Ideal Seating Arrangements for the Sign Language Classroom [Infographic]
In college-level settings, stadium seating is common even though it minimizes student-student communication and supports a teacher-centric, “sage on the stage” environment (Yale, n.d., para. 4). Sadly, even the classrooms may be built with permanent seating in partial arcs which inhibit a teacher from molding a room to match the needs of their students and the approach of the course. This paper will compare and contrast three types of seating arrangements and discuss my preference within the context of college sign language instruction.
Pairs. When teaching hearing students in ecclesiastical settings, this author has utilized pair seating to create an anxiety-friendly classroom environment. Students who are not comfortable in group settings can discuss with their seatmates without any of the pressure of responding to the group at large. By pairing outgoing students with anxious students, I have found that the outgoing students are eager to share the good ideas expressed by their more shy classmates. After all, “the buddy system” calms students with anxiety as “less structured situations” such as large groups “can trigger anxious feelings” (Hurley, 2018).
Groups. Another anxiety-friendly seating arrangement is to put students in pre-determined groups. A cluster of four desks facing each other allows for seamless group discussion and provides students with anxiety with structured social experiences (Renard, 2019). I remember enjoying pre-determined group seating when I was a young student as this structure avoided cliques working together and did not embarrass students who were not selected to be in any particular group.
Circle. A seating option that can foster large group discussion is circular seating. If chairs are facing the center of the circle, students can see each other clearly. A teacher can take a seat in the circle to nurture open discussion or stand in the center to maintain a semblance of control.
Unlike when teaching using spoken languages, line-of-sight is a fundamental consideration for teachers who teach in manual languages. Students must be able to clearly see the teacher and every other student in the classroom to be able to participate fully. While pair seating is anxiety-friendly and allows for spoken discussion between students, sitting side-by-side is not conducive for students signing to each other; they need space to easily communicate. Group seating provides this space for students to sign with each other, but in contrast, blocks line-of-sight for students trying to see the teacher or, especially, when attempting to do classroom wide discussions in the sign language classroom. Circular seating supports classroom wide discussions without blocking the line-of-sight, however, it may create angst for students who need private space to function or struggle with being looked at. This seating may also inhibit small group or partnership discussion as it is, again, difficult for students sitting next to each other to find the space to communicate in sign. Teachers using sign language would not be able to stand in the center of the circle, due to line-of-sight, and would need to sit at one end of the circle (perhaps losing their part of their veneer of control as a result).
For these reasons, I prefer semi-arc seating with desks angled towards the center for sign language classrooms. Semi-arc seating with space between each seat allows students to see the teacher clearly and see each other clearly for classroom discussions. The teacher can easily pair students up in the semi-circle allowing for smaller group work. Semi-arc seating only works when there are a low number of students in the classroom so the ideal seating for larger groups would be u-shape seating around the perimeter of the classroom (with chairs pointed towards the center) or perhaps two semi-arcs with a large space between the two (again, with chairs pointed towards the center) to allow for at least large group discussions in each semi-arc. Both seating arrangements enable students to see the majority of what their peers are signing while still allowing for a teacher to take point when needed.
Hurley, K. (2018, September 26). Classroom Accommodations to Help the Anxious Child at School. https://www.psycom.net/classroom-help-anxious-child-at-school/
Renard, L. (2019, December 19). 19 Classroom seating arrangements fit for your teaching. https://www.bookwidgets.com/blog/2019/12/19-classroom-seating-arrangements-fit-for-your-teaching
Yale. (n.d.) Classroom Seating Arrangements. https://poorvucenter.yale.edu/ClassroomSeatingArrangements