Seating arrangements in the classroom How desks in a classroom are arranged

How desks in a classroom are arranged can have a profound influence upon young children. Most teachers favor the traditional form of row seating as it offers the teacher ease of movement around the classroom and affords the students a clear view of what is happening in front of them. This format however, favors the teacher's needs above those of the students. Different seating arrangements can foster academic and social success for students, whilst lessening behavioral problems.

Seating students based upon their ability is one alternative to traditional row seating. By placing equally able students next to each other, a dynamic of competitiveness comes to stronger students, and empathy and helpfulness to weaker students. Weaker students can often help each other catch mistakes. Stronger students meanwhile, will tend to talk more with each thus gaining them extra 'real-use' practice. By sitting next to a student of equal ability, students will often define for themselves a more positive and attainable image of success. Alternatively, by placing a stronger student with a weaker student, the stronger student can help the weaker one along offering more help than a busy teacher can hope to achieve within a large classroom.

A common goal for teachers of young learners is to cultivate cooperation within the classroom environment. Desks arranged within groups of three to five are a favored format for such a goal. The students' opportunities to interact and cooperate increase through the use of a shared space. Whilst different levels of maturity can affect how groups of young children will interact with each other, over time they will tend to cooperate more as they realize the benefits of acting in a cooperative manner. Also, as the children work together, they also build bonds with each other and hopefully build friendships that help them to not only develop socially, but also make their time in the classroom more enjoyable.

Most students favor seating arrangements based upon friendships. This is understandable even for adults, and even more so for young children. However, it creates a small conundrum for teachers. Generally students who sit together are a lot happier, but they will talk more and focus less on lessons than those not sitting with friends. Inversely, they are also more likely to talk about their lessons and work cooperatively with their friends than with a student they are unfamiliar with or whom they don't like.

To offset the tendency towards inattentiveness, it is helpful to institute a reward scheme in which the reward and penalties are given out on a collective basis. While children in the first few grades of elementary school may not feel any compulsion in such a system, by fourth grade most will find the compulsion to act in the interests of the group significant. It is generally far easier to get friends to encourage better behavior than children who lack social ties with each other.

Of course, the opposite of what I have described above can also become true. It's important that after rearranging a classroom the teacher monitor closely the interactions and events that follow. Strong students will sometimes dominate weaker students, keeping them silent because they are so much more articulate and feeding the answers so that that their group does well. Friends will talk rather than study, and others will fight and squabble so that their focus on class activities is lost. Two weak students may simply not interact with each other at all and may begin to fall even further behind the rest of the class.

Obviously then, a teacher should be open to shifting particular students when it becomes clear that their position in class is not conducive towards the goals the teacher hopes to achieve. It's important to listen to the concerns of students when they approach a teacher and ask to be moved. A teacher's job is to foster academic success and promote a positive environment within the classroom. Therefore, appeals from student to be seated next to their friends should be taken with a grain of salt; their work and behavior should be the basis from which a teacher's decision is made.

Eash, Megan E.: Do classroom spaces really work' How classroom seating arrangements affect students' individual academic, social and behavioral needs. Presentation given to Inquiry conference, May, 2005.

Bonus, Michelle; Riordan, Linda: Increasing Student On-Task Behavior through the Use of Specific Seating Arrangements. ERIC #: EJ667493 Master´s Action Research Project, Saint Xavier University and IRI/Skylight Field-Based Masters Program. May, 1998.