Thursday, May 3, 2018

Managing digital learning environments, part 2

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Today's discussion surrounds seating arrangements in digital classrooms. For ideas, read Classroom Management in the Digital Age by Heather Dowd & Patrick Green, available from Amazon at and The First Days of School, by Harry & Rosemary Wong, available from Amazon at

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Today I'll be talking about how to arrange the physical space within your classroom. There are several simple strategies you can use to help facilitate student learning in your classroom

Simply rearranging the room’s seating configuration can help you monitor students’ digital behaviors. Moving the teacher desk to a place like the back of the classroom so you can see the students’ screens from your desk is the first and simplest step toward successful digital classroom. Your current classroom arrangement may require that you get more creative than that, of course. You may be limited by the cable connecting your computer to the projector or classroom display, for example. Can you simply use a Chromebook on a table at the back of the room when needed? It can be very simple to help facilitate and monitor students’ work on digital devices.

The point, however, is that monitoring student behavior while online can be very simple. Dowd and Green, in their book Classroom Management in the Digital Age, highlight the pros and cons of a number of different options for locating the teacher’s desk in a classroom. These options include teacher at the front, teacher at the back, teacher in the center, and so on. The one arrangement they say does not work is “Teacher at the Teacher Desk,” and I concur 100%. They say, starting on page 42,
“The ‘teacher at the teacher desk’ arrangement works great - when students are not present in the classroom. Teaching today is active and requires teachers get out from behind their desks and be engaged with the students. … Teaching requires teachers be active and mobile, and able to continuously monitor the communication and collaboration happening in the room. If the teacher is behind the desk, he is too far away from most students to observe, prod, redirect, ask questions, guide, prompt, encourage, or challenge students.”

Dowd and Green, like Wong and others, agree that students’ seats should always be assigned from Day 1 in the classroom. My experience shows this to be true as well. Let kids know that you are in complete control the moment they step through your doorway.

However, I would suggest you be thoughtful about placement of students into your classroom arrangement. I used to have my desks arranged in traditional rows and columns. However, I’m a huge fan of cooperative learning and heterogeneous grouping. So, I would identify student achievement levels and create groups of 4, with 1 high achiever, 2 average achievers, and 1 struggling student. I would then place these 4, for example, in Row 1 Seat 1 & 2 and Row 2 Seat 1 & 2. During whole group instruction or individual work time they would remain in these seats, but during cooperative group time they could simply twist their desks a quarter turn and they have instantly formed a heterogeneous team. Or Row 1 scoots across the aisle to Row 2 and we have pairs. I would change seating arrangements every 2 weeks so I would never hear students say, “do we have to stay in these groups all year long? “ They also practiced the “Ask 3 before me” mantra with their teammates simply by leaning across the aisle. It’s a little work, but it pays big dividends throughout the school year in terms of students’ soft skills and collaboration skills.

Thanks for listening today! Don’t forget to give me a review on Apple Podcasts, Pocketcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts. And feel free to download the Anchor app and give me some verbal feedback or suggest a topic that I can cover for you in a future episode.

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