I needed to be up front and all of the students had their personal desk space and were tiny little islands that I would watch over from my position in the from of the class. There were a number of reasons that students needed to be organized this way, but the one most often given was, "Kids will cheat, copy or misbehave if they are sitting so close to one another." Ugh.
It took me many years to break from this theory. By doing away with all multiple choice exams, the fear of copying work is gone. Project based learning has eliminated that fear completely.
I know arrange my desks in groups of 4 or 5 and I couldn't be happier. What I think some teachers fail to see is the power of the table. When students are isolated at their own desk and are asked to participate in class, they are scared. I see kids that sit at tables that act far more comfortable in class because they do not feel like they are alone. It is so funny that we encourage group work and table work at a young age, then we make a switch to an independent learning environment and we really shouldn't be surprised that some students do not adjust well to this.
The table allows students to work together in a collaborative environment. Some teachers suggest that tables encourage talking and student can become too disruptive. That is not the fault of the table, that is the fault of the teacher and their classroom management skills. I could argue that my students are more on task at tables because they have others next to them that can help them stay focused or redirect them if they are lost.
I tend to get more out of my struggling students when they are sitting in their groups and working at the tables. In the past, struggling kids would relish the fact they could sit quietly in their own desk and hide. Tables are not for hiding. They encourage students to collaborate and share ideas. It is the perfect remedy for students that are having a hard time connecting in class with the content. Sometimes they need to hear other students walk through the process to get it.
Evernote has been great for the table work as well. Students have been designating notetakers and sharing the notes in a shared notebook for all of them to access as well. There is added pressure for the notetaker to get the notes right so the rest of the group doesn't suffer. This attention to detail has created a wonderful learning environment where students in a group offer support while others are taking notes. Different tables work together and share information easily as well. Table work has turned out to be more organized than the "All desks equally apart" approach to class environments.
I advise all teachers to consider the table approach to their class. It is a great way to get your students working together. If I had the money, my classroom would look much more like this,
How do you set up your classroom?