I start my classroom setup with desk groups, as a I explain in my first day of school section, because it helps build classroom community.
Plus, the kids have to sit somewhere and I need to see how they relate to each other before making decisions about the best classroom organization.
There are other important early-in-the-year considerations for seating, however.
Especially during the first part of the year, I make sure that no one's back is to the front of the room. At the most, I'll have them sit sideways.
Why? Because, if they can choose, a student will always look at another kid rather than looking at you.
Yes, turn your whole body!
Sometimes the physical layout of our schools unavoidably forces a classroom setup with children's back facing the front. If that is the case in your room, the answer is setting proper expectations. It's not enough to say, "When I speak you need to look at me." The children have to actually practice how they will pay attention to you:
This may sound like overkill, but I assure you it is not. Set this expectation as soon as possible if any of your students don't have direct line-of-sight with your main teaching area.
Moving individual students or desks can start whenever it is needed (even the first day of school if necessary), but don't alter your overall layout until all procedures are in place. So, if you start the year with rows, stick with rows...with groups, stick with groups.
It's important to keep this familiar structure in place until all of your other daily procedures are well established, from getting seated and started in the morning, through lining up for lunch, to putting up chairs at the end of the day.
Making significant changes to your classroom setup prior to "locking down" your procedures will only generate chaos.
I don't know about you, but I prefer to avoid chaos in the classroom if I can!
After your procedures are in place, moving things around a bit is a good thing. Aside from moving individual students for behavior issues (separating talking partners, for instance) I play with the arrangements of the desks to keep things interesting.
Kids grow and change and their socialization patterns change as well. Combining this with the need to accommodate curriculum (a science unit, for example, may require certain size groupings) leads to a shifting pattern of rows and pods all year long.
Two things are set in concrete in my room, though:
Adults like their routines, but they also like a little change. We're complex creatures, aren't we?! Kids are no different.
Mix up your classroom setup a bit - with a purpose - but not too much...and keep student social patterns optimized for learning and their interest levels high.
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