A desk-less classroom can be a scary idea, but I decided to try it out because there were a few things I disliked about desks. Students can easily hide food or toys in their desks to play with during a lesson, the desk compartments get messy, and most arrangements used every inch of my floor-space. I wondered if substituting tables for desks could help eliminate these problems.
In addition, I wanted to do a lot of group projects, particularly in Science class. Tables make it easier to set up experiments and allow students to work together. I also felt it could help in my multi-grade classroom. When my aide pulled 5th grade out for certain subjects, tables would let me move all my 4th grade students together easily.
When I made the change, the classroom felt much more spacious with only 6 tables instead of 25 clunky desks. I had a couple of small tables and one student desk in the corners for times when a student felt they needed to sit alone. I also had privacy partitions that students could place at their table to prevent distraction. Occasionally I did have to move students to different tables, just like in a desk classroom, but I only had to move a name tag instead of moving a heavy desk.
Losing desk storage space did mean that I had to provide a new space for storing supplies. To cut down on storage, we had community supplies instead of personal supplies. Each table had a basket of pencils, crayons, scissors, and erasers. Small bookshelves and plastic sliding drawers worked well for storing textbooks and notebooks. Although students had to leave their table to grab their books, which took time, it gave students an opportunity to stand up and move around. The table group was in charge of keeping the pencils sharpened and the table area neat. I also gave students incentives for keeping their area clean. My classroom stayed much cleaner with tables than it ever did with desks!
One issue that concerned me was the amount of talking that table groups allow. I felt like I was setting my students up for social time instead of learning time. To prevent this problem, we practiced scenarios so they knew the signs that I needed their attention and they learned when they could talk and when they needed to be silent. Although group projects could get quite loud, classroom echo responses worked well to get their attention.
I expected that at some point I would no longer find tables enjoyable or workable in my classroom. Instead I continued to enjoy them throughout the year. I am glad that I had the courage and support to try using tables. Tables may not be a good fit for all classrooms, but they can be a good option. If you are not entirely happy with classroom desks, don’t be afraid to try something different! You may be pleasantly surprised.