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How Do You Decide Where Students Can Sit? (Plus An Interesting Study)

| 11 Comments

As all teachers know, where students sit in class can be an important strategic decision.

After the first few weeks of a new school year, I tend to let students choose their own seats using eyesight and behavioral issues as my guiding criteria. I’ll be flexible at first, but won’t hesitate to switch if behavior does become an issue. If I have a small class, this policy can mean students sitting all over the place. It seems to me that reinforcing the idea of student autonomy (and plenty of research emphasizes its importance) trumps any minor logistical problems it might create.

A new study might raise questions about this policy.

The study claims that students sitting in the front of a class had fewer daydreams than those sitting further back, and that the “front-sitters” scored higher on course exams.

I still think I’ll stick with my policy, though.

How do you handle your seating arrangements and why?

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

11 Comments

  1. Thank you for bringing up this subject.

    Seating students is one of my least favorite parts of teaching.

    At the beginning of the year I seat students I suspect won’t distract each other together. Then I change seats every six weeks or so to correspond with the changing of our units. I figure it minimizes the effects of studies like the one you mentioned if all students have a chance to sit toward the front of the class at some point during the year. Also, the longer students sit next to each other the friendlier they get and I find noise level increases so I like to mix it up at about that time. Also, it gives students a chance to get to know other students that they don’t yet know.

  2. I let students sit where they want – and by that I mean sit next to who they want – front or back, left or right side.

    But, they all have to be toward the front of the room. There are not any empty rows allowed between me and them.

    And, if there is a problem, I move someone. But, I give them a chance to sit as they please at first.

  3. I don’t have a ‘front’ to my room so I guess that means all my students are at a disadvantage :)

  4. Taking another angle, I found that utilizing circle time with my fourth graders was the best seating arrangement for demonstrations and whole-group discussion. In a way, everyone sat in the front row.

  5. As a professional daydreamer, I am very skeptical of this study. I would struggle more in the front of the room, because I would be wondering what was going on behind me and would be more distracted.
    I have found that my students daydream mostly because I talk too much, and am not very interesting.
    If the task that I put in front of the students is interesting they usually do better.

  6. I have heard many different views on this. I teach grade 7, and have had different experiences with assigned vs. “free” seating.
    Personally, I always assign the seating in our classroom. However, this does become time consuming because the location and design of the seating arrangement changes frequently. Maybe I’m a closet control freak, but I think that I have a good idea of who needs to sit where.
    I want to be clear though, I don’t place the “bad” kids up front, or the “good” or “tall” kids in the back.

  7. Haven’t read the article, only the blog post, but wanted to point out: correlation does not equate causality. I.e. Do kids who sit at the front of the class tend to show higher achievement, or do the “smart kids” tend to sit at the front of the class?

    That’s my take on it. My opinions are my own and facts may not be accurate.

  8. I like to change things up periodically. Begin class in meeting area on rug then when time to sit at tables, ask students one at a time to go choose a spot where they think they will be most comfortable, most productive, and least distracted. I consider “pecking order” as I send students to pick so most powerful don’t always go first. 9 times out of 10, my 9-11 year olds choose well. They are empowered to make good choices.

  9. I usually seat them alphabetically at first, until I can get their names down pretty well, and then, arrange them by their reading/writing groups. I switched my rows (yes, rows!) to a diagonal a little while ago to arrange for an always viewable digital projector/ELMO screen/Promethean, though, and let them sit wherever they wanted. Two classes are back on the assigned seating because of behavior issues; the other three are doing okay so far with their choice.

  10. I also let my students sit where they want, with some qualifications. I teach Year 3s so most of my teaching is done with them sitting on the floor. At their desks, they need to have both girls and boys in their groups, and no one is to sit alone twice during a week. I also ask that they sit next to 3 different people each week. They are also expected to behave responsibly – any misbehaviour means it is my responsibility to choose where they sit.
    Works for me, even with difficult classes.

  11. I totally agree with you. That´s normally what I do, but when at having activities in teams, I try to sit a strong pupil with a weak one so they take advantage of it. I mean, the strong one practice tutoring and the weak one learn more confidentially provided he/she has a non-exigent partner to work with.

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