A properly thought out seating plan is an essential tool when you’re faced with a very challenging class. I remember, early on in my career, what it was like trying to change the seating with some of the tougher groups. They argued so much about not being allowed to sit with their friends that I ended up scrapping the new plan before the lesson was over and letting them sit where they wanted. It all boiled down to the fact I didn’t want the confrontation. It didn’t work, of course; my early lessons were chaos.
Eventually, by sticking to my guns and imposing the seating plan despite the many complaints and cries of ‘But I don’t like so and so’ and ‘I’m not sitting with him/ her’, I soon noticed a huge improvement in behaviour. After a few days, my classes settled down. The students got used to their new seats and, more importantly, they started to understand that I was the one in charge.
The classroom is your room and as such you make the decisions – including those regarding seating. Yes, when you introduce a new seating plan there will probably be uproar at first. Some will sulk, some will try to sneak back to their original seat, some will boldly march to their original seat and some will refuse to move altogether. And almost all of them will complain in one way or another. But stick with it. Refuse categorically to entertain any requests or pleas because bending the rules for one student will ruin your plan and leave your classroom in meltdown. Ride the storm; on the other side of the tantrums, there is a calm(er) sea.
A seating plan that works – cooperative learning teams.
You should aim to group your students in what we can call ‘cooperative learning teams’. Generally, a cooperative learning team is made up of four students – a high achiever, a low achiever and two middle achievers. Where possible it will include males and females and, where appropriate, ethnic groups will also be equally represented.
There are four key benefits to seating your students in cooperative learning teams:
- Positive peer relationships are developed. As a result of students helping each other to reach work targets and other common goals they build strong bonds. As the sense of community grows there are fewer arguments and fewer disagreements between students. It can be quite amazing to see your toughest students become nurturing as they help other members of the group.
- Lower achieving students gain confidence and motivation. By working collaboratively with higher-achieving students, lower-achieving students
are able to take part in activities without feeling they lack the necessary skills and understanding. By being actively involved in the lesson activities (instead of being left out, bored or frustrated) they are less prone to disrupt. The high ability students also benefit through the process of guiding and supporting their fellow group members – their understanding of the material is reinforced.
- It saves the teacher time. Once students get used to the cooperative learn- ing framework they effectively teach themselves and assist each other. The teacher is free from constant requests for help and attention and can give quality support when it is required rather than when it is demanded.
- Social skills are naturally developed. Self-expression, decision making, responsibility, accountability, sharing, listening and conflict management are naturally practiced and developed during group work sessions. This has the knock-on effect of reducing the occurrence of behaviour problems brought about due to a lack of these skills.
An easy way to group your students into cooperative learning teams:
Forming cooperative learning groupings is obviously not as straightforward as having a row of students in alphabetical order but the following simple method will help. All you need is a class list with students ranked according to their ability level and some sticky notes.
To make the process as straightforward as possible, we rank ability by just three broad groups – low, medium and high. You can use a computer spreadsheet to organise the students if your class list is on a database but it’s not really necessary. You can use paper or even the back of a beer mat if you’re doing this in the pub after work.
Next, using your ability ranked class list, write the name of each student on a colour coded sticky note. The medium ability students will be subdivided into two groups so you will have four groups in total – highs on one colour note, lows on another and the two medium groups on two different coloured notes.
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