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Local Student's View: School desks in neat rows actually hampers learning, development

From the column: "Students should be seated in groups around tables or desks instead. This would help children who are struggling through peer-to-peer learning and would make it easier for teachers to connect with students."

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Social anxiety is only getting worse. Every year, the number of those with social anxiety goes up, especially amongst children 13-18, according to the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Greater than 9% of adolescents now have social anxiety, with 1.3% severely impaired.

So, what are schools doing to help?

Having students sit in single or, sometimes, double rows of desks isn’t helping. Students should be seated in groups around tables or desks instead. This would help children who are struggling through peer-to-peer learning and would make it easier for teachers to connect with students. Group sitting also would help students make friends and learn social and connections skills. Some say it leads to distractions and makes it easier for students to cheat, but these are not valid arguments because both are easy to control.

I’m a senior in high school, and one thing I noticed throughout my school years has been teachers fearful of students cheating. I suspect that’s why they don’t allow table seating. Why do teachers fear cheating so much? Why do students need to cheat? If teachers are effective, students should know everything on their tests. Tests aren’t supposed to be hard or tricky; that's what classwork is for. Tests are to show what students know. To ward against cheating, tests can be put into folders or students can be spread out. The fear of cheating on a test should not be a reason to forbid table seating.

Schools have raise-your-hand-to-talk and no-talking-when-the-teacher-is-talking rules. So the idea of table seating causes many to think, “distractions.” I think, “brainstorms.” Struggling students don’t like to raise their hands to ask questions and struggle more by not asking their questions. In a table-sitting arrangement, they can ask their peers questions. What some may think are distractions are really students helping each other.

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The ability to talk to other students while at school is something that doesn’t happen much, and it makes it harder for students to learn. Working with others is something everyone has to do in the real world at some point. Table sitting allows students to practice teamwork and other skills that will be needed in their futures.

According to the peer-to-peer advocacy group Peersdom , peer-to-peer education is used at prestigious universities like Harvard. Also, peer learning creates more confidence and independence, leading to improved grades. With table seating, students use peer-to-peer learning to help one another.

What I experienced in traditional classrooms with single-row desk layouts is that it could take whole class periods for teachers to answer students’ questions. In table classrooms, teachers make fewer stops because there are fewer places to stop. There also are fewer questions because of peer learning, giving teachers more time to help students who are struggling. Being able to stop at one table to talk to four to six students at a time and seeing every student in the hour helps teachers connect with all students, much more so than in traditional classrooms.

Better student-to-teacher and student-to-student connections make school a more joyful place for students and teachers alike, leading to superior communications and social skills. And those are skills needed in everyone’s lives. The Graduate Management Admission Council, an international nonprofit of business schools headquartered in the state of Virginia, found that communications skills are among the most important to employers and in workforces. Teamwork also rated high.

Table seating empowers students with strong communications and social skills. Such skills can lead to lower social anxiety among students. Table seating also can help form strong teacher-to-student and student-to-student connections. These connections can help form skills that employers are looking for and need. This gives students like me a firm foundation when entering the workforce. This seating arrangement gives the ability for struggling students to have help right next to them — along with learning teamwork.

Taking away desks and making tables mandatory in schools would help students like me excel in life.

Emma Seeley is a senior at Grand Rapids High School.

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Emma Seeley

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