The year is beginning and the desks are out!
(I have 4 folding tables that I can bring out if I need to, but they are out of the way and I’m loving the openness of the classroom!)
An Outward Sign of What Class is Like
At the beginning of every year, I spend a lot of time talking with the students about how Spanish class is different from the rest of their classes. The learning that happens in my class is not dependent on learning formulas or on cramming for a test to show mastery of concepts. Rather, there isn’t much “learning” in my class at all. I try to avoid teaching rules and formulas for language. Instead, I want the kids to hear and use the language in order to acquire it and to show what they have acquired. When students do learn something new in my class, it is not a fact about the language but rather a fact that they learned with the language as the medium.
This year, not only will I tell them that Spanish is different, they will also be able to SEE it and EXPERIENCE it. They will enter the room and put down their things and they will sit as part of the class circle. This is a powerful setup for the classroom because there is no front or back, there is no place to hide or fade into the background. Everyone in the class is on an equal footing with everyone else and they can interact with each other easily.
The setup of my class is an outward sign of the way I want my class to be experienced by the students. It is a commitment to me taking on the management and planning challenge of instructing them in a different way. And they can see it from the first day of class.
Barriers to each other, Barriers to learning
When I first considered getting rid of the desks in my classroom, the idea of breaking down barriers was in the front of my mind. Without desks in the way, the students have the unhindered ability to get up and move around the room and interact with others. What’s more, the seating is completely flexible and the room can be quickly and safely rearranged for whatever activity we’re doing, whether it’s sitting auditorium style for a story, in small groups, or standing with nothing in the way for a game or conversation activity.
It also occurred to me that I am also getting rid of figurative barriers: In getting rid of the desks, I am allowing the students have an equal view of the class. In moving the students around constantly (more about that in the post about managing the class with no desks), they are given the ability to interact with other students they might not normally talk to. Unlikely friendships now have the ability to develop. The students will be able to break out of their comfort zone of peer groups and interact with students they don’t normally interact with.
The most important thing of all, though, is the way that I am able to interact with the students. I am not up in the front of the room teaching and they are not sitting behind desks taking notes and absorbing everything I say. There are times when I am the center of the class, especially when I am providing CI and we are practicing their Interpretive Listening skills. But there will be times when others are the literal and figurative center. If a student is in the center of the circle, they are the one providing us with input and information. When I’m not talking, I am in the circle with them.
The best part of it all…
My favorite part of my deskless experiment last year was the fact that I could be sitting in the same chairs as the kids and be at their level. The focus of the class changes from one person at the front to the whole group. They will see that I am with them in our journey of language acquisition. I plan to incorporate reading activities that are about the news and current events (more on that in a future post as well). As such, we will be learning facts together and we will have open discussion about the contents.
Sitting with them is a powerful symbol to the students: I am on their team, not just their taskmaster.