February 08, 2015

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Classroom layout: your questions answered


What’s the best classroom seating layout – in rows or groups? 

Experience and research has shown me that the best way to keep a group of pupils focused and engaged is having pupils seated in rows. Personally I would have this as your ‘default’ arrangement. There will be time when you do actually want ‘cross-table chat’ and of course this is when you do need to sit pupils in groups. My advice would be: do not have groups of any larger than four because there will be more opportunities for pupils to be a) distracted and b) marginalised. 

It is also vital that you set up your parameters for group work. ‘What does good group work sound like’ and ‘what does good group work look like’. Then get the pupils to ascertain how this positive learning environment might be achieved. You can make things easier on yourself by producing a series of different seating formats, labeling them A, B, C, D etc and then appointing monitors to lay the desks out according to the plan provided for them.

What about using the horseshoe layout for infants' desks?

Advantages: The horseshoe seating arrangement creates a degree of intimacy which pupils appreciate. It allows the teacher to make appropriate eye contact with each pupil. Breaking away from the traditional and formal seating arrangements can indicate to pupils that they are being treated like adults and they usually respond positively to this. The physical layout of the desks also engenders a degree of trust between teacher and pupil. Encourages fuller contribution - as there's less likely to be marginalisation.

Disadvantages: If pupils are not provided with firm parameters before you introduce this seating arrangement you could be met with chaos. All it needs is pupil to make inappropriate eye contact with their peers and the spell is broken. What do I mean by parameters? You need to tell the pupils that you will be treating them as big boys and girls and that you expect them to behave appropriately. You need to warn them if anybody can't manage to learn like this then they will have to be moved.

My advice is that this seating arrangement is not used on a regular basis but for specific discussion type activities where you would be looking for contributions from all of the pupils in the class.

How can I make my classroom a friendly environment for my students?

In general terms you need to introduce a ‘wow’ factor for when pupils enter your room (This means that your displays need to be constantly updated and changed). I suggest a strong use of primary colour as background paper. You can get cheap wallpaper remnants quite easily – these make superb backing paper.  I also suggest introducing lots of green plants into your room – these along with the playing of music, can create a calming effect in the classroom. Bombard the pupils with interesting photographs, proverbs, quizzes, riddles jokes etc. In addition to this give due consideration to the role of the ‘hidden curriculum’ when planning your displays by displaying material that supports academic, social and emotional learning.

The Senco has advised me to have a relaxing area in my Y2 classroom for with emotional difficulties. Is there anything you can suggest?

I strongly support the advice given to you by your Senco. Providing a safe, secure and relaxing area for all pupils can have a significant impact on the behaviour and learning climate in the classroom. As far as older pupils are concerned I would take away the soft toys but would encourage a soft seating area - perhaps an easy chair or bean bags. A water dispenser might be good; plants also add a calming effect. The form classroom is often the only safe haven for some of these pupils, so you need to give your class ownership of who is allowed in there during breaktimes and lunchtimes.

In order to get to know pupils names quickly, I am planning on sitting my classes in alphabetical order to start off. My problem with it is initially getting them to sit in this order without chaos.

Produce a series of laminated name labels for each of your groups. Place these labels on the desks before the pupils enter the room. Meet the pupils at the door – explain that they are to sit where their labels are and robustly warn the class that you do not want them to a) write on the labels, move the labels, take the labels away with them or eat them (yes, I know it sounds far-fetched but I have had this happen). Allow a few pupils into the room at a time – this way you can check that they do not move the labels.

What should be included on a tutor group notice board and ensure evolves over the year?

You can divide your noticeboard into sections with the following headings:

  • Things to do/happening today – for example, hand in reply slips, school photographs, get log book signed etc.
  • General information – parents evenings dates, school productions etc
  • Pupil of the week – type out reasons why this pupil received this award – this could be academic, social or an out of school contribution
  • Celebration of pupils’ work  – Gather examples of your pupils’ work from across the curriculum.

How do I introduce the classroom rules and routines?

It is important to convey the message to your pupils ‘I say what I mean and I mean what I say’. In fact, I would strongly advise you to display a poster to this effect on your wall. However, this will only be effective if this is actually true. You have to convince your pupils that you will always follow up on everything – rewards and sanctions. 

You really do need to run a strong establishment phase. Design a PowerPoint and spend at least half an hour running through your expectations, rules, rewards and sanctions. Make it clear who you are, what you stand for, what you will not put up with, what will happen if pupils behave or misbehave. Produce a list of your own gradated sanctions and rewards to support the school system – get pupils to stick these into your books. Stress the ‘partnership’ aspect of the teaching/learning equation – tell pupils what you expect from them but also tell them what they can expect from you. 

Any tips for the first 'getting to know you' lesson? 

One good activity to run is called ‘Two truths and a lie’. Write down three statements about you and/or your life. Two of these statements are true and one is false. Get the pupils to discuss which one they think is the falsehood and to come up with a reason for their decision. Once you have modelled this process, get the pupils to have a go at the activity themselves. It is absolutely amazing what you learn about your pupils and what they learn about each other.

Gererd Dixie is an Advanced Skills Teacher specialising in Initial Teacher Training. He is also an educational consultant and author.

Aamani Khan
Aamani Khan