Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Letting Students Choose Their Seats

My 7th grade Social Studies teacher let us choose our seats.  On the very first day of school!  It was something I had never been allowed to do before and it was incredibly exciting.  We could all sit with our friends!  And then two weeks later, after she figured out who everyone was friends with, she assigned our seats and no one sat near any of their friends for the rest of the entire year.  She was a smart lady.  Much smarter than any of us because we did NOT see that coming.

I let students choose their seats.  And unlike my brilliant 7th grade Social Studies teacher, I don't give students assigned seats later in the year.  I don't ever assign their seats.  Don't tell any of my previous Department Chairs or Principals.

And I know you are thinking "you don't do WHAT?!"  I don't assign seats.  Yeah.  Let me explain.

Let students choose their own seats, seating chart
I have several reasons for this:
1.  It's easier than assigning seats and fighting with students about where their seat is (or isn't).
2.  I maintain the right to revoke the seating choice of any student at any time for any reason.
3.  It works for me.

Reason #1:  It's easier.
When I used to assign seats, there were always those students who would challenge my seating choices.  Sometimes openly, but usually passively.  They would walk in the classroom and sit in the seat three seats over.  Or across the room.  Or anywhere but the seat I had their name in on my seating chart.  They would just sit down like they thought I wouldn't notice.  And I would say "Monica, can you move to your seat please?" and Monica would argue.  She would list all her infinite reasons why her assigned seat was not nearly as good as the seat she was currently in.  "But I won't talk in this seat."  "But I can focus better in this seat."  And while all her reasons may or may not have been legitimate, she knew all the right things a teacher wanted to hear.  And precious class minutes were lost to Monica's objections about seating.  And then Victor's objections about seating.  And Asia's.  And twelve other students'.

I got tired of fighting about it.  I got tired of losing precious class time over something petty.

Reason #2:  I will move you.
Giving up control of the seating chart is not giving up control of the classroom.  Rule #2 goes hand-in-hand with Rule #1 and both must exist in the classroom in order to make students choosing their seats work.  When Monica sits in a seat of her choosing, and that seat happens to be next to her best friend, I tell Monica that she will sit in a seat of my choosing if she cannot pay attention to the lesson and complete her work.  That seat is always right up front.  I don't know why students always hate to sit in the front row.  I must have terrible breath.

If it is the beginning of the school year and expectations are still being established, I tell Monica, and really the whole class, that if she cannot pay attention in class and complete her work, then she will move up front (or to another seat of my choosing that I point out in that moment).  I say it calmly, evenly, and like I really mean it.  And I do.

And then I move on.  But the instant Monica's behavior is disruptive or off-task, all I have to do is point to the seat I have chosen for her and she must get up and move to her new seat that she will sit in until she proves she knows how to act in my classroom.

If it is the middle or end of the school year and expectations have already been established, then Monica has probably definitely already seen me move students who cannot handle sitting in the seat of their choice.  I will remind her quietly that she is to pay attention and complete her work, and I point out the seat she will sit in if she cannot meet these expectations.

Reason #3:  It works for me.
It really does.  If students know that they will absolutely lose the privilege of sitting where they want (99% of the time it's next to their friends), they will be more mindful about their behavior.  They don't want the shame of being That Kid who has to be moved when everyone else can sit wherever they want.  They don't want to lose the privilege that everyone else has and if they know for sure that you are completely serious and will absolutely move them the minute they are disruptive, they will avoid losing this privilege.  This is especially effective with the class clowns.

I don't have to fight with students about where they sit so I am happy.  Students get to sit where they want, so they are happy.  Students have to behave themselves to keep the privilege of choosing their seating, so I am even happier.  #winning

I should note I have had success with students choosing their own seats in 7th grade classes through seniors.  It may or may not be successful in an elementary classroom.

Have you ever given students the choice of sitting wherever they want?  Share your horror or success stories!

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