Back to Basics (1) – Seating

By Helen Wilson

Over the coming weeks and months we are starting a new series of articles called “Back to Basics”. These articles will cover any aspect of teaching, with the overriding idea that they are ideas useful for NQTs, recently qualified teachers, or the more seasoned practitioner who wants an easy reminder of skills. We will include tips from Beaumont teachers and if you have something you wish to add, please feel free to comment on the article. This week we will look at seating in classrooms, and there are plans for posts on behaviour management, group work, getting the attention of a class, report writing, being a form tutor and more. If you have a topic which you would like covered in the Back to Basics series, please feel free to contact us on twitter (or email one of the Teaching and Learning Team).

desks and  chairsSeating

Seating plans (not the the pieces of paper you might give to an observer in your classroom, or a cover teacher, but the actual idea of deciding who sits where in the classroom) are useful for all sorts of reasons:

  • ensuring you meet the special needs of any pupils in the class;
  • managing behaviour firstly by showing that the classroom is your space; but also by ensuring that disruption is kept to a minimum by strategic placing of certain pupils;
  • ensuring that you can easily change to group working where necessary with minimum fuss.

After an initial seating plan in September with a new class, where I will have considered the obvious things like SEN and tips from previous teachers, I invariably have a change of seating within a few weeks, once I have got to know the pupils for myself. At this stage, I will think about raising expectations, developing confidence and managing potential disruption.

I try to raise expectations by, for example, seating a pupil with excellent written presentation next to one for whom this is a target; a pupil who doesn’t contribute much next to a pupil who needs no such encouragement; a pupil who is always completely focused next to one for whom that is a difficult skill. I have found that I can use seating to help develop confidence by placing pupils who just need a bit of teacher encouragement and praise in an easily accessible seat, or next to someone working at a similar ability. And like many others, I place potentially disruptive students in a place where they find it difficult to do so – this can involve some experimentation, but once that place is found, I stick to it.

Below are top tips and ideas from other Beaumont teachers:

Susan Kent (Geography): “I try to mix up the boys and the girls, but in the case of a boy heavy class I keep some of the quieter girls together for confidence.  I also think about ease of grouping them for group tasks and making sure I have mixed abilities in each row/section. I keep the attention seekers at the back but where I can see their books easily.  I always work from the middle of the classroom outwards so the spare seats are in the harder to reach areas of the classroom.”

Frances Jackson (English): “When deciding on a seating plan for mixed ability classes, I like to practise G&T by stealth. Rather than just focus on my lower ability students, I like to think about how to get a good spread of my more able in the classroom. This way, what my more able students say is accessible to more of my class, especially in pair/group work.”

Helen Robson-Smith (Maths): Once I know a class I usually sit students of similar ability next to each other, so bright students can inspire each other to greater things and weaker students don’t worry about ‘he’s on question 7 and I’m only on question 2’.”

Ella Dickson (Maths): “When I am planning a seating plan I consider the four most disruptive students and seat them in the four corners. Then I work inwards. When I know a class better I ask for their input. When I don’t, I try to ask their last teacher for any tips. Sometimes it’s best to put the two chattiest next to each other.”

Elena Dundjerovic (Business and Economics): “At GCSE level, I use target grades to guide my seating plans and my expectations of the students. I sat a student I really wanted to challenge with a very weak student so I was able to observe the more able student’s knowledge and provide support for the weaker student without having to sit with them throughout the lesson. Again, I like to keep pairings mixed as well. The key is to rotate them each half term, even if they are working really well. You can always tweak and it keeps the students focused. If a student is sat on their own because of odd numbers I always do a new seating plan each half term and let them fill the space of a student that is absent during this time.”

Sarah Hosegood (Geography): “I ensure that all SEN students are ‘accessible’ e.g. on the end of a row or at the front so it is easy for me and a TA to support. I also have times when they are able to pick other people to work with free from the seating plan for part of a lesson or all of a lesson and talk about how I am ‘trusting’ them to work well together and it normally works really well and gives them a break from the normal people they sit next to.”