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The Seatology: The Science Behind a Seating Chart

by: Leena Elzeiny

Desks have been symbolic of the quality of education since the beginning of time, and not every country mirrors an American’s average desk. In Egypt, overcrowded schools force children to work on their laps, whereas in China, students receive a table for two.

Yet, for every teacher, desks become a much more complex science. The arrangement of desks can engage students or distract them, and understanding the psychology of each arrangement becomes an integral tool in any teacher’s toolbox.

First of all, research shows that putting students into columns isolates students more, thus discouraging interaction among students. However, this can be perceived as a double-edged sword. When in columns, students cannot receive help from other students, and gathering into groups becomes a hassle. In addition, columns of more than 3 students provide a sense of invisibility for students, as they often cannot see the teacher or the board.

On the other side of the spectrum lies clusters. Clusters usually consist of four or five students facing one another, which encourages socialization and distractions. On the other hand, it also encourages collaboration and teachers can even create teams with these clusters. With or without team points, having students seated so near each other creates social pressure to remain attentive.

Since the psychology of seating arrangements was first recognized, new charts emerged. The most notable is the double horseshoe, which creates two ring of desks inside one another. Having only two rows ensures that every student can see the board, and also establishes a sense of equality. While columns of desks leaves the students in the back forgotten, a horseshoe ensures that every student receives the attention they need. However, seating arrangements are not the only factor that dictates s student’s learning process.

Seating charts are also crucial, as teachers can subdue any issues in the class through them. Despite popular belief, the science of assigned seating stretches beyond separating two friends from one another. The tacit rules explain that ADD or unmotivated students should be placed in the front center, where they receive the most eye contact from the teacher. However, some students with ADD can distract other students in addition to themselves. While these students should still be placed in the front, teacher forums recommend seating them towards the outer edges, where they cannot attract attention.

And, of course, all the introverts understand the agony of being placed next to the loudest ones in the class. This is one of the most used tactics in the book: using a barrier of the quietest in class in order to detain an energetic student. Without an audience, the noisier students won’t receive encouragement for distractions.

Seating charts and arrangements can dictate the dynamic of a classroom, and can speak volumes about the curriculum. As we grow older, our desks become more isolated as students are expected to become more independent, but in preschool, our society values collaboration as seen by the long, shared tables.

While seatology is a fabricated word, nevertheless, there is a science behind any seating structure in a classroom.

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