Seating – 1

Robert shares some thoughts on seating arrangements in CI classrooms:

One change in my thinking (and there have been many changes) that has occurred as I have thought about rigor is the approach to assigned seating. I have a pretty laissez faire approach to most things, and I used to think that giving students some freedom in seating helped mitigate the school experience. So, I would assign seats at the beginning of the year to help me learn students’ names and then let them gradually move to where they wished to sit.

Of course, when students sit where they wish, they gravitate to their friends and begin to talk. At some point this would become too much, so I would send them back to their assigned seats. But it was punishment, and I really didn’t like that.

Since I have been doing serious thinking about rigor, the motivation has changed. I still assign seats, and I still allow the gradual migration, and I still have to ask students to return to their assigned seats. Now, however, I have jGR to help reinforce the need to be involved. But beyond that, I explain to my students that the seating assignment is not punishment but a help. They are obviously not able to meet the rigor of the class – which includes active participation for the entire period – so I am providing them with a crutch to help them. My attitude has changed, the nature of the action has changed, and the students’ reaction has changed. Sure, they are disappointed that they aren’t sitting with their friends, but they understand that what I am doing is to help them and not punishment.



23 thoughts on “Seating – 1”

  1. I was just thinking of this seating issue today. Ive always assigned seats because for me it makes classroom management easier, but this is the first year I think I might just try to go without it-it’s so much work for me to make sure I give them new seats every once in awhile.

  2. I let them sit where they want when they first arrive — that way I get a good idea of who SHOULDN’T be sitting with each other! But, I tell them that I will periodically move seats — at my discretion. I learned from Susie Gross to tell them that it’s good to see things from a different view! 🙂
    Last year I actually didn’t move anyone during second semester — they all “worked” where they were sitting! (“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”!!!!) But, like Robert, in the past when it was to their benefit to move them, I told them so. They didn’t see it as punishment – but they were well aware that they brought it on themselves, and everyone else got the message. But….it IS all about relationships.

  3. Can y’all give me some feedback on this idea that I have? First, so you all know, I accepted a position at a new district, much closer to home (3 miles), my alma mater, teaching Spanish 1 and 4.

    My new classroom doesn’t have desks, it has tables with chairs. The tables look like they seat two students per table. I’m thinking about keeping the tables folded, in the back of the room and just have the cluster of 26 chairs towards the front/center of the room, a little spaced out for the sake of order, but that’s it. It takes away the need to say “nothing on your desk” and it makes it harder to get away with texting in the middle of class. Plus I feel it would be much more conducive to interpersonal, human communication. What do you think of this idea?

  4. Chris, I used chairs without tables during my last year teaching in the lycée, simply because I didn’t have an assigned classroom and ended up using a room intended for viewing films and conversational activities. I liked the flexibility. With small groups, we could sit in a circle or a U. I could break up conversations by simply asking the guilty parties to move their chairs apart. I think it gave a relaxed feeling to the class, which was a big change for my French lycée students.

    1. Judy
      I wonder if you used lap desks or how the students wrote when necessary? I have 30 students signed up for Sp 3/4 and I think the only way to fit everyone would be to use chairs only….

      Do you think this would be okay younger students as well (9th graders?)

      Were there/are there any downsides?

      1. The kids managed to write on notebooks on their laps when necessary, but they had little writing to do unless for a test. Then there was a long table down one side of the room where they could sit with their backs to the room.

        I’ve had little experience with younger students, so I’ll let someone else answer that question.

        Downsides? Nothing to compare with having them barricaded behind tables.

  5. I tried it and got tremendous push back from parents/admin. The kids (grades 4-6) needed to be able to “lean” on something. Oh, please!

    My colleague, Diane, did it and loved not having tables or desks. Her kids were older. She eventually moved back to tables because she had to share the room with a math teacher. Oh, well. I agree with all of those who have posted about the change in ambiance this can create. You may get push back because they are “not used to it” in any other class. I’d do it anyway especially if you teach high school.

