I rarely allow my students to choose where they sit in my classroom.
From day one of the school year, my students beg and plead in utter desperation for me to not use the dreaded seating chart, and allow them to sit with their friends.
“Mr. Muir, I promise I work so much better when I sit next to her. We’re best friends and get along great.”
“Mr. Muir, we’re in high school now. You can’t really tell us where we have to sit.”
You wanna bet?
But what students often do not understand, even though I explain it on day one, is that assigned seating in my classroom is not a punishment. It’s not a result of bad behavior, or even a preventative of it. I don’t assign seats to make taking attendance easier. My mission isn’t to separate friends from each other so that they won’t talk during class.
I assign seats so that students will talk in class. I’ll explain.
My classroom table arrangement is always in groups. I want students facing each other and in a conducive position for conversation and discussion. When I used to allow students to choose the groups they sat in, they always found their friends or close acquaintances- the people they are comfortable with. Of course they do. I do the same thing at staff meetings.
But when it came time for class discussion, which happens daily in my classroom, students were rarely stretched and challenged when sharing with the people around them. Because they were surrounded by friends, they either-
Hardly discussed at all because of the distraction of sitting with close friends
Discussed openly because, “Why not, we’re all friends here”
Now number 1 can be improved by constant facilitation by the teacher and developing discipline during class discussions. Good teachers have this one down.
But number 2 is the main reason I mix up groups. Assigning students to groups with people who they are not comfortable with can create an uncomfortable tension during class discussion. It is essentially asking students to perform public speaking with a 3 or 4 person audience. As stated in my previous blog post, public speaking freaks a lot of us out. However, it’s a skill that is valuable in almost any career field, and students need to learn how to use it. Creating a space where students are forced to share their thinking with “strangers,” or kids who are not apart of their inner circle is a great step towards students feeling comfortable in verbally communicating with larger groups.
It requires leaving the comfort zone and students having to sometimes will themselves to speak.
And it can also create some very stale conversations at first. And that’s okay. In the beginning, students can be apprehensive about sharing with people they don't know, and they can have a fear of being judged (See previous blog post).
But if you create a culture where students are constantly turning to talk to each other and shifting the focus from you- the teacher- to them; the conversations will loosen up. Students will start sharing with kids outside of their friend groups, and they will realize that they are capable of discussing and conversing outside of their comfort zone. And they will be well on their way to being comfortable public speakers. All because of seating charts.
And I’m not gonna lie, it does help with taking attendance.