Sunday, 28 June 2020

Rows or Groups?

Over the past few days on Twitter there has been a lot of discussion as to whether students learn best sitting in “traditional” rows or together in groups. The UK’s current Secretary of State for Education this week said that students should “face the front and pay attention” which many have interpreted as “children must be sitting in rows”. 

Many tweeters have attached themselves firmly to one side, and like Swift’s Big-Endians and Little-Endians are refusing to listen to the arguments from any side but their own and some seem quite happy to go to war over it..... They do both agree that the “horseshoe” set up is wrong though...

Personally, as a teacher of modern languages I like my students to be sitting in groups. My current classroom, I seem to remember, would be impossible to set up in rows as it has circular tables which lend themselves well to group work. It was never intended to be a classroom but that is another story. My room doesn’t have a “front” either. There is no whiteboard but a large touch screen TV which can be wheeled around as is my wont. Sounds awful, doesn’t it? 

With my students sitting in groups they can complete speaking tasks more easily. They can work with up to five different people without leaving their seat and I can easily put groups of students with similar needs together. 

This has been ideal when teaching GCSE classes where some students have been working on Foundation tasks and others on Higher tasks in the same class. 

It also is ideal with mixed ability KS3 groups where I can spend time helping smaller groups on a specific question rather than explaining the same thing fifteen times to students seated in different seats all around the room. I move the groups around too. I noticed in my year 7 class that the table in the far left hand corner from the door was not achieving as well as they should be and wondered if it was because they were difficult to get to. I solved this by rotating the groups around the tables. It worked. 

The reason many teachers have expressed their love of rows is to manage student behaviour better. This might be true in many cases, but believe me, if a student has a mind to misbehave in your lesson it doesn’t matter where they are sitting. They are going to do it anyway. 

Many classrooms I have taught in over the years have not really been comfortably big enough for groups and I have managed quite well with rows but my preference is for groups simply so that students can speak and listen to each other and to different people. In rows you can only talk to the person next to you or in front or behind you. Groups adds another couple of people at least to work with.

I’m not sure there is any reliable research on the rows versus groups debate; would you need to test the same students in two different room setups in the same subject over a period of time? I don’t know.

I think it comes down to preference, situation, furniture, comfort and probably, a few dozen other things.

It’s your classroom, do what you think is best. 


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