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Seating charts as an instructional aid? In this episode, Garvey takes a closer look at how to set up a seating chart and what it can help you achieve in your classroom.
Welcome to Teaching & Learning Matters, and thank you for listening. I am Dr. Garvey Pyke, and today we are going to talk about an overlooked instructional tool: the seating chart.
I know, I know, students grumble when they realize there will be a seating chart, and some faculty grumble at the idea, too. That’s OK. But let’s take a closer look at how to set up a seating chart and what it can help you achieve in the classroom.
First of all, whether you have small classes or large ones, you can start off by creating a blank seating chart. Think about the layout of the room—the number of rows, the number of seats per row, et cetera. Unless you have a great memory, you will likely need to visit the physical space and perform a manual count. Draw up your chart with enough room to write the names in each one and also leave a space around each name for other notations. Make a photocopy of the blank chart, in case you need to redo it or if you use the same classroom next semester.
Once you have created your blank chart, you now have a couple options for filling in the names. One method is to bring it to class and announce to the students that where they are currently sitting is their seat for the semester, and then pass around the blank chart and a pencil, asking them to print their names neatly in the corresponding spot. Another way is to put students in alphabetical order and fill out the chart yourself.
The third way is to create a seating chart yourself that blends different student personalities and styles to make the most instructionally conducive classroom environment. This last method is most often used when you can anticipate off-task behaviors from students—such as talking with friends—that can be remediated through a creative seating chart. Usually, there are only a few personalities that need to be separated, and then you can just fill in the other names randomly. It is a good idea to pay attention to who sits in front—and back. Thus, the seating chart is an excellent tool for classroom management.
Whatever the method you use for getting the students assigned to the seating chart, one of the fruits of your labor will be learning your students’ names more rapidly. A seating chart is immensely useful in learning all the names: when students ask questions in class, answer your questions, or have discussions, you will be able to easily glance at the chart to see who is talking.
Likewise, you can use the chart to call students by name. You will find that soon the names stick in your mind without needing the chart every time. When we know our students’ names, and use them, students feel more connected to us and the classroom community, which increase student success and retention.
A seating chart is also used for managing classroom participation, to ensure that all students are actively involved. I keep the seating chart handy during classroom discussions, lectures, and Q&A sessions. Every time a student asks a question, answers a question, or otherwise participates, I put a little hash mark in their space on the seating chart. Then I can quickly assess who has participated that day, and I know who to call on—or who not to call on—to ensure that everyone is involved.
The natural tendency is to stress coverage: we try to cover as much as possible in a given class session. This is perfectly normal. However, this can cause us to call on one or two students too frequently, as if they are a “shill in the audience,” planted there by us to answer all of our questions. Therefore, using a hash mark method can be quite revealing. I change pen color every class session—blue, black, red, back to blue, et cetera—so I can keep track of participation not just for the semester but also on a class by class basis, too.
In summation, I hope you got a few practical tips today on how to set up and use a seating chart. If you have any questions or want to learn more, come on over to the Center for Teaching and Learning at UNC Charlotte, and we will talk about some strategies that fit your style, your students’ needs, and your subject area.
Thanks for listening, and please tune in next time, when we will discuss a short and simple active learning technique for immediate use in your classroom. Until then, so long, and remember: Teaching and Learning Matters.
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