Diary of an NQT: The power of the peer


Seating plans can be challenging as we seek to place every student in the optimum position for learning. Our NQT diarist reports on her success so far.

I have had some ups and downs this week – at times feeling completely in control and very positive, as well as the opposite.

I have been very fortunate to have a timetable that allows me to replicate some of my key stage 3 and 4 lessons. This has been beneficial from a planning point of view, however as I have already mentioned in this diary, I am finding that until you meet each class differentiating is not always enough.

However, I have found that the effect of the peer is incredibly powerful. This information, however, is something that is not always accessible in any form of pupil data or progress tracking. 

Our year offices are superb at communicating information about pupils who may have seating preferences or need to be with identified others (and indeed those who should be kept apart). Of course, for the most part, allocating seating is a personal thing and it is for each teacher to organise this for their class list and subjects.

Learning which characters within the classroom can encourage and empower other pupils to try hard and excel and which can distract and demotivate is key. Therefore having created seating plans prior to the start of term to promote collaborative working, some have been altered already.

I seat pupils in rows and at present would not change this. However, this doesn’t deter me from planning activities that result in chairs and pupils moving where necessary – or indeed from asking pupils to line up on a continuum to make a judgement or perform a carousel activity.

My approach is consistently to sit pupils in ability rows with a tendency towards girl-boy-girl-boy. I have found this effective on the whole because I am able to group by ability if I ask pupils to work in “row” groups, and can have mixed ability grouping by asking pupils to group together working from the front to back of the class (in columns).

However, when good friends sit together or pupils who dislike each other are together it can inhibit their learning, so I have found myself needing to move pupils occasionally in order that they can be next to someone who might provide a better influence.

I am starting to believe this is a skill that I will improve with experience. Having said this, I am sure it will remain a challenge in the long-term as every child, year group and lesson will have their own impact.

So far, I have moved one pupil towards the back of my class as he has a tendency to stand up when he wishes to answer a question as well as raise his hand. Initially this felt irregular as pupils who tend to distract others I tend to seat nearer the front, however after some thought and consultation it seems as though it may reduce the distraction for others. 

It has also made me think that this high level of engagement and physical activity is due to his ability. I plan to use extension tasks to complement this seating move in order to see if this is more suitable for his personal learning. 

I have the unusual scenario in one class that twins are timetabled together, and in this case they have a preference to sit apart to be independent from each other which I have addressed. Another example is that I have seated a poor attending pupil with a popular pupil who is very able. Often this works well as there is a wonderful ability to support and tolerate. I have found this can “bring along” the pupil who can be absent, yet I am very conscious that I do not want this intermittent peer to consistently obstruct learning for pupils in class.

I will make a note to keep you posted on seating progress. Any advice warmly welcome if you have the ultimate answer!

  • SecEd’s NQT diarist this year is a teacher of sociology and philosophy from a school in the South of England.


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