A few years back I read an article that made me really wish my technology lab desks were not bolted to the ground (tried to find the article again for citing purposes but couldn’t). The following is my thoughts on classroom seating arrangements and technology usage.
Most classrooms are set up in one of five different arrangements.
1) Traditional columns and rows-this method is still the most predominately used method in middle and high schools. “Traditional rows of desks or tables facing the focal point are often used for teacher-centered activities (lecturing, giving directions, or presenting on the whiteboard) or for independent activities (tests, silent reading). Many teachers use this arrangement as the “default.” However, there are “dead zones” in the corners and the back of the room with this arrangement; students in the front center also are more likely to get your attention. While this arrangement minimizes distractions, it also limits student-to-student discussions since students are looking at the backs of other students” (HP1to1Guide, 2010).
This is probably the hardest set up to monitor technology usage because it takes the teacher a while to navigate the room both with sight and mobility. On the other hand, if the teacher’s desk is placed in the back of the room and rules are established regarding the angle of the laptop or tablet device, this can be a very effective way to monitor for a teacher that tends to be stationary in the classroom setting.
2) Islands-desks grouped – This method often groups students together based on teachers conceived idea of what works best personality wise in the classroom. “If you do a lot of collaborative activities, consider pushing desks together. Pairs of desks are good for turn-and-talk activities, and groups of three to four are appropriate for cooperative learning. You can also use the lab tables for small group work, unless equipment and materials are set up for another class. In pairs or groups, be sure students can still see a screen or focal point for instructions or debriefing. This arrangement could be distracting during independent work” (HP1to1Guide, 2010).
This is probably my favorite way to teach with technology, especially if students are doing research and I am working the room anyway. This allows me to see many devices at one time and to easily work with the students. My rule is that the device always has to be desk level and sometimes, depending on the nature of the lesson plan, I require my students to keep their iPad flat for the period of time when I am giving instructions and not being able to work the classroom.
3) U-shaped – Allows for collaboration but good teacher integration. “Students can see each other, which fosters student-to-student discussions within a large group. This is also useful for teacher-centered presentations, as you can maintain eye contact with all students. As students work, you can zip across the inner space to provide assistance where needed. For large group discussions, you can close the U into a circle and sit with the students, sending the message that you are part of the discussion. However, this takes up a lot of space, and some students may be easily distracted during independent work” (HP1to1Guide, 2010).
When teachers work from inside the area of the horseshoe, they are close enough to view tablets well. The downside with this is that if a student is using a laptop, it is very hard to view what they are doing. As a teacher, one must make sure you are very engaging in your delivery to keep students on task. If you tend to teach from the front of the classroom only, this is probably one of the best ways to allow for technology use during lectures because it gives the students the feeling that you are very close to them through the use of your eye contact and moving around in the half semi-circle.
4) Circle – Great for discussion purposes. “This has the benefit of providing ample opportunity for interaction but hinders the ability to utilize the board. It can also be challenging when having the students take quizzes and tests in that it is easier for students to cheat” (Classroom Arrangement, 2013). This allows for an excellent way to use the Socratic teaching method and usually leads to active engagement of the student because all eyes are on them. When using technology for research after group discussions, teachers can work the room from the outside of the circle to make sure students are on task.
5) Debate (or runway model)– Allows for students to openly discuss opposing sides of an argument. “This seating chart is the most practical (although not most ideal) way to arrange your chairs if class discussion is important to you, because students can always face at least half the class, and most can see the faces of about 75 percent of their classmates easily. Just remember, as you teach in the center aisle, you may have the unnerving feeling of being surrounded” (Rookie Teaching Techniques, 2013).
This method works best if student desks are grouped on each side of your runway instead of in the typical rows with space. The grouping allows you to more easily eyeball the device usage while teaching.
Remember, it is quite possible to implement many of these different desk placement scenarios in one class seating. Place pictures of the different setups for desk placement somewhere prominent in your classroom. At the beginning of the year, practice moving from one set up to the next with your students by pointing at the pictures. Time students as they move from one set up to the next and keep that time posted in the classroom so that it can become a game to see how quickly they can move from one part of the lesson to the next. Have classes compete against each other. Rearranging your desk placement not only will help you monitor your students’ technology usage but it will also breathe a little life into their day.