Monday, July 30, 2012

Three reasons I was wrong about tables

Two years ago my room started out set up in six rows and ended in eight tables.  I'd have the kids move their tables into rows for a particular activity and then back into rows when they were done.  Throughout the year the change over to tables was gradual.  Every time we moved desks, it would be longer and longer until the desks went back into rows and eventually they just never went back.  

If I had sat down and actually thought about it, I'm not sure I would have decided to rearrange desks like this.  These are a few of the reasons that I was not in favor of tables and why I was wrong.

  • Kids won't pay attention in tables.
I thought that if kids weren't facing front then they wouldn't pay attention.  This is one point that I was really wrong about.  It's all about classroom management.  When I let the students know that they would be staying in tables, I let them know that they were expected to behave and pay attention when necessary.  I assigned specific jobs to kids to ensure that they worked well together and were accountable for their behavior as a group.

  • Focus should be on the board.
I think that having the seats facing the board creates a classroom that is more teacher centered.  The focus is on the teacher and the instruction.  When I switched over to tables I noticed that I gave students the opportunity to work together much more often.  It created an environment that was more focused on the work that the students were doing.  Working together became the norm instead of just something they did sometimes.  
  • There's a bigger possibility for distraction in tables.
I thought that if kids were sitting in a group then they would have access to at least three other people that they could distract at all times.  This part is true, but what I didn't quite realize is that in rows there was actually more of a possibility for distraction.  I have a little picture to explain quite what I mean.
In this set up the kid in dark green has five other kids that they could potentially talk to.  And that's an end seat.  A kid in the middle of a row of three would have eight different students around them. When there's like seven different kids I'm trying to separate from each other it becomes really hard to do.

In this set up the same kid only has three other people around him to talk to.  What's even better is that the rest of the kids are really far away from that kid which I like even more.  It was so much easier to create groups of three or four kids that would work well together than trying to plan out rows where there were so many kids all around each other.

I'm very happy I made the switch over.  After making the change for good, I realized there were a bunch of things I loved about the seating arrangement.  My favorite thing is that it makes it so much easier for me to get around to help students and check work.  Instead of just moving around the room from one student to the next, I can move from table to table and address all issues or check all work at once.  If they're all having the same problem I can sit down and help them all together.

I also couldn't imagine doing the ISN without having the kids in tables.  I'm planning on explaining how I do supplies later [update: check out supplies here], but the quick idea is that each table has a basket of supplies that they all share.  When getting new papers to use for the day it is someone's job to get all papers for the group. I also have another person in charge of cleaning up.  Without tables, I would have 25 different kids all trying to do the same things instead of just 5 or 6.

From what I've seen and heard, I'm not sure that this setup is as common in high school so I'm looking forward to switching things up there and giving it a try.

What do you use?? Tables or rows... and why??

22 comments:

  1. I love this post. I am trying to decide how to set up my desks this year. I teach Algebra 1, Geometry and Stats. Mostly freshmen, but one class of seniors.

    The graphics you show help a lot. I think I want to try tables instead of rows, but have been hesitant.

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    1. Thanks! I'm glad you like my pictures :) I feel like the 9th graders would be especially ok with the tables since there's a good chance they had them in middle school. Just set your expectations high and things should work out...good luck!

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  2. I teach 8th grade and in our small school, they all take Algebra 1. Like Mr. R, I've been nervous about definitely putting students into groups. Last week I went into my classroom and I reaanged the desks just like that so it was already done. I've set up seating charts and I'm all set. I'm excited to try it!

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    1. I was really hesitant too, not even nervous but just pretty strongly against tables. Good luck! Just be clear and firm with your expectations and they should work out great!

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  3. Hi. Just stumbled onto your Blog through Pinterest. SOOO refreshing to find an upper-level teacher on there. I love the elementary ideas, but I am ready for the middle and high school teachers to jump on board with posting ideas.

    One off-topic question I have for you: How are you creating these graphics of desks? I love it. Are you using a program, or.... do share!

    Thanks so much for your thoughts about ISN's too. I'm trying them for the first time this year.

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    1. Thanks for reading! I create pretty much everything using photoshop and save as a jpg. I make something very similar looking to use as for seating charts during school though and I use powerpoint for that.

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    2. Thank you for your lightning fast reply. Your blog is fab! I just told a math teacher about it, and I dislike math intensely. Ha! As a U.S. History teacher, I am still finding tons of ideas. Thank you!

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  4. I've been dabbling with the ideas of tables, or in my case group arrangements of desks. But I run into a problem because my desks are the type that have the seat attached. I feel that some of my students feel uncomfortable having to maneuver in and out of their seat when the desks are close together.

