Taking a walk through my school, you can get a pretty good idea about the methods of individual teachers by looking at their classroom arrangements.
My school is 2nd-12th grade, but I focused on middle and high school classrooms during a recent walkthough. The most common arrangement is traditional single rows, other than for science labs. A few classrooms have clusters or pairs of students, and I saw two that had double horseshoe arrangements. All of our classrooms have interactive whiteboards, so that tends to define the focus of the room. I use cooperative learning extensively, so my class has tables—the only non-science room I have seen with that arrangement.
Teachers with rows seemed to use lecture as the primary instructional strategy, although in one class, students were working on laptops. Both of the horseshoe classes were high school classes engaged in discussions in which students spoke to one another as well as to the teacher. With both rows and the horseshoe arrangement, the teachers were stationary and were sitting or standing next to the interactive whiteboard.
In the rooms with clusters, some teachers were stationary, but others were circulating throughout the room. Some involved mostly direct instruction, but others used partner work or cooperative learning. Again, the whiteboard tended to be the focal point of teacher activity.
The interactive whiteboard can be a great tool, but at our school it has “glued” teachers to the front of the room much more often. We are both encouraged to use the boards extensively and to circulate extensively—without a slate, this is very difficult!
A few teachers have gotten together enough donations to buy wireless slates that they can use to interact with the board while moving around the room. I have one, and it has freed me up to circulate much more during direct instruction segments of my classes. Since our district is committed to continuing installing the interactive whiteboards in every classroom, adding in a slate for each teacher would be a good idea.
Our teachers share laptop carts between 2 or 3 teachers. The carts are big and bulky, difficult to move, and the teachers often struggle to find a place to put them that is both easy to access from both sides and does not block traffic. Another issue with the laptops is that when students are using them and they run out of power, there are too few outlets around the rooms and none set into the floors. This results in some odd student arrangements as they sit anywhere they can to connect to an outlet.
In the next few weeks, I will be spending time on extended observations in several classrooms. Understanding the physical limitations of the room and different styles of room arrangements will help me to pay attention to how those limitations/arrangements affect instruction, and how the teacher moves (or does not move) in the classroom space.
I will be offering several staff development sessions in cooperative learning this year, and I need to keep in mind that teachers who are comfortable with rows are not likely to rearrange their rooms to try out a structure. There are structures that can be done with students in rows, or with students standing up, that I can focus on. Although my first instinct is to say that group arrangements are THE way to go, I have got to be careful not to project my style onto other teachers.