For the majority of my teaching career, I had students sit in traditional rows of desks. Three years ago, after a professional development seminar made me reflect on how the seating arrangements affect classroom culture, I decided a change was in order. Pods were a seating change that forced me out of my comfort zone and enhanced student learning.
Students now sit in pods of four. Each seat within the pod is numbered one through four. Respectfully, one’s and two’s, and three’s and four’s sit next to each other. Likewise, one’s sit across from three’s and two’s across from four’s.
These numbers are not assigned arbitrarily. Before school starts in the Fall, I review test scores and grades from each student’s previous school year. Based upon this, I configure students as follows: students with higher test scores and grades are designated as one’s and three’s. Students with weaker previous year experience are two’s and four’s. This information is confidential. Students aren’t privy to why they have a particular number. After three years of pod seating, no student has inquired as to the particulars.
Students collaborated readily. I refer to one’s and two’s and three’s and four’s as elbow partners. When I need additional support for two’s and four’s, I ask students to work together with their elbow partner. Some assignments or lessons lend to one’s and three’s and two’s and four’s working together as eyeball partners. Most daily lessons allow two or three occasions for pairs to engage.
Pods facilitate both communication and collaboration. I often ask all ones, twos, threes, and fours (classroom wide) to form new groups to complete an exercise. This has been effective in getting into new groups quickly and efficiently and I know that two’s and four’s will need my support first. This has been a positive change, not only for collaboration, but also for effective use of class time too. These new, larger groups allow for fresh voices and challenge all students to engage. When students reconvene in their pods, new ideas emerge and are shared. Depending upon class size, there are a multitude of mixings you can create on the fly for group collaboration.
I use a review of past performance only for the first seating arrangement. I change the seating chart every six weeks, which coincides with our grade report mail out. Students realize they won’t be in the same group all semester.
After initial grouping, I arrange students based on current capability and behavior. During the first three weeks, I integrate several lessons focused on effective communication skills. One activity establishes classroom norms that include student input on how we will treat each other. Everything is centered around respect–student to teacher, teacher to student, and student to student. Another lesson concentrates on establishing a growth mindset. This helps students deal with under-performance and reveals how others learn.
A group assignment during the first three weeks highlights helping others and accountability. The assignment requires each student to complete the activity I assigned. Each pod draws a number for the individual student I will collect the assignment from. This student’s grade will be given to all pod members. Although the assignment could be completed without collaboration, students realize they could be selected to reflect the entire group’s grade. I don’t do this often, but it helps students understand the importance of working together, getting past differences, and accepting roles. Lastly, pods help class housekeeping. Each week one number is responsible for picking up supplies, laptops, textbooks, and/or handouts for his or her pod. This also helps with classroom management.
As you enjoy summer break, consider how seating arrangements might enhance classroom culture, collaboration, and learning. Bon voyage!