Creating a Sanctuary in a Busy Classroom


Trial layout of classroom – tables grouped to accommodate from 2 – 8 pupils


Usual layout of the classroom – tables arranged in rows with wide gaps away from the walls on both sides

As they are finishing their Controlled Assessment on Of Mice and Men, I continue to reflect on the small change that I have made to help this group of driven young people thrive. I want to create an oasis of tranquility in an otherwise high-pressure, high-energy and fast-paced classroom. Oxymoronic fantasy? You don’t know until you try it.

After my previous experiment with a more imaginative arrangement of the desks into tables of various sizes and shapes to maximise collaborative and dialogic learning, my thoughts turned to those quiet students who found a busy classroom an intimidating space and solitary work more productive. Typically, these students would be seated in one corner of the classroom, away from any attention from their peers.

In addition to tables sitting 4 – 8 students, I set aside one side of my room to accommodate a row of desks as the “quiet corner”. The desks were pushed against the wall under the window facing west. I had one student on my mind who might opt to work alone staring into the middle distance which comprised of titled roof tops and a line of tree behind.


“Quiet Corner” – single tables allowing students flexibility to work independently or in pairs

After the usual gasps of pleasant surprise and eager enquiries about the new seating arrangement, the students quickly formed into friendship groups. To my surprise, my target student (diagnosed with Autism and had found group work incredibly uncomfortable last year) actually chose to sit at the biggest table with seven other boys and girls.

Instead, unexpectedly, a couple of girls chose to sit at one end of the “quiet corner”, one other boy sat on his own, and another couple of girls settled at the single table at the end of the “quiet corner”, facing the back wall.

“A room with a view” – the bright outlook from the student’s perspective

Apart from some “teaching” at the start of each lesson for the 3 lessons, they were given the freedom to organise their own learning. They were even allowed to listen to music. Typical learning activities observed included: accessing recommended study guides websites such as BBC Bitesize, SparkNotes and Shmoop; researching other learning resources on the Internet; discussing, planning and drafting, etc. As the students worked independently, I was able to engage with individuals or a small group to offer additional explanation, advice, guidance and discussion.

What I am interested in finding out are firstly, whether or not the over arrangement was appreciated; whether or not a “quiet corner” was useful (if yes, further study may be needed to ascertain in exactly what way it is useful); whether or not such arrangement is only suitable to the nature of the work that we were doing; which learning activities were the most beneficial; their personal response to being given the “freedom” to organise their own learning; and finally, if there is any correlation between the table approach to the outcomes of their Controlled Assessment?

To find out how my latest experiment has been received and its impact on my students’ learning, a questionnaire has been emailed to the group to complete. However, when asked how they liked working in groups before they left the room at the end of their Controlled Assessment, the positive response was unanimous. The “quiet corner”? Less so. I shall analysis the feedback when it has been collated.


About W. S. Lien

Tweed Wearer - Country Lover - Teacher Researching Professionalism and Identity@Clare College, Cambridge - Keen Amateur Photographer - Devotee to Poppy my Labrador
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