Ever ponder why it’s so hard to come up with the best seating arrangement for any given class? If you’ve done the actual math, you’ve determined that it’s improbable just by chance. If you haven’t, then you should know that in a class of 30 students with 30 seats, probability tells you there are 30! (30 factorial, or 2.6 x 10^{32}) different ways they could be seated—more ways if you are like many teachers who have over 30 students per class. Even if you’re fortunate enough to have only 15 young minds to teach in a class with one seat each, there are still over a trillion (15!) ways to arrange them.

Although only *one* of those many outcomes can be the *best*, many outcomes could be pretty good, but that also means there’s the potential for a lot of problematic arrangements for both you and your students.

So what’s a teacher to do with so many possible outcomes—just throw your hands up and let the students choose? Leave it to random chance and hope for something reasonably good? Dedicate lots of time and thought with a more strategic and intentional approach? After decades of teaching and years of mentoring, my answers to these questions would be: not a chance, still no, and yep! Here’s a look at each of those approaches.

### Student Choice?

On the first day of school in many buildings or classrooms, you’re likely to overhear (or maybe even say), “There are no assigned seats—sit wherever you want.” This, of course, is *not* what actually happens. Students with the most status, or bullies, or those who are early, or those whose friends got there and saved them a space, might get to sit where they want, and the rest end up sitting someplace they may never have chosen if given the chance.

If you then never create a seating chart, this imbalance is repeated on a daily basis. If you later use self-selected seats to generate a seating chart, what frequently happens is that some groups or areas work, while others do not. Then, to break up the problem groups, you also have to break up those groups or areas that aren’t a problem—not great for student-to-student relationships or for teacher-to-student relationships.

This took me over a decade to realize on my own, and then I finally recognized that my frustrations with my students’ choices were really my own frustrations over not learning from my mistakes. Of course, their social priorities did not match my educational priorities. So, not a chance I’d keep using self-selection with their still-developing adolescent frontal lobes.

### Random Assignment?

How about using randomness to solve some of the problems created by choice seating? Regardless of class size, if you run repeated random groupings of three or four students, you will see that more often than not, you will end up with quite a few well-mixed groups but also one or two “stronger” groups and one or two “weaker” groups. This is both problematic and not your original intent.

If you’re relying on high-tech random seating chart generators or even low-tech methods like drawing names for *extended* seating assignments, especially if those assignments are in groups, you are likely making things harder for both yourself and many of your students. So, a randomized approach for your day-to-day base seating? Still a no. Save randomization for short, frequent visible learning opportunities (as in Peter Liljedahl’s *Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics, Grades K-12*) or other more appropriate situations.

### Strategic Seating?

An early investment in strategic seating based on intentionality and data can pay big dividends. This method worked well for me with Biology I (a required course for all ninth-grade students when I taught it), Marine Biology (a semester elective with students ranging from ocean-loving geeks to those whose reply to “Why did you elect to take this class?” was “I didn’t—my counselor put me in here”), and AP Statistics, which is where I first experimented with it.

Here’s what prompted the more strategic and intentional approach on my part many years ago. In my first few years, I assumed that the junior and senior AP Statistics students coming to my class after taking AP Calculus, Pre-calculus, or Trigonometry the previous year would be mature and motivated enough to choose where they wanted to sit, and of course I was wrong, because their choices were still more along the lines of social reasons than academic ones.

This frequently resulted in table groups of four based on friends from their previous math classes. The common result was the Calc groups soared, the Pre-calc groups did well enough, and the Trig groups struggled—definitely *not* the result I was striving to achieve.

So I employed data about each student’s previous math class, other academic performance, and grade level to create groups that had one or two from each course in them and used that as my starting seating chart on the first day of school. I eventually did something similar with my Biology and Marine Biology students by looking at their past academic performance as well as other data such as individualized education programs and 504s.

This initial setup took a *lot* of time but usually paid off fairly quickly because I spent way less time having to deal with the problems that nearly always resulted from choice or random seating. Additionally, I used that data for shuffling for new groups at the end of a time period such as a unit. Depending on how a given class was proceeding, I would get data from the students after we had successfully established routines for success.

From these strategic seating arrangements, I could orchestrate a variety of ways to quickly shuffle groups for sharing information, teaming for quizzes, tackling new tasks, or building classroom community. So, yep!—strategic and intentional (and initially very time-consuming) seating was my go-to for the last couple of decades of my career. If you aren’t using seating charts at all and need some more convincing, this article may help.

**Title:** A Strategic Approach to Seating Arrangements in High School

**URL:** https://www.edutopia.org/article/best-seating-arrangement-high-school-classrooms/

**Source:** Edutopia

**Source URL:**

**Date:** July 31, 2024 at 10:51AM

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