Rethinking Assigned Seating

Differentiated seating is all the rage these days, with students working at their choice of short chairs, exercise balls, wobble chairs, bean bags, stand-up stations, and traditional desks. In most classrooms utilizing this model, students are empowered to move at will, and their choices are only limited if they are off task or disturbing others.

Two years ago I wrote a Sanity Boost explaining why I thought assigned seating should be the norm in a well-managed classroom. So I started wondering… was I wrong? See what you think.

Should Students Sit Where They Want?

Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Where to Sit?No. End of story. Have a nice day.

Haha! Just kidding. I can actually think of two good reasons for students to choose where they sit:

  • As a reward or incentive.
  • So the teacher can learn which students are dysfunctional when they sit together and separate them when making a seating chart.

On the other hand, I can think of more than 20 reasons to assign seats. A few of the reasons have to do with making things easier for the teacher, but most make it better for the students in some way. Here they are, in no particular order.

  • Reduces anxiety for students – Most people like knowing what to expect. Your students are no different. When they don’t know where they are going to sit, they can feel insecure.
  • Cuts down on bullying opportunities – Some students intimidate other students to get preferred seating. Having a seating chart makes this less likely to happen.
  • When given a choice, the more eager students are likely to sit up front and the students who struggle will sit in back. The students who struggle will then struggle even more.
  • It’s real world practice for your students –In the real world, you don’t always get to sit by who you want (particularly on airplanes) and your students need to learn how to cope.
  • Allows for differentiation for multiple special needs, including:
    • ADD/distraction
    • Left-handed vs right-handed
    • Vision
    • Hearing
    • Movement needs (such as standing at their seat or walking around)
  • Saves steps for the teacher – Putting students who need extra help near the teacher saves steps for the teacher and allows the student to get help faster. (That’s really two reasons.)
  • Is usually perceived by the students as more fair than letting dominant student get the best seats.
  • Helps the teacher learn students’ names, a great way to develop positive relationships with students.
  • Helps a sub (assuming the students actually sit in their seats).
  • Makes attendance easier – No need to call out names or ask students to report who is absent. Just look for empty seats.
  • Can facilitate efficient paper passing – If you can create a seating chart that is aligned with your grade book, it can save you hours.
  • Can help students make new friends – I discovered one of my best friends in high school when we were assigned seats next to each other.
  • Tardy students don’t have to disrupt class to find a seat – They already know where they belong.
  • Can make sure desks and chairs are the appropriate size – Have you ever sat in a too-small chair or tried to write on a too-tall table? You can make needed adjustments when the student uses the same chair each day.

Do you agree that assigned seating should be the norm in a well-managed classroom? Why or why not? Feel free to email me with your comments, or go on over to www.Facebook.com/PositiveTeachingStrategies and leave your comments there. (April 5, 2015)


I still think there are many advantages to having students have a “home” area to sit in. Having an assigned seat doesn’t mean they have to sit in a traditional chair, or that every chair needs to be the same. It also doesn’t mean they have to stay in the same seat for the whole year, or even the whole class period. I often allow students to sit or lie on the floor, stand, sit on their knees, move to another desk to work with a partner, etc, during appropriate times of the day. 

I’ve also noticed that most teachers using the differentiated seating model require students to sit at a carpet area or other group meeting area for direct instruction and/or have different seating patterns for different activities. Some even have assigned seats during these times. This model is really no different than allowing students to move around the room once direct instruction is over.

The one difference I see is the “coffee shop” look. And I do think this is cool. Very cool.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

 

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How to Feel Better About Behavior Referrals

I sigh as I look at the behavior referral form. I try to minimize the number of students I refer to the office but I have no choice. The student grabbed another student by the throat which is an “automatic mandatory reporting” offence at this school.

My prep period drains away as I answer all the questions and fill in all the boxes. And then I get to the question I dread the most:

Behavior ReferralHave you contacted the student’s family? __Yes  ___No  You are required to contact the student’s family before submitting a discipline referral.

