I want to discuss seating charts, but first let’s start with some definitions. Heterogeneous is to be diverse in character or content while homogeneous is to be the same kind or alike. It is very important that we understand those two words and know what we are trying to accomplish before we, as teachers, try a classroom seating chart strategy that just won’t work.
I group heterogeneously, and I do so in a very systematic process. It is a seating chart strategy that was conveyed to me by one of my administrators, who had read it in a book. I have since tried to find the book to give you the direct source, but to no avail.
Steps to Strategically Seating Your Students
To correctly utilize this seating chart strategy, you will need standardized scores for your students. You may use any assessment you would like to, or you can use a conglomerate score. We take MAPS tests at our school, so those scores are what I use to group and seat my students.
You will also need to place the desks in groups of four (pods, rows, etc.) for this seating chart. Then mark the desks in such a way that every four desks have the same demarcation. I use four colored dots (pink, green, yellow and blue) These are the stickers I use.
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There’s nothing stopping you from using animals, planets, numbers, or other stickers, however, for your seating chart. The demarcation of the stickers directly relates to the group the student is in based on their test score. So in my case, red is for the highest group. You might choose for that to be the koalas, planet Mars, or anything else.
Now, how does this work? Well, studies show that I can bring up my lower students by pairing them with higher students. Being exposed to the higher-level thinking processes, verbal expressions, and greater growth mindset of other students will often rub off on the lower students and result in some positive and lasting effects. I need to be careful; however, as those same studies show that I can bring down my highest kids if I’m not vigilant and very purposeful in how I match those interactions.
The Dinner Party Effect
This is where the real work comes in to play. If you’ve ever sat back and watched a dinner party, you’d notice that people tend to talk to those right next to them, on their left or right, or those directly across from them. But what doesn’t happen very often is for conversations to start up diagonally. Thus, if we place our highest and lowest students diagonally across from each other, they are less likely to affect one another. Instead the low student makes connections to the two middle students sitting across and next to them, and the high student does the same.
Using the colors on the pod for an example, the yellow sticker, Katrina, would be a student from the lowest group. Meagan’s sticker is green. She would be a kid from the third group. Blue would be a kid in the second group, in this case Marcus. And Jireme, the red sticker, would be the student from the highest group. So Katrina would talk mainly to Marcus and Meagan, rarely interacting with Jireme, the highest student in the pod. While Meagan would interact most with Katrina and Jireme, but would rarely get the benefit of what Marcus has to say.
Steps to Seating Your Students (Condensed)
Step 1 is to list your students from highest to lowest score
Step 2 is to then split them into four even groups.
Step 3 is to take one student from each group and place them together into a pod.
Step 4 is to arrange your pod following the placement guidelines.
A Caveat & Final Thought
Now let me add one caveat here…our classes are already grouped by ability so there is not a radical difference between the top and bottom students. If this was truly a heterogeneous group I would probably want to rethink my seating chart arrangements some more. Seating purely by scores on one performance can be misleading and not always ideal.
Yet I urge you to give this type of grouping a try and see what happens with your students and their overall abilities. If you can raise the scores of your lowest learners simply by having them surrounded by higher learners, then it’s a win-win situation.
How do you group your students? Let me know in the comments.
—>Thanks to the wonderful comments, I have learned that this is a Spencer Kagan technique. You can learn more directly from the source, by checking out their blog post here.
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