Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Seating charts done zombie style

The first day is done and so are seating charts. I do something a little unconventional on the first day to empower and calm students for a good start to the trimester. It's called Seating Request.

While parents and students both see the logic and are quick to praise and give suggestions, I have gotten more dubious responses from some professionals more closely tied to education.

"Why do you bother? It's so time consuming." 

"They will just put down their same friends and not get to know or how to work with anyone else."

"Student preference shouldn't matter. Split them boy/girl or alphabetical to keep them quiet."

I can continue the list but I'm not going to. From the first days of my first year teaching, I felt an obligation to provide a safe and productive environment as quickly as possible. The seating request form shown above, with the silly Michael Jackson example, has some added benefits besides just the obvious ones. I'll go through it for anyone who wants more specifics.

#1: Name/Hour
This may seem like a "duh" to most people, but it allows me to find out students' preferred nicknames and what part of some of the hyphenated, double first or last names, or just plain WRONG names may have shown up on my student roster, without embarrassing students in front of their peers. I take attendance visually with an alphabetical assigned picture roster on the first day, thus having to only check for missing students, and not wasting 5 minutes calling out and butchering long legal names.

#2: Boys I want to sit by & Girls I want to sit by
I remind students before completing their request form, that they must have 2 boys and 2 girls on their slip or I will not collect it. We talk about the importance of picking good "work partners", not good "talk buddies". Parents get super jazzed about this at open house, to the point of wanting to fill out a slip for their kid before the school year starts. But I leave the decision to the student, ultimately. Obviously some kids will try to write extra names on the opposite gender, or hand-write in extras on new lines, or whatever. No big deal. Once I have my stack, I start sorting them into piles, linking names to names like dominoes, and then separating the dominoes into rows and columns... POOF, seating chart created! Allow any SPED or other needs of students first dibs on placement to ensure you don't have to start over later. Then I usually anchor new kids or kids whose name isn't written down on any other slips with supportive peers around them.

#3: DO NOT sit me by _______
This goes way behind separating/identifying bullies; it also helps students who want to quietly be separated from friends who may distract them, or an awkward situation with a past significant other (which in middle school usually means that they walked down the hall together, exchanged a few blushes and side-long glances, and made several sappy comments on each others' Facebook walls or possibly got Facebook "married" for a week, before calling it quits). At least half the class writes down 1-2 names per person, several leave it blank, write "I don't care" or "the window".  (I get distracted easily)

#4. Are you a lefty?
This comment was added last year after a very helpful administrator pointed out that I had left-handed kids sitting on the right of my pairs, banging elbows with right-handed kids on the left sides of the desk. This is not good for behavior management, concentration, and as most lefties will tell you, makes it very hard to take notes. After all the anchors in step 3 are placed, then I mark or anchor my lefties so that they have a left-handed desk or are next to another left-handed person. 

#5: Any other comments
While there isn't a specific spot for it, I verbally instruct students to write other helpful comments on their sheet, such as "I like the back so I can stand if my legs cramp" or "I love the front so I can see better" or "I need a seat close to the pencil sharpener because I have an obsession with pointed pencil tips!". I go back through each slip and add my own comments, such as "SPED/needs front" or "ADHD/ADD, needs side away from window", etc. and then keep all the sheets confidentially tucked away for later use. 
The down-side to using such an elaborate seating strategy, is of course the time needed to sort through them. But it gets faster each time, and even faster as the year goes on and I get to know students better. I usually have them re-fill out the slips each trimester even if the class doesn't change, because friendships and allegiances (especially in 7th grade) often do. I try to switch seats every 6 weeks and rotate back-of-the-room kids to the front of the room if at all possible. But then it begins to look like Tetris! Yikes!

Am I nuts? Yes! Is it turning me into a zombie? YES! Because I still have to organize my lessons for tomorrow! Is the copy lady going to shoot me tomorrow for sending worksheets to the copier after hours, that I need for the morning? Probably! I'll blame it on my zombie brain for not having caffeine from 9-3. Ugh. I think this is what I looked like when I left today. Here's hoping for a better tomorrow with a comfy seating arrangement!

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