Every term classroom teachers wrestle with class lists to figure out the best combination of learners. Does this time spent benefit pupils or is it just to make us feel conscientious? I don’t seem to remember seating plans when I was at school, we would arrive at our first lesson of the day after the holidays and my teacher would shout boy girl boy girl and that was the seating plan for the year. But a badly planned classroom can lead to chaos, right? Or can an effective classroom management combat any seating combination? I would like to think that I could foster a classroom where despite seating arrangements pupils are able to focus without distractions. The truth is that this is not the case for many lessons so teachers need an arsenal of techniques to bring out the best in every child.
Lesson plans can be very useful to plan where pupils with different needs can sit to best access equipment, receive support from teaching assistants and not be distracted by any disagreements with others outside of the classroom. Bridging the gap between pupils receiving free school meals (FSM) and those who do not, is a high priority in all state schools. With this in mind, classroom teachers are often recommended to mark down who receives FSM on their seating plans. Apparently, this exercise helps teachers identify FSM pupils and target intervention to them. This is a sticky topic because all children should be treated fairly however we are not fully doing our job if we are not breaking down any barriers to learning for all children. This information on a lesson plan could remind you to leave a pen on the desk of a pupil who you know has no equipment.
How can we use a seating plan to embed innovative teaching?
I openly admit I often do not create a seating plan, instead I decide as they enter on the first lesson and adapt accordingly. However, after facing low level disruption from a difficult class I saw no harm in spending extra time thinking about seating arrangements. In doing so, I realised I could be very creative with my seating plan and even use it to embed new routines.
Creating a grid from 1-30 with colour coded numbers (eg. 1,6,11,16,21,26, 30 all red) and numbering each chair or desk in the room can be a strategic way to organise the class. Using numbers in the seating plan can aid group work, pair work and discussions. When setting up a group task you can ask for colour groups, multiples of a certain number or tables. This can also improve questioning; raffle tickets or lollipop sticks could be used to ask random questions in class. Numbers can even be used when collecting work, checking assessments or entering data. Competitions can be used in class to motivate learners and reward them.
Tailoring the layout
The classroom layout plays a big part in the management of the lesson. By setting out desks in squares pupils are always able to cooperate with others. The teacher can ask pupils to work with their shoulder partners (the person next to them) or face partners (the person in front). This layout aids Kagan tasks such as Think, Pair, Share which can be great collaborative starters to a topic. Alternatively creating a classroom in more of a horse-shoe can create a great space to have whole class discussion and for hot-seating (pretending to be a character from a text and getting the learners to ask you questions). There are benefits to various different layouts however spending some time to think about the best layout for you can really pay off and improve the culture in your classroom.
Let them decide!
To encourage a collaborative classroom culture and make learners feel important it is a great idea to ask for their feedback about the best seating plan. Some teachers allow pupils to pick one person to sit with to help them create a seating plan. Pupils are then expected to work hard in that arrangement otherwise they will lose the privilege and be moved seats. This idea can be very effective. Before introducing a new seating plan I asked every learner to name one person they genuinely worked well with. I half expected pupils to give their best friend’s name, however I could see that the names they were telling me were not just friends but a hard-working pupils, or a particularly focused pupil. It was clear that the pupils knew exactly who they worked well with and were more than happy to sit away from their friends if they were progressing. All I needed to find out this valuable information was to ask them, that could have saved me all of the time I had spent in the wrong seating plan. With this new information, I then created a seating plan that incorporated this list and presented it to the class. They seemed very pleased and felt as though they had decided the arrangement. This was very effective for this class as it established a positive relationship between the class and myself and gave them independence.
Seating plans can be a drag and may fall bottom of the to do list. But if you spend some time talking to pupils, parents and establishing a classroom layout that makes it clear to learners that this is a working environment where they are expected to learn, they really can be worth the hassle. Try out a new seating plan, spend time thinking about the needs of your class and their views on how they focus in lessons and let me know if you see any improvements.
Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.