Learning Pods and Classroom Setup

Setting up small learning groups, or communities, in your class requires planning, not just in your instruction, but also in the physical space of your room.

When I decided to change my teaching style from a teacher-centered, lecture format to a student-centered, project format, I had to seriously contemplate how my room and its instructional resources were arranged.

I knew I wanted to set up student 'pods' of four to five students. Four makes a great sized group, but five is starting to push it. These sizes also fit with the number of computers I had available. Each pod needed one computer for the group to use, as well as workspace, achieved by placing desks next to each other forming a table.
I placed the pods at the outside walls for a few important reasons. First was to get some elbow space between students and groups. I wanted to eliminate interaction between groups so students could concentrate on their own group's activities. Secondly, this arrangement allowed me to monitor the computers at all times. Third, this setup created better traffic flow through the room, since students would often need to move back and forth to the central resource center.

I've set up the resource and presentation center in the center of the classroom. This is where I keep student file cabinets (the short types), dictionaries & thesauri, school supplies, and art-type supplies. I've combined this storage area with my podium, overhead projector, and the other tech equipment like vcr or dvd players, digital projectors, and the like. This allows for easy student access to all resources, and I can effectively use all of my wall space when I need to present material.

The 'traditional' classroom and the 'student-centered' classroom are very different both in philosophy and in the application. The basics of setting up your classroom to reflect the learning environment you've envisioned must be thought through carefully before jumping right into the pods.

Having previously taught in the traditional manner, I've found the pod setup, or student-centered class, to be both a challenge and a benefit to student learning. Now that I've had a chance to compare them, my students and I prefer the pods.

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Frank Holes, Jr. is the editor of the StarTeaching website and the bi-monthly newsletter, Features for Teachers.