Seating assignments and Excel

I neither assign students to seats, nor do I allow them to choose their own. They do not choose their own because if they have free choice, they always choose the same seats, and I don't want them to do that. I want them to sit in different seats every time next to different people. I think I've seen research that changing perspectives makes learning more effective, but even if it's not true, I want them to be breaking habits in my class, not 'settling in' as it were. Back in the day when I had my desks in a big circle, I used to make every other kid get up and move four or six seats one direction or the other, and sometimes repeat that during the lesson.

So how do I do this without assigning seats? I use Excel to assign each student to a random seat every day. I have put numbers on the desks and then I have this Excel sheet:

The numbers in column D are generated by the 'rand()' formula, which assigns a random number from 0 to 1. On the version I use with my classes, those numbers are white so the students can't see them. Wanda Washington does not have a number by her name because she always sits in seat 22 for whatever reason. (In one class, I have a group of brand new EAL students who need to sit together and in the front; in another class, a student requested to always sit in the front.)

To seat them randomly, I choose the boxes with the random numbers and names but not the seat numbers, starting with D3 and ending with B25 and then hit Sort (either way, it doesn't matter). Excel then sorts those rows by the randomly generated number in column D and reassigns a random number, so I can hit 'Sort' five times in a row and get a new seating assignment each time.

I have been doing this for two years now, even with my Diploma students (grades 11-12). Here's what I like about it:

  1. Every class start off with a little game. My younger students enjoy that, and the grade 7 girls talk about it being 'their day' if they are together for a period or two.

  2. I can break up cliques without calling attention to them. I have an expectation that all students should be able to work with all students, so I can do quick-shares or small groups based on the random seating and off they go.

  3. If I want to keep those groups intact for a while, I just save those seats.

  4. While some seating assignments might not be optimal for some kids, it's only for a period, and I reserve the right to make additional switches as needed.

  5. I move the desks around to fit the activity and still use the system as the desks are numbered.

  6. Dealing with randomness is a life skill.

  7. The students get it. Last year, the random seats got high marks from my Diploma students, saying that they benefitted from moving seats but were too complacent to do it themselves.

As far as drawbacks go, the only one I can see is if I don't want Wanda Washington's static position to be noticed. It would be good to find a way to keep her within a set of seats randomly so she's moving but not completely freely. Last year I had a student who needed to sit up front but I couldn't isolate him, so I would just keep hitting Sort until he was in one of the optimal seats. It would also be possible to have a subset of students sorted in a group of consecutive seats.

Anyway, that's what I do.


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