Post by Liza Levenson


“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” -Gandhi

After a parent shared how transformative “Quiet” by Susan Cain was for her, I had to read it. As an extrovert, I was unsure how I would be able to relate to or understand this book. I am so glad that I picked it up! I know it has certainly made me consider and rethink many of the decisions I make in my classroom, relationships and conversations!

One of the major take-aways I’ve had from this book relates to the way I usually set up my classroom. Perhaps your fourth grader has filled you in that we reorganized to facilitate rows in our room rather than the group tables. In the book, Cain discusses that: “The New Groupthink has overtaken our workplaces, our schools and our religious institutions… Today, elementary school classrooms are commonly arranged in pods of desks, the better to foster group learning. Even subjects like math and creative writing are often taught as committee projects. In one fourth-grade classroom I visited in New York City, students engaged in group work were forbidden to ask a question unless every member of the group had the very same question.”

Cain cautions that this arrangement is not always best for learning, and in fact, may hinder some students’ creativity and independent thought. Citing many studies, she hypothesizes that by limiting students’ stimulation and exposure to others as they are working, they are more likely to be successful and productive. Cain posits, “Our schools should teach children to work with others, but also to work on their own for sustained periods of time.” As someone who particularly appreciates group work and collaborative learning, I think it is very important that we meet all students’ needs as best we can. For me, a classroom that is softly buzzing with chatter is comfortable and productive. However, there are many students (and adults!) for whom that environment would be unproductive and terribly distracting. Having the students sit in rows will hopefully be one way to allow them to have a sense of increased privacy and productivity that may not have been as easy while sitting in pods. Students will still frequently work in groups and with partners. However, in an attempt to meet all kids’ learning styles, we are going to give rows a chance for the next few weeks!

I have also spoken to the students about this seating change and the reason we are trying a different seating arrangement. I will be interested to see how they feel about it in a few weeks, after trying our new room arrangement. Click here to learn more about the Quiet Revolution.

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