Big in the world of consumerism and key players in the field of human interactions and Operation Namingsharpening strategy, board games can test the limits of thinking and creativity – all for a desired outcome.  When I think of the board games I have played, I come to the conclusion that they helped me to focus on specific things.  Othello – inputting my move and then changing tactic if the strategy wasn’t working.  Monopoly – buying one of everything (yes, we’ve all done it) but if your strategic thinking doesn’t tap into the potential to control other monopolies or using the property to make trades, then it’s futile.

As teachers, every day is filled with strategic thinking.  As fruitful conversations between neuro scientists and teaching and learning experts continue, pedagogical strategies are enhanced and teaching practice is sharpened.  Dual coding, the learning curve and cognitive load theory continue to make headway in departmental schemes of work and classroom practice – each with its own purpose and goal orientated potential.  Strategies are selected and activities planned to optimise student learning which are then reflected on, adjusted, repeated or re-thought dependent on the outcome.

Seating plans and knowing the names of students play their part too.  Mentally take the ceiling off your teaching space and look down on the layout.  Imagine one of your classes sat in their places.  Now reflect.  Is it a game of ‘Frustration’ or ‘Sorry’ – leaving the room after the lesson with the gut feeling that pupils need to be moved or is it more of a ‘Guess Who?’ Is it a finely tuned strategic system of support, creating connections to encourage, grow ideas and plan for progress?  Classrooms are busy places and the more we do to help keep our eye on the students we teach, the easier it is to read the warning signs if things start to head towards the wrong track.  Seating plans can be strategic; how the tables and chairs are set out (e.g. lectures – rows, group work – cluster tables) and who sits next to who and why – both influencing classroom climate and the academic and social development of students.

I am sure I am not alone when I confess that I find it a challenge to remember names.  ITT encourages the learning of names to build relationships and set a climate for learning that oozes high expectations, understanding and is part and parcel of building routines – and rightly so.  Learning names of students has been promoted as exclusive practice, and has been highlighted by educational voices as a basic student right.   According to psychological science, remembering proper names is notoriously more difficult relative to other types of words.  Conclusions reveal that visual concepts as well as other person specific information can work interactively in the name recalling process.  Bring in a bit of recall naturally created through class timetabling and names stick one by one (quickly for some and at a steadier pace for others).

Asking ourselves questions about and reflecting on our seating plans keeps educational goals in sight.  Place yourself in the shoes of your students – can seating arrangements be justified and on the basis of educational goals?  As I reflect on the latter question, operation naming would be one of my first goals at the start of a school year – research on the academic correlation between learned names and academic achievement is sparse, but there is concluded evidence that knowing names builds immediacy with students and positively impacts on student experience.

Turn Distance into Direction

September brings ‘operation naming’ and once this is underway, it’s time to start attaching other key components.

  1. Know the high fliers, the challengers and those that could slip under the radar. Identify the learning leaders and those whose learning can be further enhanced through peer to peer support.
  2. Start fast and think strategically when tweaking seating plans.
  3. Know the ‘terrain’. Alongside your other classroom roles, you are the watchtower.  Knowing your students helps in decision making and can turn distance into direction.
  4. Strategic board games have rules – schools have behaviour policies. Behaviour policies keep expectations clear and support in the decision making process, which in turn keeps priorities in focus and objectives in sight.
  5. If the seating plan isn’t working – change it.

Confucius once said “when it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, adjust the action steps.”  Now I can’t say I am a proficient player of Monopoly.  If I can’t buy a full set and place three houses on it its game over (I’ve never been one for buying up the waterworks or electricity board.)  But when you are invested in making a difference, when you are in a privileged position of making a positive change in the lives of the students you teach, then knowing names and embracing a strategic use of seating plans begins to take on a whole different meaning.  Don’t you think?