One difference I notice between the classes I visit – student seating. There is something about sitting in rows facing front that says “sage on the stage” and seems “so last century.”
In one classroom, all the kids sit in the combined desk/chair units. If the teacher has them put 2 together one kid has to climb in and out. When the kids are using the laptops for independent study, she has kids sit with their backs to the front of the classroom so their screens can be seen over their shoulders. This necessitates hauling each desk/chair unit around and returning it.
In another classroom, all the kids sit at tables for 4 with regular chairs. Chairs can be moved around easily. Kids can sit side-by-side or not. This seems to work pretty well. There is a lot of emphasis on individual and small group work so the seating flexibility and ease of movement are important. The tables are large enough for all four kids to work on tests, textbook and worksheets, or binders for notetaking. They have the added advantage that when kids are working together on something, it can be spread out over the entire table surface.
Classroom seating says a lot, even as kids walk in the door. Communicate something more positive and upbeat, like “I’m here to help” as the “guide on the side.” Even if the desk/chair units must be retained, there are lots of creative ways these can be arranged – short rows at different angles, semi-circle, even pods of 4-6. Anything but 5 rows all facing front.