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Arranging the Classroom

Situating students equidistant from each other breaks down their protective space, gives the teacher access to them, and sets the stage for communication. In other words, having the students put their desks in a circle or horseshoe shape prevents them from hiding in corners or behind other studentsí bodies. The circle improves communication by allowing them to see each otherís faces and hear each otherís responses without straining. And having them move their desks from rows and columns into a circle explicitly and concretely signals that a particular kind of class participation will soon be expected of them.

The circle or horseshoe shape also allows the teacher easier physical access to students than does the narrow passages of the row/column grid. This is important because moving toward a speaker, lessening the physical distance between yourself and the student, establishes and narrows a communication channel. Think, for example, about how talk show hosts move out into the audience. Moving toward the speaker is a physical and unmistakable indication that you are interested in what he or she is saying and that others should be listening too.

Moving away from a speaker, increasing the distance between yourself and a student, widens a communication channel. As we back up, in other words, the audience grows as more people move into the speakerís gaze. Working from among or even behind the students can lessen the threat from the teacher. That is, moving out from behind the "Big Desk" and sitting instead in a normal student desk as part of the circle is a concrete, physical signal that you want to be a part of the community rather than apart from it.

Establishing eye contact opens a communication channel and selects the student for a turn to speak. Breaking eye contact during a studentís turn and scanning the class, he notes, can distribute the studentís communication throughout the class. That is, when the teacher breaks eye contact with the speaking student, he or she will follow the teacherís gaze and seek out someone else to talk to. The teacherís scanning eye also signals other students that they should be paying attention to the speaker. Regular scanning can keep students engaged and can provide important feedback to the teacher. This is, in short, a surveillance function. If we are making eye contact with all the students in class, they are more likely to stay involvedóand if they are not involved, we will know it immediately.

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Drs. Cavanaugh 2001

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Copyright © 2006 Drs.Cavanaugh  Last modified: March 06, 2008