare.

Sit four kids in a huddle and they will make eye contact. They will (and do) watch each other, scribble on each other's jotters, carry on elaborate conversation through widened eyes, lip-read - and out loud because, come to think of it, it is more interesting than the drone behind them.

Copying from the board becomes difficult for those who have to twist in their seats to see the board before swivelling back to actually write. For those who are poor readers, it becomes practically impossible. No wonder jotters are so untidy.

Paying attention to teachers is hard if you aren't watching them and desks are ergonomically challenging enough without constantly turning round to see. If pupils aren't looking, many lose first the thread of the lesson, and then interest.

If you are hard of hearing, it's made harder. If you're in a wheelchair, how do you fit in? If you have poor sight, there is so much more to trip over. If you are hyperactive, then it's a total pleasure looking the wrong way. If you are not very smart, it really is harder to follow what is going on if you aren't watching every step of the way.

Of course, let me hear the argument about group work. Bollocks, say I.

There is little group work in any class, even when that is the intention.

That requires special skills, which need to be taught. When it is being used, it only takes a jiffy to rearrange the desks - with the added advantage that if it only happens now and again, pupils will be more aware of the listening contributing participating required in a group situation.

And pupils love sitting together - but then they would, wouldn't they?

Sometimes I see teachers who have trouble with classes. Most of the factors contributing to the problem are removed the moment desks are rearranged in rows, in twos. And actually, most pupils prefer being allowed to get on with work without disruption and being able to read the board.

OK, it's old-fashioned. But hey, class layout is one of those little things . . .

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