Seating plans: Weddings vs classrooms

Dr Asha Patel

Clinical psychologist Dr Asha Patel is CEO of Innovating Minds. She is also a consultant at MINTclass, a secure system that extracts the relevant student data from the School Information Management System (SIMS or such like), and displays it on student cards for the teacher’s reference, all in a customisable classroom layout.

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Image credit: Shutterstock // Stock Market Films. Image credit: Shutterstock // Stock Market Films.

Seating plans for a classroom are even more complicated than organising who sits where at a wedding reception. Like so much else in education, you need to define your objectives. It is not just about making sure sworn enemies are not seated side-by-side. Instead, you have to think about the individual needs. Is the child with ADHD better sitting right in front of you, where you can keep an eye on them, or by a wall where they only have a child on one side of them? Is it best to have a child who experiences sensory overload in a quiet area, on a separate single table, or should you put them with a small, sympathetic group who may be able to provide support?

Seating plans should not just be about dealing with incipient discipline problems, but about making sure every pupil is going to get the best out of the lesson, so that you can best assess their learning on a daily basis.

Here are some key considerations:

  • Girl-boy-girl-boy seating plans are popular, but if boys are surrounded by girls who are more able, they risk becoming more introverted and will achieve less. This is partly because, during the Secondary years, girls are more vocal and have a wider range of language registers than boys.
  • Mix up different ethnic groups. Often at the beginning of the year, especially when children are in Year 7, like is drawn to like. Therefore, in many classrooms there is one area where the big loud lads sit, or an Asian girls' group, or an all-white table. It is your job to mix it up, so they work together and learn from one another.
  • The 'naughty table', grouping together children who are inattentive, or setting a class into ability groups is not good practice. Many young people who have behaviour issues have been lumped together as the 'problem group', leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy where they feel labelled and judged from the beginning.
  • If you are worried about where to seat a child, especially one with recognised mental health problems, ask them where they would feel most comfortable. This is not about allowing the child to take control. It is about working together so that the child can access the learning, ensuring that in-depth assessment can take place.

There is no single recipe for success, and many a teacher has had to change their seating plan throughout the year. This is where technology comes to the rescue. Once, teachers spent hours laboriously moving bits of paper round a grid. As well as being time-consuming, it was not possible to share the information with a wider group, meaning that the effort and results often went unrecognised. These days, tools like MINTclass are able to consolidate the information on students from SIMs onto digital ‘cards’, which teachers can use to create a digital seating plan, with all the information they need to make an informed decision at their fingertips.

Now we are beginning to realise the complexities of human relationships in the classroom, and like planning the seating for a wedding reception, who sits where is far too important to be left to chance.

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