    What type of desks/tables do you have in your classroom?

    Love your blog. Keep up the great work!!

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    1. This is tricky, I just have desks with seperate chairs so it's easy to arrange. What about making tables where each desk is at like a 90 degree angle to each other so that they all have a way in and out?

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    2. That is what am probably going to do but I am not sure about having students with their back to the board. My room is a glorified closet, so it's tough trying to arrange desks regardless.

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  5. Do you have one group of students start talking to the groups next to them. It looks like it would be easy for kids to be off task.

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    1. I try to just be really mindful of that when I choose seats. With tables I almost never let them choose their own seats because that could be disastrous. I'm aware which seats are closest to others and choose kids that I trust there.

      I also didn't have 30 kids in this class so every seat wasn't full. If I knew that a particular kid was talkative I would try to put him in a seat like the dark green one above and then also put less students at that table. I had more kids this year and used this layout where the desks are more spread out.

      The bigger piece though was just being really clear and firm with classroom management. They knew exactly what was expected and I was just very consistent with it. I didn't let even the slightest bit of distraction slide.

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    2. I have honors math classes, they are all friends and all talk non-stop. What do you do or say to the student when they are being a distraction. Talking to them doesn't seem to work.

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    3. Just be clear and consistent with what the consequence (calling home, detention, etc) is and explain to them that they knew what would happen if they continued to talk and they made the decision to continue so as a result they received the consequence. It'll only take a few days or a week until they realize you're serious. Especially smart kids.. they'll get away with exactly what they know they can. If they know all you're going to do is talk with them then they'll continue.

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  6. I am so excited that I just came across your blog, and particularly this post! I am about to start my first year teaching secondary school maths (in the UK). Am in the strange limbo of being between super excited and utterly terrified about the first day at the moment!! I went into my new school to sort out my classroom this week, and after checking with the head of department I changed my desks around to be in groups of 4. I don't like the idea that students are forced to face the front and I like to encourage group work where possible. Literally everyone that has come past my room has been questioning me on this choice, it seems everyone assumes the rows are the best way and I feel like I may be rocking the boat! I even bought baskets to have supplies on each of the tables to save me time handing and collecting things like scissors/glue/mini whiteboards etc, so it really does look completing different to everywhere else in the department. Very concerned about how it is all going to pan out now, as I think that if it doesn't work there is going to be a healthy does of 'I told you so' from a lot a of people. Feeling a bit more confident in my approach now I have read you thoughts on this, and really hope that it works for me!

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    1. This is awesome!! Go with what you believe in and make it work, don't worry about what other people think. Your classroom is your own, it's ok to be different :)

      As far as making the groups work, just let the kids know that you have high expectations and even though they sit in rows in other classes that they'll be expected to be just as focused in your class. Just be firm and consistent until they get it. It'll feel great when it works!

      Good luck!!

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  7. It was sheer destiny that I came across your blog tonight. I have been against using tables in my classroom for the past two years. I am the only high school teacher in my school that has held out and continued to use the desks. Just the last couple of days I have wondered if using tables might be a good idea. Now that I've read your post, I'm convinced that I should at least give it a try. I LOVE the idea of having a basket of supplies for each table. That will solve a few of my new struggles since starting the interactive notebooks, and I'm sure it will save us some time. Thanks for all you do!

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    1. That's great to hear! I hope all is working out well for you!!

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  8. Cool font! Nice blog. Just linked here from MathyMcMatherson's post on same.

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  9. I am trying tables for the first time and while I love the idea for general everyday classroom discussion and work, I am having a problem figuring out how to administer quizzes and tests. I teach 3 different high school classes and they don't all have quizzes or tests on the same day. Any suggestions?

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  10. Hello!
    I have bounced between rows and tables, horse-shoes, pairs, etc.
    For singleton desks, I bought the little painter's belts from Home Depot (79 cents apiece) and had one of each supply in the pockets (scissors, highlighter, etc).
    Then a music cue would indicate which items to take out (whiteboard song, glue song, etc).
    We're in mandated tables this year and I'm not yet certain of its merits, though a good management tool is, "Move your desk out of the group until you show you're ready to be a part of it."

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  11. I use tables and love it as well! I tried last year (my first year teaching) and it worked for my lack of experience in classroom management. I have a point system so the tables compete for music and popcorn (and donuts at the end of the quarter). I agree that it creates more situations for group work!

    Also thank you for doing fun things with high school level classes. Your blog is my morning read and I always try to integrate your interactive notebooks into my curriculum. Thanks for being awesome!!!

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