I think this is kind of unfair since I didn’t want to fill out the referral anyway. Plus I know this conversation will not go well. The parents of this student hate the school and all its horrible staff. They hate me most of all.

I am not in a good mood.

Hate Discipline Referrals?And then I remember the advice about five positive interactions for every negative and I think, “I wonder if I can apply this to myself? How could I have five positive interactions before facing this negative parent?”

So I make a list of five great students in my class. Actually, once I think about it, I have many more than five. Beside each name I write one or two positive things each of these students did recently. Then I pick up the phone and call their families, not to make THEM feel better, but to make ME feel better.

When I get those parents on the phone I tell them thank you for allowing me to work with their amazing kid. I give an example of something the student did recently that I really appreciate. And by the time I get down to the discipline referral call I’m in a much better mood.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m in the heat of teaching it’s sometimes easier to see what’s going wrong than to recognize all the hundreds of things that are going right in that moment. But noticing, acknowledging, and expressing gratitude for the positive stuff can give us the strength to deal with the negative stuff.

There’s an added bonus, too. When students see and hear us recognize positive behavior they often try harder, especially if we are specific about what we recognize. (“I see you helping your friend – thank you,” instead of “Nice job!”)

Now what about you? Have you ever tried “five positive for every negative” on yourself? Or have you ever made compliment calls to families? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

PS – Would you like more practical classroom management strategies that work? Check out the Monday Morning Sanity Boost archives. If you like what you see, you may want to gain access to even more strategies that I only share with Awesome Teacher Nation members. You can join here. It’s free!

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Ready-to-Go Lesson Plans – 7 Ways They Can Backfire

As classroom teachers we sometimes get bored with the same old lessons. But trying new ready-to-go lesson plans can backfire. Here’s why.

Lesson Plans BackfireA million years ago when I first started teaching, I spent way too much time and money at the Teacher Supply Store hunting for teaching ideas and ready-to-go lesson plans.

Today it’s Teachers Pay Teachers, Pinterest, Education World, and other on-line databases instead of the Teacher Supply Store, but the idea is the name – fresh new activities to do with your class.

We tend to think we need to keep coming up with brand-new ways of presenting information to our students so they won’t get bored. And that’s true, as long as we don’t overdo it.

But changing things up all the time in our classes may not always be the best strategy because it can waste valuable instructional time and undermine our classroom management.

Here are seven ways ready-to-go lesson plans can backfire:

Backfire #1 – You Won’t Be as “With-It”

A key to great classroom management is “withitness” – the ability read the room and take the right action to prevent problems before they occur. When we are concentrating on following an unfamiliar lesson plan or leading an activity for the first time, some of our attention will be used up and we won’t be as “with-it.”

Backfire #2 – Boredom

This lesson plan backfire is counter-intuitive. After all, aren’t we trying to keep it interesting by doing things differently? But when we are using a new teaching method, we will need to give more instructions, directions, and explanations to our students, which many students find boring. Bored students sometimes misbehave just to keep things interesting.

Backfire #3 – Lost Confidence

Many students enjoy feeling capable. It gives them confidence to know the “right” way to approach a learning task. When we change it up too much, some students can feel uncertain or lost. And unfortunately, sometimes this feeling causes them to act up in an attempt to feel better.

Backfire #4 – Avoidance Misbehavior

Some of our students use misbehavior to get out of an activity if they perceive it as “too hard.” And learning a new procedure at the same time they are trying to learn new content can be too much.

Backfire #5 – Rocky Transitions

Misbehavior MagnetSmooth transitions are crucial for good classroom management. Transitions that are confusing or that take too long are student misbehavior magnets. This is why effective teachers spend weeks developing systems around transitions, and teaching them to their students. When you introduce a new type of lesson plan, even a ready-to-go lesson plan, there will be new transitions to learn, and they will not be as smooth.

Backfire #6 – Teacher Stress

Even if you are excited about a new type of activity, leading it for the first time can be stressful. Stress can make it difficult to respond well to your students.

