Table arrangements, Fluid movement, and more. In this episode, Robin and Adam are joined by Roger Hitchin - Singapore Maths Lead and Section Head of Year 5 and 6 at Wellington Prep School in Somerset, UK to discuss the classroom environment. How should pupils be placed? What has to be considered with arrangements? Plus, hear the differences of old-school seating arrangements versus the new.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
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Welcome back to another episode of the School of School podcast. And it's treat time because we have got a guest. I'm here with Robin. How you doing, Robin? You're regular. Regular Robin. That sounds...
That's not what I mean, but Robin you're okay. Just before I introduce our guest. You good?
I'm great. And thank you again for having me here as a regular.
Excellent. So our guest today is Roger Hitchin. Roger, what a pleasure having you here from Wellington Prep School. For the listeners that have not yet met you and don't know you, do you just want to just tell us a little bit about yourself?
Sure. Thanks Adam. Well, firstly, it's great to be here. Thank you for having me, late on a Thursday evening. Yeah, my name's Roger Hitchin and I work at...I work in Somerset at Wellington Prep School. I currently teach year six and we were... We're early adopters of Maths — No Problem! We started way back in 2015 and we're still very much enjoying it, and working well on it. And we've had a journey on it and we're hungry to do more. It's made a huge impact both on our children and in the... on the school and the staff as a whole.
What I want to do, Roger, is pick up on one element that I can only assume as part of not just your maths programme, but generally. And that's the kind of classroom environment.
I'm just going to throw it back to you and say, is there rights and wrongs or, or how important is it? Is it important at all? What are your thoughts on the type of environment that children have and its impact on learning.
I must admit, for myself, I think very hard during those kind of last weeks of August, those first weeks of September, about how to lay out the classroom. How is it going to work? And I don't have a clear answer on it in terms of what's best for the pupils. What I do know is that I want them to operate the space, so to speak. I want them to be able to not be stuck in one seat, in one place. I want them to be able to move around and be fluid, not ask me for permission. So almost to kind of control it, a little bit for themselves. And I look around the school and other schools. And I see a lot of difference.
I see a lot of variety. Some have it... Some might arrange it in rows. Some might arrange it in groups. And I think there's a bit of a disparity for me. I think that some teachers might set up a classroom because it works for them and that's how they operate their lessons. And I think others may think, right, I need pupils all facing a board and I will be at the front. Others may want them in clusters as groups. And I know there are various constraints on it because there's a size of the class and how many pupils you've got in your class, how much space you've got, and things of this sort. And I think there's a lot of things to consider.
Experience tells me if you get that kind of ground rules right, and your environment right. I think it makes your year and your lessons, and we're here talking about maths, it makes them maybe easier is not the right word, but it gives the pupils a way in. I think for all children they want to be involved. They don't want it just done to them. You know, you sit here, you sit there. And I've discussed this with my class and you know, they, and I've asked them at the end of the year, is the classroom, the layout as it worked for them. And please say most said it had, but not, not for all. And I think it's maybe an area that we don't really talk about too much. We don't explore, we leave it to professional judgement , but it's the children that have to kind of adjust, not just to the different teacher, the different dance, but also the different layout.
And yeah, go on.
No, just I think you've brought up some really good points. One being as a teacher, thinking about it before school even begins. How you want your class, or how you're thinking about laying out your classroom for the year. But then getting that important feedback from your own students at the end of the year, as to what worked for them, what didn't work for them. And kind of basing on, okay, come the next year, I might make these adjustments, keeping the students in mind. And also saying that it isn't necessarily the teacher who should decide what's best for them, but to have the students considered as to what is best for the students. So that feedback from the students would to me, is a critical piece.
The analogy that I said to them was I feel that children are more engaged when they see themselves, not as passengers on the good ship education, but as crew. So that's how I tried to explain this to them. It's an interesting one to explore. And we're also little creatures for habit, aren't we as teachers. You think, well, it worked this year and this group are going and the next group are coming in and that format will be very much the same. I think teachers only think about it if they're actually moving rooms or they're moving to a different environment, but by and large, it stays the same. I don't see anyone changing it. And the light of, oh, I need to think about how the lesson operates. I think teachers generally work it how it just feels comfortable for them.
