Classroom Organisation

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CLassroom Organisation

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Student Seating

Beyond the first one or two years of schooling children will spend increasing amounts of their time sat at desks. There are numerous factors to consider when deciding who sits next to who. These include: friendships, ability, individual learning needs, social tensions and sensory needs.

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Students will generally choose to sit next to their friends just as their teachers do when they go on training courses. Even as mature adult professionals we like the security of sitting with a colleague or friend as much as any opportunity to have a chat with them. We tend to feel more confident in expressing any misunderstanding about the learning to a friend or asking our colleague to clarify a task, 'What did they say we had to do?' We are also very good at making whispered remarks about whether the learning or task is relevant for us or a complete waste of our time! When we reflect on our own adult experience as learners we can recognise a number of benefits for children in being arranged in friendship pairings:

feeling safe
more confident
more collaborative
assist one another
share resources fairly

Allowing students to sit with their friends is, of course, not without risks. Less popular students can be left standing and/or uncertain where to sit in the initial self-selection of seating. Some students, with immature understanding of friendships and those with social-communication needs may make poor choices. Some students may be more likely to engage in off-task behaviour when next to friends. (Though these same students may still seek out their friends across the classroom when not seated together!)

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In any class there will generally be a wide range of what we loosely describe as 'ability'. How we organise seating has an impact on our options for differentiation in the class and the capacity of students to support each other.

When the class is divided in to groups of similar ability the students in each seating arrangement generally require the same input, task and support. This can make lesson organisation easier as resources can be shared, adults can support the whole group rather than individuals and as students are working on the same learning activity they can discuss and collaborate on tasks. There is good evidence that the most able students can benefit from opportunities to work with similar gifted and talented peers particularly when giving open-ended tasks.

When students are sat in groups of mixed ability there may be times when they are working on different tasks or activities to those sat with them. This can be useful when wanting to assess independent working such as during a test. Paired or group work involving mixed ability provides an opportunity for the more more able student to support their less able peer. Some students often respond better to support from peers than from adults and so this can be an effective way of differentiating support for the task. Equally, more able students often benefit from this arrangement as the process of explaining to a peer reinforces and extends their own learning. However, there can often be a risk that the more able student will dominate the task and though the less able may complete the task successfully they may actually gain little or no actual learning. (This can also happen when students are supported by adults who focus on task completion rather than learning!)

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Individual Learning Needs

In most cohorts of students up to about a quarter of them will have some specific difficulty with learning or behaviour for learning that has some impact on their ability to function successfully in the classroom. For most students this will translate in to 'ability' as discussed above. However, for a few students their needs require further consideration of where best to seat them.

Students with attention and concentration difficulties such as those with ADHD may be easily distracted by movement within and outside the classroom. Seating them close to the front of the class away from windows may reduce visual stimuli and make it easier for the teacher to keep close supervision over them. However, there is a risk that these students increasingly gain teacher time which can form a negative cycle of prompts, reminders and students not developing strategies for managing their needs themselves.

Students who are not native language speakers, such as English as Additional Language (EAL) children in UK may also need special consideration. Seating these students next to a friend or a more able student can be an essential part of the support needed. Ensuring that they have a clear view of the teacher and anything physical or visual being demonstrated or modelled by the teacher is also important. This could equally apply to any student with language acquisition needs.

Some students with social-communication needs may benefit from being partnered with more confident and supportive peers. Others though, such as some ASD students may need times when they are seated away from peers in order to help regulate their anxiety and/or sensory needs.

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