Backfire #7 – Choppy Momentum

One of the best ways to avoid behavior issues in the classroom is to keep things moving. Even if the ready-to-go lesson comes with great directions, you may need to pause and refer to them from time to time. This can stop momentum and cause student misbehavior.

What To Do Instead

When you find a cool new activity or idea on Pinterest, see if you can fit it into the learning routines your students already know. Or if you decide to try a brand-new learning method, use that method for more than one lesson. Not only will you make it less likely for the lesson to backfire, you will be able to shift more of the responsibility for learning onto your students, go deeper academically, and save yourself tons of time.

How about you? Do you agree that changing routines can lead to behavior problems? I’m always interested to hear what you think.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

PS – Would you like more practical classroom management strategies that work? Check out the Monday Morning Sanity Boost archives. If you like what you see, you may want to gain access to even more strategies that I only share with Awesome Teacher Nation members. You can join here. It’s free!

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Poor Results From Your Classroom Management Plan?

Results. We all want them, and if you’re like me, you want them NOW!

Are You Sabotaging Your Classroom Management Plan?“I put Alicia on a behavior plan, but she still acts out constantly. Why haven’t I seen any results?”

“I work hard to build rapport with my students, but they still challenge me from the moment they walk through the door.”

“Teaching behavior expectations doesn’t work. We go over procedures again and again with no results. The students STILL do whatever they want.”

It’s frustrating when you try interventions that are research based and/or work for other teachers, but don’t seem to generate the same results for you.

Too often, we either blame the students, the intervention, or ourselves. No results? I must be a bad teacher.

One year I borrowed a classroom currency program from another teacher. She swore it was like magic for her. I borrowed her masters and printed up the class money and checkbook registers. I thoroughly studied the program. I set it up exactly like she did, only to find that my students’ behavior was still out of control. Not only that, but I had to deal with a few additional problems, like counterfeiting, extortion, and theft. Not exactly the results I was looking for.

Reasons For Poor Results

There are many reasons a system can work for one teacher or class and not work for another. For example, you may be trying to implement without understanding the underlying principles. (This was the problem with my classroom currency. I was trying to use it to manipulate or “bribe” my students, while the other teacher was using it as a celebration of their achievements. Looks the same on the surface, but the kids can feel the difference.) Or maybe the students aren’t developmentally ready for that particular intervention. Or possibly it’s not culturally appropriate. The list goes on and on.

But one thing I find again and again is that educators don’t give the system time to work. We put Alicia on a behavior plan, and if we aren’t seeing results in a couple of days, we’re off to something different. We think greeting students at the door or creating a “lunch with your teacher” program will instantly generate rapport. We think we’ve reminded them about the pencil sharpener enough times that by now they should get it.

And then we either blame the students, the intervention, or ourselves. No results? I must be a bad teacher.

Here’s the truth. Changing habits is hard, and it takes time. Whenever you implement a something new, you are not only trying to change your students’ habits, you are also trying to change your own. Sometimes you even need to increase your effort to maintain your program after the initial novelty wears off, both for you and your students. And that takes effort. A lot of effort. When you focus only on results, it’s easy to become discouraged and give up too soon.

Focus on Effort, Not Results

So at least initially, try focusing on effort instead of results, for both you and your students. Is Alicia turning in her behavior card, even if she hasn’t instantly transformed into an angel? Celebrate! She’s developing the habit that will eventually help her learn more effective behaviors. Give yourself credit for changing your habits and greeting your students at the door. Rapport doesn’t develop instantly, and it sure won’t happen if you have the attitude that you are only doing it for the results you’ll get. Are you still teaching those behavior expectations? Good for you! The habit of continuing to teach until it’s learned will pay off with academics, too.

Celebrate and focus on your actions and efforts, and the results will flow naturally.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

PS – Would you like more practical classroom management strategies that work? Check out the Monday Morning Sanity Boost archives. If you like what you see, you may want to gain access to even more strategies that I only share with Awesome Teacher Nation members. You can join here. It’s free!

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