Who Needs Tables?

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James Manwaring

James Manwaring is Director of Music for Windsor Learning Partnership, a Multi-Academy Trust in Windsor, Berkshire. He oversees music for the 4 schools in the trust and has been working in music education for 16 years. James has been nominated for a National Music Education...
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Do we really need tables in our classrooms?

It was about 4 years ago that I ditched the desks in my classroom. I teach music and I just felt that they got in the way. But I wonder if they are getting in the way in other subjects.

Students come to our lessons to learn – but do they need to write stuff down in order to learn or do they need to experience the topics and learn in a more active way?

Going Without

My experience of a desk-less classroom has been fantastic. I have more space for one, but I also have more flexibility in my room and I feel that the atmosphere has been a lot more conducive to learning.

Students are no longer “sat at the back” or “next to a bad influence”. Students come in and just sit down. Group work is of course a lot easier and I love the fact that I can easily use my room for activities that involve students getting out from “behind their desks”!

My experience has been good and I would like to think that it would work for other subjects as well. I will add that I do have computers around the edge of my classroom and so in effect I do have space for them to lean… but it doesn’t mean that I actually get them writing much down.

Lean On Me

But there is that fear isn’t there – the fear of needing something to lean on at some point in a lesson. But you have to ask yourself the question – are all of the students learning more because they have a massive chunk of wood on metal legs to lean on?

I would like to propose that maybe in some subjects we write too much, talk too much and don’t allow learning to be active and engaging.

What we do is we plan tasks that involve students completing tasks that might consolidate learning, but tasks which in themselves might not lead to learning.

I wonder if in history lessons desks get in the way of collaborative discussion on topics and issues?

I wonder if in an MFL lesson desks get in the way of quickly pairing students up to engage in dialogue?

Having desks is great, but when they are removed the conversation and the collaboration does flow much more easily.

Give Yourself Some Space

So maybe we need the odd desk-less space – and this goes for staffrooms as well. I have led meetings before where people are sat behind desks, laptops out – are they listening to me at all or are they just doing work during the meeting? Taking desks away from staff in meetings might just lead to a nicer environment – one that allows for more discussion and a greater sense of community.

But taking desks away does mean we must re-think how we teach and come up with ideas that help students learn. It might be that for some subjects this wouldn’t work all the time – hence maybe the need for a bookable, desk-less classroom somewhere in a school.

I can imagine science teachers for example will instantly respond with their need for a desk to put apparatus on for an experiment. But what about a debate in a science lesson – no desks would be great for that.

Desk Stop

So why don’t we rethink the need for desks and look at how our students learn? After all, when we learn to drive we don’t write anything down. We sit in a car with an instructor and we just get on with it. We learn to navigate a vehicle through a number of scenarios without a desk or pen in sight.

Maybe the same could apply in schools and maybe students would learn better when not sat behind a desk in a room where there is space to learn and collaborate.

They can write at home and they can lean on something at home. And in my lessons when I really need them to write something down I just get them to find something to lean on!

2 thoughts on “Who Needs Tables?

  1. As a Science teacher, I agree with your comment. However, apart from safety concerns, benches around the outside as you have your computers, works in the same way – in fact that’s how our laps are set out. If ever I have a lab where I can put the tables where I want them, I always create a large space in the middle. Much better for active learning – and even teacher talk as I use it as my ‘stage’.

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