Rows, rows, rows your boat?

Swimming through a tidal wave; running against the grain; wading through treacle.      

Late on Saturday, an innocuous tweet from @heymisssmith read: Primary teachers! Rows? Rubbish right?

Considering the last few days of the half term had been spent discussing my rows with children (the greatful advocates), parents (the nodding approvers) and colleagues (the professional cynics) my response was swift and unapologetic. On the whole, for me, with this cohort, rows have been a box-office smash-hit. The reasons for their success is simple: a) the ergonomics of our classroom suit such a set up, the room is long and narrow; b) after lengthy consultation with the clients, they preferred to face the board – I’ll reiterate this now: it was them, not me that decided this; c) they like group work but on the whole love independence, something I fear is absent in a primary school. 

I’ve begun to dig a little deeper on the matter and page 1 of Google: ‘Primary classroom seating arrangements,’ highlighted a blog by David Didau @learningspy. Forgive me for any misinterpretation, but the over arching message was that rows are bad: the archaic, evil behemoth of seating arrangements, groups are good: the Fairy Godmother casting their magical wand of progress over children and their collaborative learning. So I’ll eradicate row myth #1: Rows do not eliminate group work. I could argue they explicitly highlight to the children when effective group work is taking place, but I won’t open that can of worms. Instead I’ll highlight the simple phrase to indicate group work. “Row 1 and 3 turn your chairs around.”  Ta-da! 10 seconds later I have groups of four, or 8, or 12. Sorted. Sometimes, we even push the tables of row 1 & 2; 3 & 4 together. There we have it, super rows/super groups. 

Phil Beadle offers a pearler of a quote (stolen from David’s blog):
“Having your desks set out in groups is the right way to organise your classroom. Period. No discussion. No arguing. Having the tables in groups allows you to set them grouped speaking and listening activities that are the way they learn most effectively. Having your table in groups lets them learn from each other. And having your tables in groups is a spatially symbolic move away from the Dickensian notion of the teacher standing at the front talking cobblers about really hard sums all day, every day.”
Yes, of course, group work is impossible if you dare sit children in rows; rows are of the dark ages and should left there?! I think everyone has moved on from the idea that rows hark back to 1830’s Lancastarian mill town education where the notion of group work is to be simply baulked at.

Want the children to behave? Sit them in a row, that’ll teach them? After my initial tweet, I read into the opinions of others and time and time again they referred to rows being good to help with behaviour management. Where to even begin? The decision to use rows in my classroom has never been based on an issue with behaviour management. This short term solution, for me, is a total ‘sweeping under the carpet’ of a much wider problem. Someone even suggested this could help inexperienced teachers. No. It can’t, and nor should it, be the basis of a decision on seating arrangements. Instead these teachers should be supported to set clear and explicit ground rules. Whether in rows or groups or horseshoes or spirals is irrelevant. I’m not suggesting that seating pupils in rows won’t eliminate some low level disruption, but it shouldn’t be the basis of a seating arrangement. Row myth #2: Rows should not be used as a stick to solve issues with behaviour.  

“All the world’s a stage.” 
I don’t sing (too often) nor dance around my classroom. I despise the notion of being a guide or a sage, however, one final pro row point is that the pupils enjoying looking forward. A substantial amount of information regarding their learning is present on the whiteboard. Whether it be a nod to the learning objective, a glance at the success criteria or a reminder of key words, in my lessons most of the scaffolding is illuminated on our all singing and dancing touch screen (*cough*). Facing forward allows them to look up and review what it is they’re working toward, without much effort. I asked them: “What is it about rows that you like?” On the whole their responses indicated that they could access information in the classroom with greater ease. It is certainly not about them facing forward to face me at all times, in fact I find myself moving around the classroom with much greater frequency (without colliding with a rogue table). So, and finally, row myth #3: I’m no Robert Redford, facing all children forward is not about them focusing on the teacher. 

I am, by no means, stating that rows or the Holy Grail of seating arrangements. Woe betide me to tell anyone how they should set up their classroom. However, rows are not the antithesis of the modern classroom; they are not a hark back to Victorian schooling. Use them with caution, do not punish pupils and use them to ‘fix’ issues with behaviour management. 

Primary teachers! Rows? Rubbish right?   Wrong

“Having your desks set out in groups is the right way to organise your classroom. Period. No discussion. No arguing.” Apologies

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3 thoughts on “Rows, rows, rows your boat?

  1. Agree. My class teaching is a mix between teacher talking children listening, and children working, either by themselves, in pairs or in groups. Independent work is not stressed enough I believe, whereas group work is overly adored. A well-balanced mix is, as with many things, the best!

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    • It’s when group work is ill-managed and pupils have no structure that it becomes a total waste of time. That was one of the reasons I moved away from always using grouped tables. Now when tables are grouped together, the pupils understand that they need explicitly collaboratively.

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