Invisibles Question 1 – Seating Arrangements

Here we begin our discussion of the 12 questions and concerns asked by our new PLC member (see last post) about the Invisibles:

Q.  I am concerned about how my classroom is physically set up. I have 35 desks, sometimes 37. Should I replace them with tables so all students face me,(my desk is now in one corner with bookcases behind me and the projector system centered on the whiteboard next to me on the left). What physical setup would you suggest? I don’t have room to make two wings as you do – my room isn’t big enough.

A. Of course there will be as many responses on this one as there are teachers, so I can only give my own opinion and what I prefer personally. The reason my Invisibles classroom is set up the way it is is that I have to have my hires (17 student jobs) close to me for that system to work, as per:

But since you don’t have the room for this seating chart, the first thing – just my opinion – is to get rid of the desks. They can write on small dry erase boards when they must, which is about 10% of the time tops and so why all that clutter?

Classroom clutter is a far bigger issue than I used to think – it affects everything we do. Even the bookshelf behind you probably contains much superfluous stuff because in the Invisibles we just plain don’t need books – nor should we (it’s time for the change now). The less clutter there is, the higher will be the gains in proficiency by our students.

On the topic of posters, I now only have three, plus the Director’s Cues. The less posters, the better, and if you think about it for awhile you will see how superfluous posters indeed are, most of them. The only posters I need now with the Invisibles are the (1) Classroom Rules, (2) the colors/numbers chart, (3) the questions words in English and (4) the Director’s Cues, about seven of them that go above the whiteboard.

I don’t need a lot of whiteboard space, either. I keep it clean. If I speak for 20 min. and more than four or five new words were written down on the whiteboard, then I’m going out of bounds, and cluttering their minds usually to a point of overwhelm. I’m not joking. 15-20 min. of comprehensible input should only contain only four or five new expressions which you solidify in their minds using the Star Sequence and through your own mental discipline to stay in bounds.

Have you ever seen a big wall-to-wall whiteboard covered with words all over the place at the end of a story. That is not good. If the board is like that, all full of words, you can be guaranteed that the average student in your class will retain almost nothing from that class.

About verb posters – our students can’t learn verbs by looking at them, but by hearing them over and over in highly contextualized auditory settings. So ditch the confusing – and really sad – verb posters, including lists of words, which are equally bad. I don’t know what TPRS is doing now, but my hope is that they’ve ditched the words walls.

If your classroom is rectangular, can you make my seating chart (the link above) work by teaching with the long wall behind your back? If it’s too small for that, I wouldn’t know what to suggest.

Going out on a limb, I would suggest that the system projector might be a part of the clutter. This is because everything we have ever taught our kids has been that learning a language is visual so we set the room up like that for writing and “looking” whereas if you read the first part of the Invisibles Supplements book you will see that what we do now has little to do with looking passively and everything to do instead with interacting actively, reciprocally, interpersonally, because language acquisition cannot happen by students looking at things, but only by observable non-verbal back-and-forth behaviors we find described in the Three Modes of Communication.

Of course I agree that we need to project stories, etc. in the Star Sequence, but those big Smart Boards are a tragedy in a CI class for the reasons expressed above.

I like the small tables, because I think that only chairs is just too uncomfortable for our kids, unfortunately. They can’t handle it, most of them. Smaller sized tables provide a kind of emotional protective buffer that most socially-challenged kids need (so many of them now!), and yet if the tables are small enough you can get close enough to them to get good eye contact going, which is a must. My vote is always small tables.

It’s never too early to look at our seating charts each year and make those subtle changes that bring big changes.

Again, this is just what I prefer – no attempt is made to say it’s the right way, but in terms of the new Invisibles program, it’s definitely the best.

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8 thoughts on “Invisibles Question 1 – Seating Arrangements”

  1. Bonjour!
    Unfortunately, my classroom is square and the bookshelves are built in. So although I would love to use your schema, I can’t. What about tables seating students instead of desks? Would they work? Or do you think that going only with chairs is the way to go.
    Or could I pick the desks or tables in semi-circles having the students face me?
    Thanks.

  2. Square classroom are bad feng shui.

    Yes on the table seating because the desks are absolutely the worst, in that they take up so much room! Use anything but desks, unless you teach kids who need to be restrained, because that is the only value of desks, to be used as restraining devices in any classes that need them.

    I personally don’t like the chairs. Kids need something to put their arms on in class to keep them from becoming dangling distractors.

    If I were in a small square room with 37 kids, I would set up the smallest tables I could find and put all the kids behind them facing me.

    Do try to make the student jobs work, even w/o Hubs A-D. The student jobs, of all the aspects of the Invisibles, may be the most powerful aspect of my entire non-TPRS approach.

    Please keep us apprised of how this plays out in the fall.

