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Round in circles – Collaboration and creativity works better

posted 8 Nov 2015, 05:30 by Craig Nicholson   [ updated 22 Nov 2015, 07:55 by Christine KempHall ]

This article is not a piece of action research or really grounded in anything academic or science based but merely an observation of something that appears to be having a positive impact on our progress and outcomes.

Many people are currently writing and blogging about the advantages of cooperative, active and engaged learning and that current classroom styles and layout do not promote that. We know that Classroom design can influence levels of interaction and engagement and active learning improves retention so why would we not want to look at classroom layout?


Our current Y5/6 cohort have been through their school career with us and always identified as somewhat challenging. They have for some reason been very mobile cohorts – both staff and pupils. They always seem to have fallen to the teacher going on maternity leave and been exposed to numerous supply/cover teachers and their make up has been very diverse with many mid-year transfers so the group we currently have has little resemblance to the cohort that started with us in Reception. 

Due to this, the class have little skill in forming lasting relationships, or friendship groups and subsequently anything involving collaboration or team work falls apart very quickly – or had done until recently!

Towards the back end of last academic year we had a group of Y6 children who loved teamwork so we borrowed a large round banquet table from the school hall stock which is used for conferences and put it in the centre of the classroom. Suddenly this became a focus of collaboration and amazing teamwork and seemed to improve progress with children eager and keen to learn. We learnt from that and this year determined to expand this idea.

We started by knocking down a wall between our Y5/6 classroom and creating a ‘Learning Studio’ (more to follow on this in another blog!). we bought in some seating that could be placed in circles or semi-circles around circular/semi-circular tables. At first the children tried to shield their work from each other and viewed the seating arrangements somewhat suspiciously. Quickly though they started to engage and communicate verbally and non-verbally in a much more positive, supportive way. They wanted to share, people sitting around the table were encouraged to be part of the team, and it appeared that whoever was sat at the ‘round table’ was somewhat special and part of some combined unit.

Teachers felt able to communicate easier and hold the attention of 4/6 pupils around the table – shaving off corners and angles of traditional desks and tables somehow appeared to unite all sat around the round table in a common purpose.

When I spoke to staff and pupils about what I had observed they all agreed. They loved the round tables they felt more part of the discussion or task, they could share easier it felt in their words ‘comfortable’. The pupils felt important sitting at a round table and more ‘equal’ and they said the teachers seemed more part of the group. It also seems in some way to have reduced noise. They talk to each other rather than using raised voices, it’s easier to gain someone’s eye contact and interact. If you want to work with a group away from the main input this can be done easier, resources appear easier to disperse and its created more floor and walking space in classrooms that were often not really big enough for purpose.

Our plan is to now try some of this with our Y1 cohort who have struggled to make the change from their Reception class to the slightly more formal setting of Y1 – watch this space for updates on whether that works!

In the meantime please feel free to read the link below to report below which supports some of our thinking:

Rethinking the Classroom: Spaces deigned for active and engaged learning and teaching:

http://www.hermanmiller.com/research/solution-essays/rethinking-the-classroom.html

Christine Kemp-Hall (Principal) - November 8th 2015

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