Do We Really Have to Move? Getting Students out of Their Seats

Do We Really Have to Move? Getting Students out of Their Seats

Many teaching strategies today involve having students get up from their desks, circulate, and interact with their peers.

This trend is due to a change in teaching philosophy and recognition that many people, especially children, have a hard time sitting still for hours on end, listening to the instructor, and taking notes. Therefore, different learning strategies have been incorporated to allow for some moving around and interacting during a class session. Many learners, however, especially adult learners, are resistant to this, for a number of reasons. Many adults simply have some physical limitations, such as joint or lower back pain, that preclude a lot of jumping around. Constant moving around and talking to one’s peers is also against the very nature of what many adults have learned throughout their lives what education is: to sit still and pay attention to the teacher. Finally, there is that segment of the population that actually does learn best by listening, taking notes, and reflecting quietly on course concepts. All of these factors should be taken into consideration when completely changing teaching methodology, and some instruction should be left in the traditional teacher-lectures/student-takes-notes variety. That said, there are a number of valid reasons and strategies for getting students up and moving around and interacting with their peers.

Reasons for a More Movement-and-Student-Oriented Class

In moving from the more traditional lecture model, the class becomes more “student-centered,” as it is called in the profession: when the focus moves from the teacher at the front of the class to the students at its center. At the same time, the focus almost inevitably shifts from the students sitting still and listening to the students getting up and interacting. There are a number of valid reasons for this change in focus that follow.

Reasons for the More Interactive, Student-Centered Class

  1. 1

    More Activity, Less Falling Asleep

    By its very nature, the interactive, student-centered classroom is more active than the traditional lecture-based class. Probably all but the most dedicated students and former students among us can plead guilty to having nodded off during a lecture. However, as opposed to sitting in a desk, it is virtually impossible to fall asleep when talking to peer or walking around the room, interacting with peers, taking notes on their ideas, and sharing your own work. There is more mental and physical activity involved in the more interactive classroom.

  2. 2

    More Variety in Class Activities

    Also by its very nature, the interactive classroom has more activities to choose from. In the traditional lecture-based classroom the choices of class activities are limited. Lecture with notes or PowerPoint slides? Use the white board or overhead projector? Pull up visuals on the internet or not? However, there are many more choices in the student-centered classroom: beyond discussion, students can also do surveys in the form of circulating the room and interviewing each other; work on mini-research projects together, and share ideas on more complex readings, bringing their individual interpretations to the group.

  3. 3

    Different Types of Interaction: Pairs, Groups, Student-Student, Student-Teacher

    Besides offering more varied activities, the student-centered classroom offers more possibilities for student groupings. While in a traditional lecture-based class the major or only interaction is essentially teacher-student, in the student-centered classroom students can work in pairs to complete a simple exercise such as a set of questions related to a reading, to larger groups for peer review of essays or research projects.

  4. 4

    More Practice of Speaking Skills/Course Content

    The student-centered classroom has been popular in ESL classes for years because of the possibility of more language practice. While in a traditional lecture-based language class, the student may be called on only once or twice a class session to speak in English, in a student-centered class the majority of class time may be spent using English as it is likely to be the only language the students share.

  5. 5

    More Critical Thinking

    More critical, analytical thinking is also possible in a student-centered class as students interact, share different perspectives, problem-solve together, and then reflect on those processes.

5 Simple Methods for Getting Students out of Their Seats

  1. Because this kind of interactive, student-centered classroom is against the very nature of what many students have learned all of their lives what schooling is, the instructor may have to make some effort to get students to get up and move around.

  2. 1

    Discuss Reasons for More Interaction, Less Sitting Still

    When changing teaching styles, or introducing a new one, there should be some discussion with students about the reason behind the change: in this case, more student participation, more interaction and practice of language skills, and so forth. Students should also be allowed to express their own concerns with the change. A typical one I hear related to the student-centered ESL classroom is that students don’t want to work with peers who are “making the same mistakes” in English—and this concern could be echoed in other subject areas, as well, that other students by definition don’t have the teacher’s expertise. Recognize this concern but emphasize the role of one’s peers is to practice and offer support and general feedback, and that extended explanation and correction is indeed the role of the teacher.

  3. 2

    Make Interaction Optional Although Continuing to Encourage It

    In general, big changes should be introduced gradually. Because many students are still not so familiar with the student-centered classroom, the instructor can begin by incorporating group work several times a week. Those students who are really resistant to the idea should be allowed to continue working individually while being encouraged to join a group.

  4. 3

    Offer Extra Credit for Those Students Who Partake in Group Work More

    Along the lines of making group work optional is offering extra credit to those students who do participate. This will draw in all but the most resistant students.

  5. 4

    Make Accommodations. Have Students Who Can Move Go to Those Who Can’t

    Again, it should be recognized that not all students can so easily move around the room. For those students who might have mobility issues, have the group come to their portion of the room rather than having the student move.

  6. 5

    Discuss Student Experiences with Group Work and Circulating the Room

    After each activity involving group work, reflect with students on the value of group work, how it did or did not help them, advantages and disadvantages, etc. Students can also write out their reflections anonymously if they so wish.

Getting students out of their seats and interacting can be challenging because of the law of inertia—both literally and figuratively. Often students find it a real physical challenge to get up and circulate with their peers, but there is a more figurative inertia in the form of many years of habit and expectations within the classroom. However, through discussing the purpose, rewarding those who participate, and offering alternatives to those who do not, the teacher can help her students reap the benefits of the student-centered, interactive class.

What are some ways you create a more interactive class?

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