  3. Thanks, Ben. I now need to contact my janitor to see what we have available.
    What are your thoughts about your Profe and other armchair location then? And would you still put the student actors on stools?
    I was thinking about having all students put their backpacks on a table with cellphones inside as they enter every day. The students would go to their tables. Should I have them pick up their name cards/with their favorite food and activity/ or have a student helper distribute them at the beginning of each period? A student would also distribute their composition books, etc and pencils as needed.(name?) as needed. I don’t want them to go back to their backpacks.
    Another question-we have district mandated textbooks? Do the students leave them at their homes or do I store in my classroom? I may need them for my French 2 and French 3 classes.
    For your classroom rules, would you mind creating document for parents explaining each rule so it is clear to them and the students what is expected of them that I could include in my syllabi? These written explanations would handy for me as a teacher to have on my desk when I explain the rules and need to re-explain to the students.
    Thanks as always.

  4. Armchairs – probably not unless they fit.
    Stools – yes. It’s about power. You stand, are the tallest. Actors sit on stools, next tallest. Students seated are lowest. It’s a nice power dynamic in your favor.
    Backpacks – my choice is back of the room near the door on the floor w phones off inside them like you said. Phone use only to ppl whose jobs require them, like timers. But I don’t use timers anymore. (Bogus. The kids who times doesn’t hear a word. I know that TPRS teachers like to make class competitions on who stayed in the TL longest that week, but the loss of five students, one from each class to time, is not justifiable. There they go lost in their phones.)
    With the cards in card talk – you have chosen during planning only one or two from the pile that is color coded per class and kept in the classroom always. Just pass out those – most of the time it’s only one card. Of course, not on Day 1 when they create the cards. Insist on high quality drawings. Never use a card that is not drawn as per the instructions given on that first day.
    Composition books kept in room. Only for dictee and free writes. Only handed out on days you use those activities. Never taken out of the room. This keeps them away from their backpacks and makes sure that you have the comp books for spring conferences, your opening salvo at each conference. I love how doing that makes the kid explain his work to his parents in the first minute of the meeting.
    I store the textbooks in the classroom. They just don’t use them. When we have something like the Invisibles, new meaning is given to the term, “bottom of the locker”.
    You WILL need the textbooks for your 2 and 3 classes. See:

    https://benslavic.com/blog/trying-it-with-levels-2-4/

    The document explaining my Classroom Rules – good idea. Could you use the text – just posted as an article here – from the Invisibles Supplements book? I’ll just post the entire supplement from the book on this topic. By the way there are nice sample letters for parents somewhere around here on this site. Maybe check the category labeled “parent conferences” to the right of the page here.

  5. One thing about the armchairs – there is nothing like having an admin in an armchair right next to your Profe 2 to whom you direct what are unintelligible questions to the admin and who answers cheerfully and with great confidence. It reverses the usual power dynamic and make the admin realize the extent of the talent in the room. They can’t go to the back of the room and suck air out of it. Who needs to test when the admin is floating in a sea of fun language? If the admin is a good person, they love the experience. If they are not, you will see the discomfort on their faces. This seating arrangement unmasks the true motives of the admin. Are they into kids learning, or into them being powerful? So if you can possibly fit the armchairs in, do so, because we can’t ask an admin to sit in the room next to you and students in a regular plastic chair without some kind of buffer.

    Sometimes the Profe 2 explains the story to the admin, which is very cool to watch.

  6. Alright, I have been told my custodial staff that there aren’t any small tables and chairs available for me so… what configuration would work with traditional classroom desks, placing the desks in groups of four, desks facing the front of the room with aisles between these sets of four desks?

    Also, you mentioned using classical music to calm the students, do you still recommend this? I have used mediation YouTube videos for 10 minutes at the beginning of class. What are your thoughts on this?
    Since level one students don’t have vocabulary to read at the beginning of the year, would using classical music, mediation videos, or… what at the beginning of the periods.

  7. I can’t say bc the old “cooperative learning” model of four desks together is so weak. It sets the kids apart from each other and little cliques happen. Seating charts are just something we each have to work out for our own classrooms.

    I don’t use the music anymore but you could use the classical music during FCR. I just stopped doing it but probably should not have. There are links somewhere on this site to selections w a 60 beat per minute time signature, usually the second movements of certain Baroque concertos, that slow their out-of-control brain waves (up to 26 crazy cycles per second when they come into our classrooms from the hormone filled hallways) down to 18 or 20 cps or so, which is where you want them for FVR and the class to follow. I would avoid the meditation videos bc I think that they take the cycles per second down too far for them to be fully engaged in your lesson after FCR.

    The 60 beats per second in the Baroque music slows their heart beat down from typically 72 to 60 which in turn lowers the brain waves down to 18 or 20 and this sets them up to have a good and rigorous class. Their brains are calm, not too wired, but not too far down near the alpha state of 14 cycles per second either.

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