Proximity and mobility - two concepts familiar to Tools for Teaching enthusiasts. The teacher’s proximity to the students is their best tool to prevent, discourage, and interrupt misbehavior. The teacher’s mobility in the classroom determines how effectively they can use their proximity. We call this “Working the Crowd” and the biggest obstacle to working the crowd is the furniture. A teacher’s mobility is dictated by how easily they can get around the room. In our workshops, when teachers are creating a new classroom floor plan they often ask seemingly unique questions that begin with, “What about…?” So let’s answer two of the most common room arrangement “What Abouts” after a quick review of the basics.
In order to work the crowd effectively we must have a plan. We must create a path that is efficient and easy to navigate - one that gives us access. We want to reach the most students in the fewest possible steps - and if the furniture gets in the way, working the crowd becomes a hassle and dies. During our workshops we ask teachers to arrange their classrooms with three objectives in mind:
Move the students forward and pack them sideways - Get more kids in the front row so when the teacher is in front of the group they can maximize their proximity.
Walkways - Create wide boulevards that are not effected by “desk creep.”
Interior Loop - Make a path that gets you to the most students in the fewest steps.
Note that there is no prescribed Tools for Teaching Room Arrangement, but rather objectives that help facilitate the teacher’s mobility. There are simply too many scenarios to create a one-size-fits-all solution, but we do provide some examples to use as a starting point found below. One for individual desks and one for large tables.
What About Sitting in a “U”?
Arranging your seats in a “U” shape is a great way to have access to many students with hardly any obstacles at all. The teacher’s interior loop simply becomes the open space inside the “U”. Variations of this are used as examples for a computer lab and choral music in Tools for Teaching.
Now let’s look at a regular classroom. The most common starting point is to have a solid “U” of desks or tables. We naturally think that walking inside the “U” to the front of students’ desks will be enough - but what about the rest of the class? When we are inside the “U” we generally have our backs to at least half the students and there are times when we should be looking over a student’s shoulder so that we face the majority of the group. If we aren’t careful, we can unintentionally trap ourselves inside the “U” unless we make one simple tweak - gaps. Think in terms of access - putting gaps in the “U” provides us with the ability to get to the outside when needed. Generally speaking, a good place to put these gaps are halfway to the back of the room on either side, and in the corners as seen below. This allows teachers to step in and out of their normal path within the “U” when needed.
What About Carpet-TIme?
Another common question when training elementary teachers is, “What about carpet time? My carpet is between the white board and the desks. How can I get the desks closer to me when I’m in front of the group?” This is a valid question as carpet time requires a dedicated space that can occupy valuable real estate. One solution is to create a “second front” to your classroom. If the main whiteboard is the natural front of the room, then arrange the desks or tables according to the guidelines above. When we move the students forward and pack them sideways, we naturally create space in the back of the class. This new found space can be used as a “second front.” If you have more than one whiteboard or a bulletin board, you can make this your secondary focal point and shift the front of the room when necessary. Now, arrange your carpet area to face this new front and you will be able to have the students close to you while you are teaching in either environment.
Another issue with carpet time is access to any student who may be disruptive. During carpet time it feels like the students would be less likely to goof-off because they are closer to you. This is true, but even though the students are closer to you some students may feel protected, or even emboldened, by sitting in the middle of a large “blob” of kids. They know that you have to step over three or four other kids just to get to them. How do we create better access to those in the middle of the carpet? We do it by arranging the carpet space as we would the desks. Let’s use the same three objectives on the carpet.
Move them forward and pack them sideways
Create wide walkways
Find an “Interior Loop”
The students are already closer to you naturally just by having them in a smaller space on the carpet, so number 1 is taken care of. The trick comes with the walkways. We need to access the middle of that blob! By laying out two simple “tape ladders” on the ground, the teacher can clearly designate areas that must be kept clear so the teacher may walk freely through the group.
This simple solution gives the teacher access to those middle students while creating a condensed version of an interior loop.
When implementing Tools for Teaching, keep in mind that there is no single solution to any given classroom issue. Be flexible and experiment with different room arrangements. There is always some fine tuning to do when you try a new layout, so remember, you cannot work the crowd if you don’t have easy access to all the students. That access is the key to your mobility and ultimately your use of proximity.