I had changed 5 schools during my school life. In terms of physical infrastructure, all schools were unique. Some had huge buildings and large playgrounds while some had small buildings with no playground. But all these schools had one thing in common: the classroom arrangements. All classrooms had desks and benches arranged in rows facing the teacher. I always chose to sit in last bench so that I could go unnoticed from teachers. And guess what? I was right. No teachers would notice me. Few weeks ago, we had a workshop by a very experienced Montessori teacher, Allison at our space. She started her session talking about the energy flow (interactions) of a traditional classroom. I will be comparing different classroom arrangements, I have experimented and its energy flow throughout this blog. Below is the image of a normal classroom.
Image: Image of normal classroom arrangement
In this classroom arrangement, only the students sitting in the first few rows are likely to be engaged. Teacher tends to interact more with front benchers which makes last benchers less likely to be engaged. Energy flow would be limited to the teacher and students sitting in first few benches.
Image: Normal classroom arrangement with energy flow between teacher and student (RED DASH) and energy flow of student to student (GREEN DASH)
When we first started teaching, we wanted to solve this problem. We researched different classroom arrangement strategies, consulted with a product designer from Stanford University, Leila. After trying different classroom arrangements, we came up with the solution that would work best in our space: an U shaped classroom. We decided to enroll maximum of 24 students because of the arrangement we wanted to try.
Image: U arrangement classroom at our space
We have two sessions in our classroom: Listen and Learn, where students listen to the teacher and Build and Do, where they work in a group on their projects. Students sit in U shaped arrangement in front of the class during listen and learn. They move to the back of the room for Build and Do. So, there will be lot of movement of students in this class. During Listen and learn, the teacher would be at an equal distance from all students. There is an equal chance for the teacher to interact with each student. Teacher to student energy flow during Listen and Lean would be something like this.
Image: U classroom arrangement with teacher to student energy flow (RED DASH) and student to student(GREEN DASH) energy flow
Few months later, I started taking classes at a government school. I was overwhelmed as I had to teach a class of 44 students. This was almost double the number we usually have in our space. There was no way I could put that many kids in U-shaped classroom arrangement. I had no idea what to do. I quickly came up with an idea to arrange students in a single row along the side walls of the classroom. I formed two long rows of students sitting on either side of the walls facing each other.
Image: Image of Balbyabasai Class arrangement
I was satisfied with the classroom arrangement. Few months later, I realized that students sitting at far end were not as engaged compared to students sitting closer to me. I started feeling that classroom arrangement was not much better than the traditional classroom arrangement. Although there was a feeling of community within the classroom, students sitting in front rows could never get chance to talk and discuss with students sitting at back rows. It felt like there were several small communities within the classroom with no interaction between them.
Image: Teacher to student energy flow (RED DASH) and Student to student energy flow (GREEN DASH)
I was faced with two challenges: the first one was the number of students in the class, and the other was the limitations of furniture — we had had long rows of benches and tables. I started researching effective classroom arrangement for a large classroom. After spending some time researching, I decided to implement one of the ideas I liked: making several clusters of students at different places.
Image: New classroom arrangement photo
Energy flow of this kind of classroom looks like this.
Image: Student to student energy flow (GREEN DASH) with very very less teacher to student energy flow
I was satisfied with the new classroom arrangement. This arrangement helped students learn more from each other. Students were allowed to move from one group to another and discuss their problems. My whole class was a single community helping each other.
It seems that my problem was solved and I had a perfect classroom arrangement, right? No, there were challenges I had to face with this arrangement as well. It’s hard to deliver content to all groups at the same pace. Some groups lag behind and some get the concept quickly. I need to figure out ways to keep all the groups engaged. It’s hard to track whether students are having discussions on the topic or just disturbing the class. Students are moving more frequently from one group to another. The new arrangement comes with many problems but this does not mean my classroom arrangement is wrong. It just means I need to research more on it,have conversations with more experienced educators, observe others’ class with similar arrangements, and finally test it in my class.