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Classroom organisation and display

What would your ideal MFL classroom organisation and display be like?

Firstly, how about the spatial arrangement of the classroom?

There has been research into this. For example (MacAuley, 1990 - "Classroom Environment: a literature review").

"Seating children in rows facilitates on-task behaviour and academic learning; whereas more open arrangements, such as clusters, facilitate social exchanges among students."

No surprises there.

Having experimented over the years with tables facing the front, group tables and horse shoes, I believe tables facing the front works best. This arrangement discourages inappropriate talking and helps students focus on you. Tables can easily be moved for group work or just moved to the edge of the class if you need an open space. For smaller groups, for example A-level where class control is barely an issue, I would move the tables into a horse shoe pattern to facilitate discussion and good listening habits.

As far as display is concerned, David Didau in his Learning Spy blog has explored this in a little detail. He asks: "So, what is the point of classroom display? Most people would readily agree that it should support students’ learning. If it fails this uncontroversial test, should we tear it down?" Fair point. There has also been research which suggests that over-elaborate displays can distract young children.

At secondary level, I doubt very much whether research could help us much on this one. Here are my thoughts on it. I try to justify each in terms of student learning.

  • If you have enough room at the front have a large map of the main target language country. You can refer to it quite often when locating places or when teaching points of the compass or geographical features like mountains and rivers. It's also handy for those conversations with pupils who can tell you where they've been or when you want to explain where you are going on a school trip or exchange.
  • I would keep a large area for displaying student work which, ideally, would be refreshed every few weeks. Students can assist with this job at lunchtime. Younger students probably value their work being displayed more than older ones. The pay-off in terms of progress may be a little more motivation and the fact that children can (and do) read each others work. More comprehensible input. Every little helps!
  • If space allows have some simple classroom phrases displayed at the front. I am talking about the set phrases students may want to use, such as "May I go to the toilet?" Or "How do you say...?" These, although not linguistically very productive in terms of transferable language, do help create the target language environment you want. They send out a message.
  • If space allows I would display some posters of target language country places of interest. These have cultural, general knowledge value and may stimulate a student's interest and imagination.
  • I would generally avoid displays of verb tables etc. You can always have these as laminated mats on students' desks. I would also avoid displays of level descriptors unless it is the school's policy to have them displayed. I doubt whther such displays further student progress. You might even argue that displaying verb tables makes studenst too dependent on them.
  • I would have the clock at the back of the room. You can see it, but the students cannot clock watch.This should help concentration and set the right tone.
  • I would have some motivational message in the target language on the door. "On parle fran├žais ici" is fine. Again, this s to set the target language tone.
  • Why not seek out interesting from the foreign country? Food or drink containers are good. These have cultural value and can also be used to teach vocabulary and grammar.
As a final point, although teachers are very busy and may not get the time to refresh displays, they do set a tone. If they are tired or dog-eared they may, at the very margins, set the wrong tone for students entering the space.

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