Friday, August 16, 2013

What does the set-up say?

Over the summer I read and reviewed Whole Class Mathematics Discussions (WCMD) for the Window on Resources section of Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School. The book had some issues (I'd recommend reading Five Practices if you are looking to foster productive discourse in your math class). Still, WCMD did have an online component that I found interesting, and it did share a couple ideas worth considering. For example, chapter 2 "explores how to design the physical layout of the classroom and organize classroom spaces for both small group and whole group discussions." (p. 23)

The importance of organizing the physical space of your classroom is probably obvious to many of you. Some of you even Tweet pictures of your set-up that demonstrate your efforts. However, because it has been nearly 20 years since I  had my own classroom (one of the things I miss most), it got me thinking: What does the set-up of the classroom say to students about what communication might look like in the class?

So I walked around Grand Valley and took pictures of the some of the instructional spaces. What type of discussions might you anticipate occurring in these set-ups?
In case you are interested, my classroom during my final years of teaching middle school math went back and forth between the first picture and the last one depending on the lesson. #1 was used when I wanted to focus on small group interactions. We arranged the desks like #5 when we were doing presentations or having a whole-class discussion; I learned about this "case-study" set-up when I read David Johnson's Making Minutes Count Even More.

And now it is your turn. If you are interested in some feedback on what others think your classroom set-up says about the discourse students can expect in your class, then Tweet a picture using the #setupsays hashtag. Then we can reply with our impressions and borrow effective set-ups for our own classrooms. Thank you in advance for participating.


  1. I don't get to choose which classroom I'm in. Some have enough space to easily shift to a setup something like #1, some don't. (I still try.)

    This article by Maria Andersen goes into more depth on how you might want to set up a math classroom for lots of student interaction.

  2. Are you aware of any teachers who use a Socratic Circle (inner and outer circle) format or a variation of it in math? Would whole class discussions benefit from close proximity? I was thinking of adding this format in my middle school classroom.

    Another idea I had was assigning the inner circle a task while the outer circle observes and notes the mathematical thinking or mathematical practices. I've held several Socratic Circles as a literature or social studies teacher but haven't done it for math.

    If you or your readers can comment on that I would appreciate it.