But in Turkey we can’t do it like that…

I consider myself a very calm and patient person.  Some may say laid back, but occasionally the feet paddling furiously under the water take over the whole swan.

At the beginning of our course in Antalya, there was a definite theme of ‘but in Turkey it doesn’t work like that…’ or ‘but you don’t understand, in Turkey we can’t do that…’.  A discussion on moving classroom furniture into groups was no exception.  This had been an ongoing topic through several of our sessions as we tried to convince the participants of the merits of group work.

I think the last straw was probably when one participant told me that they couldn’t change the furniture round in their classroom as they share the room with other teachers and their colleagues would complain.

I tried to reason that my children in England moved the furniture around all the time when I needed to have a big floor space or needed them all sitting in a circle.

To no avail.

The answer came back that the children would take too long to move the furniture.  I agreed that they would need training, but again, my example of my own class where the children had been trained to move the furniture in a very short space of time, fell on deaf ears.

Like any good teacher I like to think that I change my tack when things aren’t working, so faced with the wall of disbelief that it could be done, I decided that a practical example was needed.

I chose a YouTube video of the BBC News music that lasted two minutes.  It is great music, as it has a very clear end-point that the music builds up to and the children get a sense of urgency (especially when it is played at full blast in my classroom!).  I then asked the women’s group to move all the tables from rows into groups as soon as the music started, while I videoed the ‘action’.  It was just like a birthday party from thirty-five years ago when we played musical chairs.

I started the music.

The women leaped into action and moved all the tables into groups.

They sat down.

The music was stopped.

Twenty seconds.

But one example isn’t enough.  I then asked them to move the tables back into the plenary style layout we had started with.  The music was restarted, and a further 25 seconds of chaos ensued.  Everyone had a purpose though, and everyone was involved.

Forty-five seconds.

The best part of this was that I had the video to show to other participants.  Now armed with my clips and an answer for the anticipated questions or issues that would be raised, I showed the video to the participants.  I conceded that it may take a little longer than forty-five seconds for the children to move the furniture, but I also pointed out that there were only eleven participants rather than a class-full.  I also conceded that it would take some training, but the participants all agreed that even two minutes of class time used for moving the furniture would be worth the gain from the added interaction the students would get with each other.

So the participants learnt that they could move their tables during a lesson and have them back to ‘Victorian-style’ at the end so as not to upset their colleagues.  They also got to see the power of video as a teaching tool, the power of music as a driving force for activity and had something tangible they could take back to their school to show colleagues and administrators and other nay-sayers.

The final two parts to the suite of videos included a video of row-based questioning (and hands-up) in a traditional style, juxtaposed with group based discussion to show the improvement in talk that the grouped arrangement of desks allowed for.  The participants could then clearly see the benefits of planning for student-student interaction, as they could see the number of ideas and amount of speaking it generated compared with their traditional style classroom.

I knew I had met my objective when during individual feedback at the end of the course the initial ‘but in Turkey…’ participant said that he was going to show his colleagues back at school how they could arrange their desks.