My hypothesis walking into my two classrooms in Moulton Hall at Kent State University this semester was that my morning classroom would facilitate discussion better than my afternoon classroom. The reasoning behind my assumption was that the morning classroom has a great big central table with almost enough room for my 25 students to sit around it, and the afternoon classroom has “United Nations” style forward facing rows of tables in a distance learning enabled room. My experience as a student and hearing others’ experiences led me to believe that sitting in a circle, so that all classroom participants, students and instructor, may see one another, produced better discussion. It seemed like the traditional classroom layout of students facing forward and seeing the backs of one another’s heads stifled inter-student discussion and promoted instructor led lecturing.
Now that we’re about to begin week 11, I have found over the semester that the conversations and discussion in the classrooms are nearly the same. I suppose that it comes down to the students and the instructor. My morning students talk just as much as my afternoon students. In both cases, sometimes the conversation takes off organically, and other times I employ wait time, begin with writing prompts, or call on individual students to begin the conversation. The one thing that I have noticed the most is that students in my afternoon class might develop sore backs from turning around in their chairs to see who’s talking or to address another student directly.
There are a myriad of other possibilities that could contribute to the way my two classes engage in discussion despite the different classroom configurations. My concern about the different classroom layouts may have contributed to both classes having good discussions, because I may have tried to get the afternoon class more energized or my observation and reflection on the earlier class may have honed my approach in the afternoon class. Additionally, the students in the afternoon class may be a group of students that don’t need face-to-face contact to engage in lively discussion.
This is certainly not an extensive survey of classroom dynamics, but it was a lesson that I was glad to learn and wanted to share. I want both of my classes to be active and I want my students in both classrooms to have an equally positive and enriching experience. I’m very glad that my assumptions about the classrooms didn’t come true.
A short note on recent classroom activities: This past week, we had a slow march into Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, because I wanted to engage the students in two short writing assignments based on a documentary on the film version of 2001 that showcases the technology they would encounter in the book and film (which we will begin watching Friday), and a passage from the book on dissatisfaction and using our imaginative foresight to devise personal plans for overcoming person dissatisfactions. This past Friday, my students shared their short dissatisfaction essays out loud in class, and we had some fruitful conversation in both classes based on that work.