By Anne Moore
The bell rings, and they file in wearing attitudes in all shapes and sizes. They are my new class of sophomores on the first day of school. As I stand in the doorway, welcoming each new student to class and watching them take their seats, I realize each student is like a shape in a strategic game of Tetris. For example, a few students saunter in casually with an air of ennui and a slight nod to friends before they smoothly slide into a lounging position in the back seats. These students are like the “L-shaped” pieces of the game. Believe it or not, they serve as a foundation, and if they are not immediately engaged in the learning, they can make or break an entire class. Next are the “T-shaped” pieces. They are the students who bounce in excited and leap into the middle seats in the center of all the action. These kids are the out-going participators and keep a class together. Then, there are those students who walk in determinedly with pens, paper, and notebooks at the ready and drop into the front seats ready to conquer whatever comes their way. They are the “I-shaped” pieces that work well under pressure. Lastly, there are those students who walk in awkwardly, glance about nervously, and slide into seats at the fringes of the class. They are the “Z-shaped” pieces just looking for a place to fit. Before I ever open my mouth, all of these students have walked into my class, sorted, and stacked themselves in a comfortable predetermined place where they believe they belong, just like the game of Tetris.
However, education is not a shape-puzzle video game. There are no predetermined slots for students. Real learning is about stepping out of a comfort zone and stretching oneself mentally and creatively. It’s why my first words are always an attention-getter: “No one become too comfortable. I have a seating chart.” After the groaning and grumbling, the universal reply is always “But we haven’t even done anything yet!” Apparently, because their experience with seating charts has often been for behavior modification, students feel they are being punished when I announce I have one ready to go. What they do not understand, until I explain it to them and we’ve discussed it as a class, is that not all seating charts are based on behavior, and that a well-thought-out seating plan can benefit everyone in the class by grouping kids with different skills together.
The week before school starts, I spend time analyzing my new students and planning the year for them. Using data on TVAAS, I devise a plan to optimize everyone’s learning potential. I plan my seating chart based on diagnostic and past student performance, and I seat students accordingly: low, middle, high, middle, low, and so on down the rows of my classroom. It’s perfect for meeting the demands of the new Common Core State Standards because I can group students to meet a variety of learning tasks. For example, if I want students at various levels of performance working on a task, I can have each student work with the classmate behind him or her. If I want students performing at the same level working together on an activity, they work across rows.
It works because the kids don’t know how they are grouped, and no one feels singled out or left out. Everyone is included. I am optimizing every student’s learning potential and chances for success, and they feel empowered knowing that each one of them bring something unique to a group. Furthermore, I can adapt and modify the plan to meet the changing needs of my class.
In our class there is no middle, no front, and no back. Every student has unique skills to bring to the learning process. We are a class of creative individuals united by our learning experiences.