Mad Experiments with Seating Arrangements

The students in my composition courses probably think I’m crazy. Today, I came to class twenty minutes early so I could re-arrange the tables. At the D’Angelo Center (DAC) at St. John’s University, we have these tables with wheels on them. My vision for the seating arrangement is that we’ll be in small groups of five. Here we are today:

St. John's University, Composition

each morning we come in and set up this arrangement

Some of the classrooms in the DAC are large, and last semester I had a class where no students sat in the first two rows of tables. The students filled the far corners of the room. This put them as far away as possible from me and also from the students who had chosen to sit in the opposite corner. This was bad for team chemistry. Right, I just called the students in my composition courses a team. That’s often how I think of them. I’m building a community of writers, and sitting in opposite corners doesn’t help us get to know each other and work together.

The plan for this semester is for me to do as little talking as possible, at least when it comes to lecture in front of the class. Lecture beyond anything ten minutes in length is a pedagogy that is dead to me. When I’m talking, when anyone is talking at students, they aren’t hearing much. When students arrive to the class, they arrange the desks and then I tell them briefly what the plan is for the day. Next, we write for ten minutes.

Today’s topic: Tell me the story of you and technology.

I’m finding that what used to be good for between classes is now better done in class together. Writing is an example of this. I don’t think my students often have quiet time, where their phones are off and they aren’t on a computer, to experience time thinking and writing.  I hope to get them started on something in class so that they’ll have something to work with once they leave the class.

After writing, the rest of the class time is spent in a small group working on a project. Students share drafts of what they found during a Twitter activity. They post Google Doc drafts of writing to their ePortfolios. They listen to each other read. They write each other comments using Google Docs. They evaluate texts and talk about what good writing might be for them. I’m very excited about the way classes have gone so far this semester. I’m sensing a lot of good energy.


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