Classrooms and educational spaces come in a variety of configurations that often teachers have no control over, from traditional rectangular rooms to open plan environments. But educators are able to have a big impact on how the space is experienced by students by varying the seating arrangements while asking these questions:
- Should teachers or students decide who sits where?
- When was the last time you looked at your classroom layout from a student perspective?
- Do you regularly check if everyone can see and hear properly?
- Does the learning activity dictate the seating arrangement in your classroom? Do you change your layout according to different needs?
- Is your choice of classroom seating arrangement based on the educational goals?
Looking at things from a student’s perceptive
Within a learning environment, students can have very different experiences of that environment depending where they are positioned. Temperatures in a space can differ as can lighting, both natural and artificial. The view of the blackboard or smart board can be quite different, site-lines maybe blocked by storage furniture, projectors or even other tall students. When was the last time you looked at things from a student perspective? Have you put yourselves in their shoes (or seat) or even checked with everyone if they can see and hear properly?
Deciding who sits where
There is no one ideal classroom layout that works for each and every activity. So who does decide who sits where, and why? Recent research by Gremmen, M. C., van den Berg, Y. H., Segers, E., & Cillessen, A. H. looked at ‘Considerations for classroom seating arrangements and the role of the teacher characteristics and beliefs’. This is what they had to say:
‘Teachers seem to have multiple and various considerations for their seating arrangements, which cannot be simplified into one core theme like ‘academic functioning’. The considerations refer to several categories, such as classroom management, social reasons, or physical reasons. In addition, teachers’ reasons seem neither related to their visions on academic and social functioning, nor to their personal characteristics, such as gender and years of experience. Moreover, using more well-considered seating arrangements can improve students behaviour and learning. It can thus be concluded that teachers need to become more conscious about seating arrangements as an important part of classroom management. Teachers need to be informed about the possibly preventive and intervening effects of a seating arrangement on students’ academic and social behaviours. It can be a helpful tool for teachers, who have the difficult task to place all students in the classroom. In addition, it can help teachers in achieving the goals they have to achieve within their education nowadays.
Teachers need to integrate all students in the classroom, which results in even more complicated decisions regarding the physical design of the classroom. They have to think about how students with social-emotional problems become part of the group like everybody else. Is it the best way to place students with education needs in front of the teacher so that they can be helped easily? But how does that relate to their social development? And is it effective to put students’ with the same or opposing characteristics close to one another? Many questions arise, which are related to difficult decisions for teachers.
These decisions regarding seating arrangements are less difficult when teachers are attuned to a classroom’s social dynamics. Teacher attunement has increasingly been found to be important for positive classroom processes and peer environments.
Achieving A Flexible Classroom Layout
But how can teachers have the necessary flexibility to achieve this fluidity of classroom layouts and meet varying needs. One way is to adopt flexible multi-purpose furniture that can easily be arranged and re-arranged depending on different activities. That could involve students working on their own or coming together for collaborative projects. But the main benefit of a flexible classroom means there’s also flexibility when it comes to the needs of the students, both individuality and as a whole, so that everyone has the opportunity to thrive and learn in the way that works best for them.