  6. Once when I was teaching an upper level class on some poem (AP French Literature) at Myrtle Beach High School in South Carolina, the principal, a former college tailback, told me in his evaluation of the class something I haven’t been able to forget. This man had fallen asleep during the observation because, I think, he was always working too hard and also because we were sitting in a circle of about ten all white four percent seniors faking speaking French. So after the class his point to me was that my kids needed “something to press down on”. I haven’t forgotten that expression after over twenty five years. I remember how I felt when I told him we were talking about a poem in French. He didn’t buy it. He wanted them in desks in rows to have something to press down on. He had a bitchy edge about it and told me he would drop by the next day to make sure I had done what he had suggested. He also explained to me that good discipline always lies in keeping the students separated in their desks, which, alas, echoes the great divide and conquer battle strategy used by anyone who has ever wanted to win at war (or lately, politics, it seems).

  7. I like the system you are talking about Robert. I would like to try something like this, but after experiencing such a gain in classroom management last year with assigned seats all the time, it’s hard for me to go back.

    Based on my experience at my school, I just don’t feel that the majority of my kids are mature enough to handle choosing their own seats, and especially in classes of mixed levels, I have found that they segregate themselves according to their level and it has made for a difficult class atmosphere, especially for story creation.

    But maybe if I do a better job of jGR this year, something like this could become a possibility. Thanks for sharing.

  8. I always just have a copy of the seating chart on a podium or desk when they walk in on the first day. In my opinion it removes that unsafe 1st day feeling.

    Who can I sit by? who will reject me or accept me? Students groan sometimes, but I think some of the less popular kids secretly like it.

  9. It’s a great idea. I just take the seating chart and fill it out alphabetically before class. I make a new chart a few days or weeks later, because invariably the alphabetical seating puts kids together accidently who shouldn’t be together. Those kids are placed in different corners of the class as far apart as is possible where they cannot even see each other.

    I did that once with four girls at East High School – they each got their own corner of the room. It completely neutralized them.

    The first few moments of class are about power. If the teacher is unsure of where the kids are to sit, the message goes out to those few students looking for weaknesses in the teacher that the power isn’t fully with the teacher. It’s a bad message to send in the first few minutes of class. Great point David.

    1. A possibility to consider is alphabetizing by first name. At least at my school, many students have two or three classes together, and many teachers put classes in alphabetical order. That means these students sit together in several classes. By alphabetizing by first name – or even assigning seats randomly – you break up some of those combinations. One year I had twin brothers who had every class together; guess who they sat next to in most of those classes. (But not in mine.)

      1. Great idea (as always)!

        …And so it seems most of you just put a hard copy seating chart on a podium, facing how the students would look at the room, and you just point to it as they come in so they figure out where to go? That’s easiest, I guess. With two classrooms and very little time to set up in between….

  10. Great idea (as always)!

    …And so it seems most of you just put a hard copy seating chart on a podium, facing how the students would look at the room, and you just point to it as they come in so they figure out where to go? That’s easiest, I guess. With two classrooms and very little time to set up in between….

  11. What I sometimes do is staple a sheet of clear plastic mylar over the seating chart at one end of the chart (which is done in pencil for changes) and if the kid is absent I put an x over their name on the plastic with a vis a vis pen and wipe the mylars off at the end of the day. Then I know who is absent and can put that information into the computer later, or right away if we are reading silently for the first ten minutes of class (recommended when you are doing a novel as per some of the posts on that topic here). Calling roll during class and feeding the information into the computer while they just sit there is a loss of precious time.

  12. I thought that i read this on here or in ben’s book, but the first day of class last year i let them sit wherever they wanted to purposely see who shouldn’t be sitting with whom, and what cliques to beak up. The second day, WHAM…. there is the seating chart breaking up the alliances.

    Luckily, i have a document camera, and just project the sheet of paper that i write out the seating chart on.

  13. My student teacher had a great idea. He handed out multicoloured dollar store posicle sticks and had the kids write their name on each. These were useful when Collected for random questioning and if you wanted to change searing plan, you just pre-kids put them on the appr desk and the kids find it fun to see where they get to go.

  14. I use seating chart for Junior Highs and none for Senior Highs. I hopefully have them trained by the time they reach Grade 10. If not, I just move individuals.

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