Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Seating plans and motivation

I remember as a practicum student that it was difficult to arrange a room where students worked well. I always resist seating plans initially as I am not sure how the social groups were aligned.

One strategy that is reasonably effective is to run a test, pair desks in rows and put the high scorers in the t-zone (through the middle and in front) and then put next to each one a student that they don't "hate" but is performing below their ability level. Any students that have lost focus/have situational issues or are behavioural challenges can be isolated to corners until attitudes improve. I put the high performers across the corridors so that they still have contact with each other but are often tempted to discuss with their partner first as it is easier to compare notes. In upper classes it can be good to do this a few weeks before the end of term and tell them that it can go back to free seating at the start of next term.

Like this (in a square room):

UH HU UH HU (U=Underachiever)
BM UH HU BM (H=High Achiever)
MM UH HU MM (B=Behavioural challenge)
BM UH HU MB (M=mid range student)

I then start a new topic and run a paired activity. It takes a bit of encouragement for students to speak to their partners, but quickly enough it stops much of the social chat in the classroom (as they have little socially in common) and promotes chat about the topic at hand. It's not a permanent solution but can raise the 'happiness' quota especially if struggling students need more attention in a big class where teacher time is limited.

This helps the underachievers as they have modelled behaviour from the high performers. It also allows separating chatty students without feelings of being "singled out".

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