Saturday, February 13, 2016

On Student Voice : Seating and Other Classroom Comforts

Student voice. Seems like it's been a hot topic of discussion for the past several years. However, I'm not so sure it makes its way to many classrooms. Perhaps it's like many other trendy topics that explode and then slowly fade to an occasional ember. When I was in the process of obtaining my alternative certification after earning my B.A. and M.A. in French literature, the conversation was focused on the concept of backward design. Were educators talking about turning the tables to empower young learners to use their voice for good in those days?  Hmm. Well, Twitter wasn't around back then, and who reads listservs, so I guess we'll never know.

Last Friday, I conducted a confidential survey at the start of each class.  It was top secret because one section asked students to write down two people with whom they do not work well. I did not think that one up on my own. In fact, a student asked me to do it last semester, so I decided to include it on the survey, especially since this student takes French again now, and can see that I listened to her. While teenagers are learning how to handle (difficult) relationships, it's fine with me to lessen the trouble I'm going to have when a new seating chart comes out. Furthermore, students occasionally have valid reasons for keeping distance from some of their peers.

Anyhow, the survey allowed me to find out the following preferences:
-location in the room (front, middle, back, near the teacher)
-desk arrangement (quad, pairs, semi-circle, alone, other)
-lighting (one or two sets of overhead lights, lamps, natural light on bright days)
-who not to be seated by in the class

After school on Friday, I read through all of the surveys, and tallied the number of times students wanted a particular seating arrangement. Please note that they could check all that applied. (By the way, there are 42 students in total in the French program at my new school this semester.) 

Quads (the arrangement of all desks until now:)  23
Group of 3: 1
Pairs: 11
Semi-Circle: 6
Alone: 4
No preference: a few (I didn't take tally these.)

Original quads that were kept as is
for learners who prefer them.

Perhaps for the first time in my public school teaching career, I did not have too many complaints about the new setup. It was a tad challenging to rearrange the room, and I don't know how I'll do it when I need more desks for bigger classes, but we'll tackle that when it happens. The semi-circle only has 4 desks in it, and it's not a very circular shape, but it works, and students made comments in favor of it.

If you'd like to see and/or use the survey, you can access it on my wiki here. Here's a look at the new setup!

for students who want to sit near me
and/or use the outlet and/or make up work
the semi-circle with a grouping for pairs in the corner

for groups of 3

Finally, here are a couple photos of alternative seating. I'm under the impression that students hurry to class in order to score some of these before everyone else arrives. Moving forward, we might need to come up with a plan to share these options with other classmates. 

The French bistro set and table are near
our beautiful view of the school grounds. 
My kind Spanish teacher colleague shared
this extra seat with me. It's been a hit!

Hope you enjoyed this look at our classroom. Feel free to share a photo of your classroom design in the comments. Educators love peaking in each other's rooms -- such a great way to get inspiration! 

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