#Blimage – Seating

Photo - Steve Wheeler.

Photo – Steve Wheeler.


When I first saw this particular #blimage it struck a chord with me immediately. Seating arrangements! One of the things in teaching I’ve read up about and tried out lots of to get the best learning out of my class (and in my early years tried to improve behaviour with too).


What can seating look like in primary schools?


Well those desks suggest the old style of rows to me. The type of thing that was actually being phased out when I went through primary schools in the 1980s. I’m not sure of the benefit of rows. If you were partnered (as our desks were double desks) with the ‘wrong person’ it made school life miserable. (My step-daughter who is a hard-working girl who isn’t easily distracted and tries her best ‘won’ the seat next to the class ‘naughty’ boy who was very talkative. She was sat there for a couple of terms…say it quickly it doesn’t sound a lot does it. Two block of 8 weeks maybe. 80 days then. 6 hours a day. 560 hours of school. With no planned benefits to her, only unhappiness because she’s not sat with the rest of her group). So maybe that seating wasn’t of the 70s and 80s? I’ve seen it used in classes in schools I’ve taught in. I assume (though never asked) to stop off task interactions.


A more traditional seating arrangement in primary school is the ‘table’ of around 6 children. Why do we do this? To create group interactions? Because it what primary classrooms look like – (thanks to SMT who’ve shared that gem in the past)? So that we can engineer groupings to ‘settle’ the behaviours of some children? In the early stage of my teaching life I used table groups and changed them regularly, twice a year (or moved ‘individuals’ around as a behaviour measure). I dread to think.


In latter years (after working with Shirley Clarke in Gateshead) I used tables of 6 children and changed them every Monday using lollipop sticks. The purpose behind this being to get the children interacting with as many different children in the class as possible. Finding out the skills and positive features that people they had never worked with had, as well as developing their own skills, through sharing their ideas and supporting each other in group work. It worked really well, and some of the feedback from the children about things they found out about each other was amazing. Of course if this happens you can’t have table points, table captains, table winners or table losers, you will need children to be self-motivated and working hard for themselves and not for external reward.


For the best part of a year I put all my tables together to form one large table in the classroom and mixed up the children weekly again using lollipop sticks. I did this after reading a book about how Apple and Google create spaces for ‘chance’ interactions. The class enjoyed working in this way and again reported that working with different people made for exciting learning time and exciting school time. (Behaviour, to my observation, was no worse using a ‘random’ approach to tables and seating than having ‘planned’ seating).


This coming year I am going for a horseshoe in my classroom with seating positions again changed weekly by random means. As well as the horseshoe, I have a table of 4 in the middle and a table for 8 for group teaching purposes. I will encourage the children to move furniture around for different tasks as they feel it suits their learning.

However, before all of this happens I will spend time in the first couple of weeks setting up the reasons behind our seating arrangements and setting up ground rules as well as discussing growth mindsets and key aspect of formative assessment. You can find loads of reading and resources about developing a growth mindset in the classroom all over the internet, and I have collected a few of the articles I have found useful here.


I’d be delighted to hear any of your ideas, arrangements etc in the comments.




One comment

  1. John

    Hi Robert, sounds like a great plan.

    Your picture and post brings back memories. Both of being a pupil and teaching.

    I sat at desks like this throughout primary school, in the sixties. By primary 6 or seven they had been pushed together into groups. My main memory was of drilling hole in these with a compass. My plan was not to go straight through but to join a horizontal tunnel from the edge with a vertical one. I think I succeeded by the end of p7. I do also remember the excitement of group work when it was introduced.

    As a teacher I’ve certainly carried out all the bad practises you mentioned.

    I also used horseshoes for a few years and liked them a lot. Changes the dynamic a lot. I used long rows a couple of sessions too. In both these cases it was useful, I think, to have the children move the desks into different arrangements when needed and do this fairly regularly.

    My favourite year teaching was one where I had a double bay in semi-open plan with direct access to the school garden. We had a few soft chairs and a pile of old cushions. All the tables bar a couple of spares were in one bay. A lot of the time pupils were free to work where they wanted. This included the garden on good days. Kept me on my feet and moving. Some pupils lay on cushions, some on benches and steps in the garden. I think a few sat at their tables.
    This was before I’d heard of AfL, mind set or anything else (no internet). The pupils brought in water bottles and for a while sugarless gum. The class had a reputation of being difficult from a behaviour PoV. I am sure I had my bad days but I remember the class very positively.

    July 29, 2015 at 6:42 am Reply

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