Every classroom is made up of diverse learners with diverse needs who exhibit diverse behaviors and contain a diverse set of skills.
It can be incredibly challenging to plan and create an environment that sets each student up to be successful. One thing you as a teacher can do is structure the classroom environment to support each student’s needs. This can be done by minimizing classroom distractions and developing plans to promote academic and behavioral success.
The physical layout of the classroom has a significant impact on student learning. One key consideration when examining or planning for the physical classroom environment is the seating arrangement. From the position of the teachers’ desk to the location of the most behaviorally challenged student, seating arrangements have a direct impact on educational environments. All students can be successful when we create educational environments that work for them!
Creating a classroom seating chart helps facilitate classroom management at a systems level. By creating a seating chart, you are providing a stable classroom environment in which students know and understand the daily routines and rituals. Providing students with a consistent seat assignment allows more for independence in class preparation and prevents confusion and chaos during transition. This can also help to minimize disagreements between students, which can often arise when it is left up to them to determine who will sit where.
Common behavioral needs of students that can be supported through considerate placement include:
- Students that are easily distracted. These students may be easily distracted by various stimuli around the classroom or by peers.
- Students who struggle to see. It is important that students are not only able to see the board but the teacher as well. If you are an educator that commonly rotates throughout the classroom, ensure you are making yourself easily visible and audible to all students.
- Students that engage in aggressive behaviors. Whether students are engaging in destructive behaviors or aggression towards peers, these students often require additional attention. It is important that students who practice these types of behaviors are placed with careful thought. Considerations when deciding where to place these students should include access to peers, access to school property, proximity to the teacher, classroom barriers, an opportunity for student supports and/or reinforcement.
- Students that leave a designated area without permission. When placing students who elope it is important to determine why the student is eloping, where the student is eloping to, and common triggers for elopement. A student eloping from their desk to the reading nook or computer seating may look very different than a student who elopes out of the classroom without cause.
- Student friend groups. Seating students in class next to some of their friends can provide motivation and support, but it may also cause distractions. Determining seating arrangements with friends often requires individualized considerations.
- Students that struggle to get along. It is not uncommon for students in a class to disagree, but it is not productive if certain students commonly engage in destructive behaviors when they are required to work together. Use the seating chart as an opportunity to introduce new classmates and encourage teamwork rather than repair relationships. These types of amendments can be accomplished during social occasions throughout the day such as recess or specials.
In addition to the behavioral and routine component of developing a seating chart, it provides the teacher with an opportunity to place students in a physical location that will allow them to be more successful academically.
Common academic needs that can be supported through considerate placement include:
- Students that require frequent work checks. Many students require considerable attention to successfully complete academic work. This may be a result of distractions and/or frequent errors. Placement for these students should be supported by minimal distractions, close monitoring, and regular feedback.
- Students who consistently struggle with academic performance. Similar to students who require more frequent work checks, these students benefit from placement that encourages increased participation and close monitoring.
- Students who can act as academic models for struggling performers. Placing academically proficient students next to those who are struggling allow the stronger performers to act as role models. At some point in time, we’ve all learned from watching someone else. Students can learn a lot from seeing numerous examples of correct responses.
- Student grouping that supports collaborative growth. Placing strong students with strong students and struggling students with other struggling students not only poses academic concerns but crosses boundaries when examining equitable classroom practices. Physical student placement within the classroom should support all learners. This can be done by placing students who exhibit a range of performance levels together. This allows students who have mastered the skills being practiced to act as models for those who require additional practice and feedback. It is important, however, never to rely solely on students to teach other students.
Using Seating Arrangements to Promote Student Success: Avoiding Punishment
Challenging behaviors are not a new obstacle for educators. Every year, teachers face students who exhibit diverse challenging behaviors, from frequent speak outs to physical aggression. Challenging behaviors can disrupt classroom learning and take away from students who are ready and eager to participate. It is no secret that these behaviors need to be addressed through intervention, but it is imperative to the long-term success of each student that seating charts are not used as a form of punishment for students who exhibit more defiant behaviors. It is possible, through careful planning, to minimize or eliminate seating at the back of the classroom.
While it is common for teachers to request that students who are engaging in challenging behaviors go sit in the back of the room, this practice often results in the opposite of what is trying to be accomplished. Sending students to the back of the room frequently means easier access to reinforcers and the ability to act as a distraction to other students. Placing these students at the front of the classroom can help minimize overstimulation and promote increased participation. Many of the challenging behaviors in the classroom are the result of not knowing or understanding what is being taught. By placing these students at the back of the room, educators are encouraging a vicious cycle, whereas placing these students in the front and offering help can go a long way toward resolving the problem.
Chandra Williams, Ed.D. has worked in various senior leadership positions such as the state director of curriculum and instruction, chief academic officer, director of second opportunity schools, school turnaround principal, special education teacher, and clinical social worker.
The Center For Student Achievement Solutions provides technical assistance, professional development, and coaching support to create schools and classroom environments that are equitable and inclusive.