What Does Your Classroom’s Seating Arrangement Reflect?

I finally finished my last writing assignment for the summer and am ready to think about the new school year.  Due to the amount of construction taking place on our two campuses we have an extra week before classes begin in September.  This year I’ve decided to reevaluate the seating arrangements in my classroom.  In the past I’ve had my desks set up in a semi-circle, which promotes discussion between students without losing the focus on the teacher at the center of the room.  This arrangement has worked well for me in the past, but it is time for a change.  In addition to my AP US History and Civil War courses I will be taking part in a pilot program in American Studies.  The course will run two periods over four days.  The first hour will be spent in a lecture hall setting where all 32 students can come together for joint instruction followed by break out sessions of much smaller groups (pic #1).  The focus of the course will make it possible to connect readings in American literature with more traditional sources found in the history survey course.  It’s going to be an exciting year for me.  What I like is that the smaller sessions will take place around a large table (pic #2), which resembles the Harkness Table and philosophy employed at Phillips Exeter Academy.

This brings me back to my own classroom, where I’ve decided to follow suit and rearrange my desks (pic #3).  I am hoping that this will create an even more intimate environment and promote mature dialog among my students.  It will also allow me to move more easily away from the center of attention when necessary.  All of my classes are designed as student-centered with a strong emphasis on debate and discussion.  That said, it is clear that we are going to have to introduce and train students for this kind of setting.  It does, after all, welcome distraction.  I am looking forward to it.

All the best to those of you who have already started or who are getting ready to head back into the classroom.

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7 thoughts on “What Does Your Classroom’s Seating Arrangement Reflect?

  1. Tim Lacy

    I wish my current school had at least a few rooms with something like the Harkness table. Otherwise, it feels like I’m committed to one philosophy of eduction via classroom geography/architecture. – TL

    Reply
  2. Chandler

    Love this–I share a classroom with other part time instructors and we have folding tables so we can rearrange the room at will. My instinct is make a “square” and sit it a corner. When we move to our new building next semester I’m going to request one of these!

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Hi Chandler,

      The lecture hall setting reminds me of the room at ASMS where I taught my philosophy classes. Hope all is well with you, Daniel and the kids.

      Reply
  3. Brooks D. Simpson

    As a product of Exeter and the Harkness system, I can vouch for its advantages and challenges. It depends a lot on the concept of accountability by all involved. Students need to see the opportunity before them, and not abuse it: instructors must guide conversation while giving it free rein. It will take some time for everyone involved to adjust.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Hi Brooks,

      You are absolutely right. It is going to take some prep time. Luckily, we have a few faculty members here who have traveled to Exeter for one of their summer workshops on how to effectively lead discussions around a table.

      Reply

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