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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Sitting in rows is old-fashioned — and effective

Students sitting in rows facing the teacher is horribly out of date, writes Tom Sherrington, a British headmaster, on teacherhead. But it works.

When I teach, I want to look everyone in the eye; I want to gauge their responses, hold their attention; I want to communicate with them. All of them.  At the same time.  This is the most intimate person-to-person aspect of teaching: eye contact.  It matters; it’s powerful. It’s a deeply human element of communicating ideas and emotions.

Sometimes, it makes sense to ask students to form larger groups to discuss something or get up to do or see something. But, most of the time, “rows work absolutely beautifully,” writes Sherrington, a math and physics teacher.

When students sit in groups, they may distract each other, he writes. If they have to crane their necks to see, they may tune out.

Sometimes, grouped tables have been there so long, students have developed a group table culture with a mighty force field around them virtually impossible to penetrate with learning.  Our space; keep out. 

“The schools of the future won’t all be about interactive micropods and blended autonomous triads,” Sherrington concludes. “There will be teachers who know things explaining them to students sitting in rows, keeping teaching and learning human.”

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