About four weeks into school I decided to change the classroom set-up and pushed all the desks against the walls in the back and side of the room. The photo on the left is how the room looks when I leave for the day. When the first class of students enters in the morning, they retrieve their chairs that are stored under & on top of the desks for the evening (to make it easier for the evening staff to clean), and put the chairs in the assigned spots where their desks used to be.
Why did I think it was a good idea to eliminate desks? For starters, I have two level 1 classes, one level 2 class, and one level 4 class. A great deal of time in the lower levels is spent on telling/asking stories, adding details to the stories, and reading. None of these things require a desk.
Secondly, my experience has been that the students are more engaged in the class without the desks and things they would normally put on their desk that have the potential to distract them. Another benefit: no desks means none of the students have their heads down on the desk during class.
My Spanish 4 class only has 16 students, so that is a small enough number for us to form a circle with the chairs, or a semi-circle if I plan to write on the board or use the interactive projector.
What was the students' reaction? The first day they thought it was odd, funny, or maybe a bit cool. As the days went by I thought I might encounter some resistance and complaining, but that hasn't been the case. It could be that the students enjoy the setting because it is different than their other classes. I like it because it feels more conversational and comfortable. From time to time a student will ask me when I'm going to put the desks back, then I answer, "at the end of the semester", and they have no additional questions.
When students sketch a story or sketch what happens next in a story, or take a quiz or exam, or write the 3 new structures or vocabulary for the lesson in their notebooks, they use a clipboard which was generously donated by Mark Hershey Farms, a local business in the community. (Some day I need to buy a milk crate to store them, but until then they're kept in the cardboard box.)
For the second semester, when I'll have completely new classes, I'll go back to the traditional arrangement of desks in groups of 2, in rows, facing forward. After I have the chance to get to know the students, and they understand the expectations of the class, I'll go back to no desks.
This arrangement is similar to what I did last spring, but the students still worked at the desks when they worked in groups from time to time. This semester, the only time the desks are used, by a few, is during formal assessments.