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I was talking with my principal Friday after school about a webinar she has to take this week. We were discussing how this is not the way either of us like to learn new information. It is better than audio, because it has visuals, but I need to see the speaker. I feel connected and find it easier to concentrate when I have a real live person in front of me to interact with. During webinars I struggle to pay attention to the topic at hand. Webinars are becoming popular, however, so they obviously have a benefit in presenting information. But as all teachers know–not everyone learns in the same way.
In the classroom, our students are just like us. We know students learn through different modalities, but environment is important as well. Setting up an inviting and comfortable classroom increases learning for students. During the second semester of the year, when I know my students well, I let them decide where to sit. This allows them to feel comfortable. To get information I do a survey asking three questions:
- Who helps you learn?
- Who stops you from learning?
- Do you prefer to sit in a group, row, or alone?
When I survey the students we talk about how to make decisions. The people on the list may be your friends so when you sit by them they tempt you to talk. The people on the list may be someone you like to spend time with. For this you need to think about working in the classroom and who helps or stops your learning. Being honest and reflecting on your needs will help you focus and learn for the remainder of the school year.
So, when you walk into my room you will not see the traditional rows of desks. You will not see the highly popular group seating. Instead, I arrange my desks based on my students’ feedback. That does not mean they get to write down their BFF name and automatically find themselves sitting together. It does not mean there is a student who is shunned and no one want to sit near them so they are alone. It simply gives me data to use in arranging the seating for my students.
I arrange the desks to allow some groups, some rows, and if necessary and requested, some students siting alone. Students are also welcome to sit anywhere in the classroom they are comfortable and on task. I have clipboards for this purpose if they need to move to the carpet or to a quiet spot. Students are always welcome at the table. This sets up an environment for my students to feel comfortable and therefore increase learning.
I have found this method to be very successful. It is a great way at the end of the year to show the students I respect and trust them, as well as create working groups that actually work. The end of the year is a difficult time and everyone needs to be in their most comfortable environment to learn. Try asking your students how they learn best and use this to create a positive classroom environment. We are almost done, get a little feedback and see the power of that on the rest of the year!