When proximity seating is used to manage a student’s problem behavior, it traditionally means allowing a student to sit in the front of the classroom and as close to the teacher as possible. But does it work? And if proximity seating does work to correct problem behavior, when and how should it be used?
There was a time, relatively early in my teaching career, when it seemed like the answer to every behavior problem was “proximity seating." If I went to my principal about a challenging student, she would say, “Well, have you tried proximity seating?" If I went to my department head about a child that was sleeping in class, she would say, “Well, have you tried proximity seating?"
So, of course I tried proximity seating. If I had a child giving me problems, I would place them front and center, right in the middle of the front of the room, where I could keep my eye on them. Of course, this was also the place where the entire class could keep their eyes on them, (and all their behavioral idiosyncrasies) as well. I kept using it though, because I was inexperienced, non-tenured, and wanted to continue teaching.
As I gained experience and confidence in my teaching abilities, however, I decided that proximity seating did not have to mean front and center. It might mean back and to the right. And when I finally trusted myself to make the decision about the best seating arrangement for my students, the behavior problems in my class diminished remarkably. I judged what worked best for each student as they related to the class as a whole, and I found a successful classroom management strategy.
An aspect that must be considered when considering the use of proximity seating is that many classrooms today do not even have a “front." In my classroom, for instance, the white board is on one wall, the overhead on the opposite wall, and word walls (which we use a great deal during instruction) on each wall. My students usually sit in groups instead of rows, so proximity seating can really become a challenge.
The following are some elements to consider when seating students with behavioral challenges and determining your classroom management plan.
- Students that should be seated in the front (if there is a true front) of the room:
Students that have a hard time paying attention. They might have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or simply need a little extra attention. (For more ideas on how to help kids with ADD, read here.)
Students that have hearing or vision problems. This should be written into their Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) or 504 Plans.
- Students that need special seating but not necessarily in the front of the room.
Those with tendencies to act out. If they are seated where everyone has a great view of them, they may misbehave even more to please their audience and give other students ideas about misbehaving.
In the end, it is essential to determine what works best for you and your students. And regardless of behavior, it is a good idea for teachers to rotate their students’ seats in the classroom. That way everyone gets to sit in all places in the room alongside different classmates. This helps your students build rapport with one another, promotes community, and leads to better classroom management.