Well, what I used to know was is that, especially when I first started teaching, I would pour over the classroom for hours. I would never forget my first year teaching when I could have access to the classroom over the summer holidays. And I just thought, man, this is my room. This is like, oh my god, I can set this out, what I can do any... And I remember, I don't know how many times I lifted desks and put them back down and rearranged it and did it about eight million different ways. But I think you do pour over it. And I think the other thing that people may not know is that, and Roger just alluded to this earlier, is that you can structure it in a way that there are certain arrangements that you can do right. To control behaviour.
Yeah. So you can do that pretty easy and straightforward, but it doesn't as a general, it doesn't lend itself to any sort of collaborative learning. So perhaps when we went to school, maybe depending on the teachers or... And maybe this changes with the age groups as well. Is that they... You can set classrooms up to make it as difficult as possible to communicate or socialise in any way, shape or form.
So it's a bit of a breeze if your classroom teaching approach is, I like my children silent. I like them to listen to what I'm saying. I like them to do what I'm telling them to do.
And all is good. And we've got heads down and the pencils and pens, the way we go... You can do that. You can engineer that in the classroom. So it's not like a secret, when people say, "oh, I think this is really good for learning." And I sometimes walk in and go, "Hmm, I'll keep an eye on that." 'Cause it may just be that you need a little bit of support with behaviour management or you've had a really terrible experience of the class before.
I think you're absolutely right. I think a lot of people put that as maybe the first thing that needs considering. X needs to be kept away from Y. So he goes there and he or she goes over there.
Going way back in the day, there wasn't much option for me. Our desks were in rows and we faced the front of the classroom, and there was someone most likely behind and in front. I don't think I was usually at the back. And that was that. And you might be able to chat to a neighbour who's in the row beside you. But other than that, there was no configuration and thought put into how we're going to do this with the student in mind. Nowadays, I think of my own kids and my daughter every year, she'll come home first day of school and tell me who's in her class, how the seating arrangement is all set up. So they're... are they in groups and who she's sitting with, and usually it...they're... It's a completely... There's no rows. They tend to be in small group like desks, where they pushed all the desks together. Maybe four desks at a kind of... I would... It's almost like a workstation. And then they rotate.
That's kind of been the pattern where they rotate either weekly or monthly so that they're engaged with not just the same group of students all year, they're collaborating with others, which sounds like a good thing to me. But yeah, it's come a long way. So you two would be far more in the know than...
Yeah. It kind of, it has, but I also think that there are so many subtleties to it. Right. And, and there are so many things, so we can make rows and keep people there and keep people quiet. That's pretty straightforward. We can make groups that are based on perceived ability or pre prior attainment and those sorts of things. And again, these are sorts of things, probably a different discussion, but you don't want children to come in and go once a triangle, always a triangle, right. So I'm always on the triangle table.
And let's not muck about what that triangle means. I know exactly what it means that your expectation of me is a hell of a lot lower than the square table or the circle table.
Right? Yeah. The triangles get the two adults sitting with them. Great. I can't wait but I think... And so, and there's also the dynamics in groups where you might have like big personalities.
But maybe then someone else is in the shadow. But I think the big thing is that for me, I think the kind lesson that I learned is making sure it's dynamic. But I actually think it's a really difficult skill because I don't think that there is one way to do it. I don't know that there is. For me anyway, I think it's about what's going to provide me with the best information to make decisions for my children. So it's kind of like am I going to be able to listen to this? Am I going to be in intervene here? Am I going to be able to do these things? Is it likely? And, and of course, I'm not going to pretend for a second. Of course, I'm going to think at the beginning of the year, there is no way, or possibly after the first, end of term holiday or something, there's no way that child is sitting anywhere near that child. Yeah. It's just, it's true. I'm not going to lie to you.
And go on and on...
...About I'm all about no... All children have to learn to get on with each other. No. If that just is going to be, really, really hard work, then perhaps that's a lesson that perhaps won't use another child to allow that child, you know what I mean?
