The art and science of seating charts


A’s in the front, Z’s in the back. How many of us grew up sitting in alphabetical order next to the same few classmates throughout school? While this is a quick and efficient way to learn student names, which is no easy task, it is not the most effective way to maximize academic success. As a former high school teacher, I have seen and felt the chemical reactions that take place in a classroom when best friends or arch enemies are sitting in close proximity to one another. I truly believe that seating charts are one of the easiest, most effective, and often underutilized ways to improve classroom management and set the semester off on a productive tone from day one. As we kick off the second semester in the 2011-2012 school year, one of the first steps teachers will take with new classes of incoming students is to create seating charts. These arrangements can and should be created in an artful, data-driven way to strategically set students up for success.

I used to spend hours scouring through different formal and informal data to seat students in optimal locations around my classroom. Student Information Systems provided information on previous class schedules, grades, attendance patterns, and sometimes discipline records and family circumstances. Individualized Education Programs (IEP’s), Limited English Proficent reports (LEP’s) and 504 Plans informed me of special needs, required modifications, and accommodations related to seating such as: near the board, near the teacher’s desk, near the door, etc. Then I would compare class rosters with teachers in my department so that we could share lessons learned from previous experiences with students. Lastly, student files in the record room provided a treasure trove of information, but that is an extremely time-consuming process that I honestly did not have time to utilize consistently.

All of the above fact-finding gave me hints about each student’s likelihood of success or failure in my class. However, it took a lot of precious time, and only gave pieces to a puzzle that I still had to assemble. Teachers who use SAS’ predictive analytics through EVAAS will hopefully be incorporating its Individual Student Projection data into this seating chart process. EVAAS gives teachers a much more accurate probability of each student’s success in their classes…at a single glance. Teachers can look at their new class rosters in EVAAS to see a graphic projection for how well each student is likely to perform on individual final exams. They can also look further into the future to a projection for student success on future milestones- like AP Exams, SAT, ACT, and various college readiness measures.

So how does this data improve seating chart creation? You first identify high achieving students and those who are “at-risk” of failing and needing additional early support. I liked intermixing my high achievers and at-risk students so that there could be some positive peer-to-peer assistance on daily basis. I always placed my “at-risk” students along the perimeter of the formation so that I could casually observe their work more frequently without making a special point to get to them (kids notice this type of “special attention” and often do not like it). I also made an effort to intermix students based on gender and grade-level, since I taught mixed-grade 9-12 courses. For example, you would not seat all of your high-achieving Senior boys together. They would finish their work at lightning speed and then want to socialize, creating a distraction to others who need more time and support. Likewise, although it would be efficient to group all special needs students together near my desk so that I could work with them at the same time, they would not benefit from the positive peer effect of seeking help and support from their classmates.

Getting seating charts right on the first day of school not only yields earlier productivity, but also alleviates the seemingly negative attention students feel when teachers need to move them around later in the semester. However, when changes do need to be made because classroom dynamics change as student relationships develop, it is always best to move a group or the entire class at once, rather than single out one or two kids who need rearranging. These are the tips that worked well for me, but I would love to hear other seating chart best practices from those of you in the classroom!


About Author

Nadja Young

Senior Manager, Education Consulting

Hi, I’m Nadja Young. I’m a wife and mother of two who loves to dance, cook, and travel. As SAS’ Senior Manager for Education Industry Consulting, I strive to help education agencies turn data into actionable information to better serve children and families. I aim to bridge the gaps between analysts, practitioners, and policy makers to put data to better use to improve student outcomes. Prior to joining SAS, I spent seven years as a high school Career and Technical Education teacher certified by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards. I taught in Colorado’s Douglas County School District, in North Carolina’s Wake County Public School System, and contracted with the NC Department of Public Instruction to write curriculum and assessments. I’m thrilled to be able to combine my Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing Management and Master of Arts degree in Secondary Education to improve schools across the country.

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