Making Curriculum Pop

Excellent narrative in Rethinking Schools about a teacher who used classroom furniture to discuss "power, pedagogy, and their relationship to physical and symbolic capital." The full article is only available to subscribers but FWIW if you don't subscribe to RS it is a must read.

You Are Where You Sit • Uncovering the Lessons of Classroom Furniture
By Tom Mckenna

Two excerpts:

I teach humanities at Portland Youth Builders, a high school completion school in one of Portland’s poorest neighborhoods. Normally, the chairs in my class are arranged in a large circle. This day, I arrange the chairs in rows. Students walk in the door, stop suddenly, look at me, and ask, “What’s this all about?”

I ask them to take a seat and offer no explanation for our newly arranged room. I take attendance and ask if anyone has any thoughts they want to share before we start class.

Delia says: “I don’t like this. I have to turn around to see who’s talking. Can we change the chairs back to the way they usually are, please?”

I ask how other students feel about sitting in rows. Eric says: “I don’t like it either. It feels like school.”

A chorus of “Yeah, I don’t like it” affirms Delia and Eric’s comments.

“OK, let’s change the chairs around. But I want you to talk about various classroom seating arrangements when we make the change.” I hold up architectural drawings of five different classroom arrangements to illustrate what I want them to discuss. “We are going to divide into small groups, each group is going to get one of these drawings, and I am going to ask you to talk about some of the implications of classroom furniture arrangements.”


I put the students into five small groups and give each group an architectural drawing of a different classroom design. I give group one a drawing of chairs in rows; group two, chairs in a circle; group three, chairs in a forum arrangement; group four, chairs in groups of four; and group five, chairs facing the wall as one might find in a computer lab.

I ask each group to answer the following questions about their respective classroom arrangement:
•What does your arrangement suggest about student-student relationships in the classroom?
•What does it suggest about teacher-student relations?
•What does it suggest about how learning occurs?
•What does it suggest about power?
•How do you feel when you find yourself seated in your respective arrangement?

The first part of the article is available here plus they do allow you to sample a few articles if you register. 

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