NQT Special Edition: Get your seating plans right

Written by: Gerry Mallaghan | Published:
Image: iStock

Seating plans are one of the main weapons in the teacher’s arsenal to help achieve good behaviour and progress in lessons. Gerry Mallaghan offers his tips

Seating plans: the obvious question to ask is, do you really need them? In my experience, the answer is a strong yes. At a minimum, a seating plan helps with behaviour management by allowing you to use and learn student names from lesson one. A seating plan gives you control over the learning environment.

Before constructing a seating plan, you need to ensure that the desks and seats are in the arrangement that best suits your teaching style. There are two common arrangements for a classroom. The first is the traditional lecture style, the second is a more collaborative style with students grouped into pods.

I would suggest you try moving desks around until you find the one that works best for you. When deciding, there are three questions I would suggest you keep in mind:

  • Can all students clearly see the board that you will use to write and or project on?
  • Is there a position, preferably close to your board, from which you can address the class and see everyone’s face?
  • Is there enough space so that you can freely move around the room and see what each student is working on?

Moving on to your actual seating plan, you can of course spend hours looking through data and student profiles, assuming you have access to them, to try and construct the best arrangement. However, my suggestion is to not spend a large amount of time trying to get it perfect first time. I have never had a seating plan that I didn’t change within the first two weeks.

However, I would suggest that you check for any students who require a specific seat, often close to the board, due to medical reasons.
After this, I know that some teachers let students pick their own seat in the first lesson, but my advice is to avoid this. Allocating each student a seat in advance, allows you to learn names before the first lesson starts and reduces the occurrence of problems associated with students in friendship groups.

Either way, in the first lesson, you need to know the name of everyone in your class and where they are seated.

Another consideration is what information you should include on your seating plan. Start with the student’s forename, surname, and preferred name. If relevant, I would include any target or minimum expected grade and the student’s exam number for quick reference.

You should also include any SEN, medical and behaviour issues on your seating plans. For confidentiality reasons use a coding system. I use red, amber and green dot stickers to represent academic notes, SEN and medical notes, and behaviour notes respectively, with a letter code.

For example, AEP on an amber sticker means the student has an allergy to a substance if eaten and carries an EpiPen. Take the time to include photographs of the students as it lets you spot when they move seat and is useful at parents’ evenings.

Eventually, you will want to make changes to your seating plan. This may be because of data, assessment outcomes, ability or behaviour. Based on my experience here are some suggestions to address some common student types.

Students who get easily distracted

A student who is easily distracted will often be moved to the front of the room, nearest the board and teacher. However, you will spend a lot of time among the students helping them progress, so the front may not be the best place.

Allocate a seat that allows the student an unbroken line of sight to the board and allows you a clear line of sight to them and their work. Avoid placing them in a seat facing a window or wall. I have found that an end of row seat can also help a student to focus.

Two students who will not stop talking

It is tempting to place a hard-working quiet student in between two more talkative students. However, this often ends up with the hard-working student getting distracted and/or frustrated, as the more talkative students talk over them. If students are too talkative together spread them out as far as you can. If necessary, find an isolated part of your room and place one of the students there. If possible, make sure they are directly facing you so you can see what they are doing when you are addressing the class.

Students who are not progressing

This applies to the student who is making the effort but is not getting the results, the student who needs a lot of regular support to progress, or the student who needs to be regularly monitored to ensure they progress. Think about where you will spend most of your time when teaching in your classroom and seat them a short distance away. This means they can quickly and quietly ask you for help, without drawing much attention from the rest of the class. This will also allow you to regularly check their progress and provide regular feedback. Just remember the best place is not always directly in front of you.

Students with medical condition

It is critically important that you know of any student medical issues that could affect the learning in your classroom as quickly as possible, if not before the students arrive. Students with visual or hearing difficulties will often need a specific position in your classroom. Sometimes this information is not accessible before your class arrives. In this instance, I would say “if anybody is unhappy with their seat let me know at the end of the lesson”.

This ensures that students do not have to disclose medical conditions to you in public, although some will. You can also subtly look for indicators of a condition, e.g. glasses with tinted or thick lenses, and seat students accordingly. Some students will have medical leave cards and are best placed close to the exit. This means they cause the least amount of disruption possible if they have to leave.

Disruptive students

There are an endless number of reasons that students become disruptive. Your seating plan will often not resolve the underlying issues, but will influence the impact a disruptive student has on the learning in your classroom. You will just have to keep shuffling your seating plan until you get the best arrangement.

Look for other students who act as a trigger for the disruptive student and separate them. Maybe the disruptive student is actually struggling with the work and needs to have you close so they can ask for help.

Depending on your school’s behaviour management policy, you may have to send a student out of your lesson for continued poor behaviour. If a student is removed from your lesson regularly, I would suggest seating them close to the exit so they cause the least amount of disruption possible when leaving.

Creating a seating plan that works takes time, experience and a bit of luck. If a student is having a negative impact on teaching and learning on a regular basis, then shuffle the seating plan.

  • Gerry Mallaghan is an experienced teacher of 13 years, currently working at Lutterworth College in Leicestershire.

NQT Special Edition

This article was published as part of SecEd’s NQT Special Edition. The publication offered eight pages of specialist best practice advice for NQTs and trainee teachers across the UK. Supported by the NASUWT the special edition published on June 29, 2017, and the eight pages are available to download as a free pdf from SecEd’s Supplements page: www.sec-ed.co.uk/supplements


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