two Middle School teachers at my school ditched their rows of individual desks
with attached chairs for large, wooden tables that can be arranged in a variety
of configurations. In addition to the much improved aesthetics, this change
provides teachers and students with more options for both individual and
group work to help achieve the particular learning goals of each lesson. For
seminar discussions, instruction is closely aligned with Harkness Table pedagogy, instructional techniques
that were first developed at Phillips Exeter Academy in the 1930s and
quickly spread to many other independent schools in New England. The pedagogy
implemented around these tables proves to be particularly effective
when teaching in a Socratic method. It encourages debate between students
on topics that are open-ended and fruitful to explore through dialogue and
teachers and administrators think about various spaces for learning and the
range of possible furniture configurations to support learning outcomes, it is
helpful to consider that our first classrooms may have been around a campfire,
sitting under the shade of a tree, or perhaps huddled together in the shelter of
a cave. These places were perfect for conveying stories that contained
essential lessons from past events or expounding upon theories used to explain
the world. And as such, the manner people arranged themselves around a fire or
in a shared space impacted the flow of information from one person to the
next. Some places, such as a common shelter or a watering hole, are inherently
social places, ideal for allowing peers to learn from each other. Given our
collective histories, it’s no surprise that students still respond well in such
environments today. Educators who have successfully transitioned to more
flexible architecture in their learning environments don’t simply abandon
individual desks. They provide powerful alternatives for conveying information as
students connect to deeply ingrained and uniquely human ways of learning.
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