The best seat imaginable

A student’s perspective on classroom layouts.


Kaden Boyer, Writer

Teachers create the blueprint of the classroom. Many different factors are considered when trying to create the most optimal learning environment. While most elements of the classroom will remain constant throughout the schedule of a student, one most notably will differ from teacher to teacher the seating arrangement. 

Whether it be rows, pods, clusters or abstract arrangements, teachers always seem to have a philosophical preference for what works best for them. But among these designs, there is no consensus upon which one is the best. It is ultimately up to the teacher to construct. 

This is a harder task than it sounds at first. The arrangement of desks needs to encourage students to engage with their peers, but not to the extent that it distracts them from listening to the teacher. The layout also needs to be aesthetically pleasing while still being effective, as a classroom should not be too crowded or too sparse. 

The traditional layout is the simple stack of seats in a row. This is the most natural because it neatly fits within a square or rectangle arrangement, and all the seats face the teacher. However, this is not entirely advantageous for students communicating with each other, and there is a clear difference in engagement between the back of the classroom and the front. 

Layouts that are becoming more common in all levels of school bring students together in groups. This layout promotes cooperative work and discussion but can interfere with learning from the teacher. Rows and groups are generally the two terms that seating arrangements of any shape will fall under, it essentially comes down to what is prioritized.

Another element that generally varies in a student’s schedule is a seating chart. Some teachers encourage the freedom of where students can sit and who they can sit by, while others prefer to choose where students sit to minimize distractions. The pros and cons to this are dependent on the student and class. Teachers should grant the freedom for students to pick because it will encourage students to look forward to class with their friends and would boost engagement. But it should be monitored, and if it is too distracting then it should move to a seating chart instead. Starting a semester with a seating chart does not even allow teachers to see the possibility that their class operates better when students pick.

Teachers and students very likely have different priorities with their ideal classroom layout. Students want to look forward to class, and teachers do too. For the student, one of the best parts about school is being around friends and learning about intriguing topics. Teachers want to prioritize a classroom where everybody is engaged and students can effectively learn and problem-solve together. These two ideal perspectives naturally will have some overlapping factors. There is no perfect setup where attention can be perfectly divided between peers and learning. There needs to be some give-and-get to find a happy medium.   

Although there is no perfect layout, each teacher has their ideal layout, whether that aligns with student opinions or not. Research done by Rachel Wannarka and Kathy Ruhl of Pennsylvania State University supported the idea that, when comparing rows to groups, students were more likely to focus on work and less likely to be distracted. This ultimately would explain why seating differs so much from teacher to teacher, because each arrangement has to align with teaching philosophies. Classes that are more based on individual learning would benefit more from a seating arrangement where the focus prioritizes attention to the teacher over students collaborating, like in rows. However, classes should be based around the student, and students working with other students is fundamentally important. If students being off-task is a concern, then the teacher should construct a seating chart to ensure distractions are minimized. In a real-world setting, most jobs require working in groups to some capacity, so schools should prepare students for such scenarios. While rows are not a coherently bad arrangement, clusters and pods, where students are together, will be the most advantageous for the student and teacher. Real world skills should be incorporated into learning, and students working together most similarly reflects that.