So I'm just being honest in this. That of course that exists, but it is a really, really interesting one and one of which we should really pay attention to in our classrooms, because like Roger said, I think that it's something that it can have massive impacts, eh, like it have really, really big impacts on children and just how successful the year can be.
If it'd just taken attitude of rows bad, groups good. I think that's probably a bit too simplistic.
And no one suggested that, but I'm just saying that you could buy into that pretty easily, but I think it's actually quite sophisticated and quite complex.`
For me that it's fluidity that the children move around, and talk to different people, different groups, different individuals. They're almost moving around as much as I am. I can see almost see the maths lesson in action. I know the maths lesson is going well because, and I mean this in the nicer way, they're ignoring me, where I am. They're just going from A to B because they want to check out what a particular child's coming up with and things like that. I like it when, almost independently, they're operating that space. Sometimes I've learned that I think over the time that we've done these lessons, I think, because without it, I think you can almost stifle the learning a little, it can only go so far.
If you can only talk to the person next to you and that's the person you always talk with, I take your point Adam, absolutely. That I talk about some kind of utopia really, but of course we know that children can have off days and there are certain individuals that will disrupt, and might try to go off topic. But I think what I've learned is when you get it right, when you see it happening in front of you instinctively know, you can kind of see it kind of operating and working. And the children, the pupils are almost not realising that they're doing that, but you can see it as a practitioner or how they're actually operate operating.
But I think that's a good point. And I think that like when you're asking the children and they're giving you the feedback, I think that's really important because that's true. And as a general rule children are pretty honest. I think the other thing too, is that, yeah, it's just thinking about the impact that it has on the learning. And I think that's like... Keeps going back to that, is that whatever we do, and however we set it up, it's really important that we, well, we think about it in the context of whether or not it works. And, and if it does, then this is a good thing, but it's going to be different at different times. Like all of us, there'll be some days where we just want no interruptions, no stimulation, no...nothing from the outside.
I just want to get on with this and other days where it's a different circumstance. And I think that the only... The other bit that I'd add to it is I think that... Or the question that perhaps we should ask ourselves as teachers when we do set it up is "do the children know what it is they're learning, and the reason why we set it up in the way that we do?" Like if in a lesson that there is sometimes where they're working by themselves, do they know why they're doing that? You know? And it might just be consolidation and practise. That's the reason why you're doing that, is because it gives you a chance to ask the right questions, because you're actually... now it's on you. Or do they know that within a partnership? Do they know that we are doing that because it means that we can focus on something a little bit better, but we're also working collaboratively.
So we've got two minds or three months or whatever, and why do we do whole class approaches? And so I think maybe, is...are these things just a mystery? Like, is it, when someone walks into my class, is it kind of like, I wonder what Mr. Gifford's going to do today? Is it going to be all of us together? He is going to do that. Da da da. The only thing I would say is, here's something, just a professional tip for you. I spent half a year working in an old, it was an old sort of church hall while our school in New Zealand was being re rebuilt. And we literally had to put every desk and every chair away at the end of every day and get it out every morning. So in terms of fluidity, Roger, that's pretty fluid. So I could make up the mind every single day about how I want to post this sort it out.
I say fluidity, but I wouldn't want to do that.
Yeah. But, but professionally I would give that a miss if you can, if you can help it. But, but yeah.
Yeah. I learned a lot, Robin. I learned a lot. As a young teacher, I learned a whole lot.
But I guess a good point there is maybe you're not going to change your classroom around every single day, but being open to changing it around during the school year, as Roger pointed out, sometimes you realise that it just doesn't quite work the way you had thought. So just having that flexibility to say, okay, no, we're going to try something different. And.. Or as you said, Adam, this is specifically individual learning or this is really, really important collaborative work. So we're going to rearrange the desks according to that. And yeah. Woo. This is a big topic.
Well, thanks for bringing it up, Roger. And hopefully we've made some headway.
Yeah. Food for thought.
All right. Thanks everyone.
Thank you for joining us on the School for School podcast.