There is something fascinating about the first day of class. If you get very early, you can see how students choose the seat they will occupy the rest of the class (and, very often, the rest of the course). I promise you it is very curious. When I was teaching at the University, I found it exciting because you learn a lot from people watching how they make seemingly inconsequential decisions.
The keyword here is “apparently”, of course. Because, although no one has explained it to us, we all “know” that those who sit in the front rows are the smart ones, the participative ones, the ones who want to get good grades. On the other hand, those in the background (or those who sit on the sides) are usually the absent-minded, those who do not participate or those who have zero motivation.
Or not. We tend to assume that the distribution of students in class has a lot to do with their personality, interest and potential. But what if it was the other way around? What if place in class would have a radical impact on results of the students? Well I have news: they are not hypotheses, are the conclusions of a good number of educational studies.
The smartass in the front rows
The idea of how bad students look for blind spots in the system Educational is an idea deeply ingrained in our culture. Augustine of Hippo described the same in his Confessions and it was only the second half of the third century after Christ. We do not have data, but Plato’s Academy and the Peripatetic Lyceum were also supposed to be quite a spectacle.
Therefore, when the first educational studies indicated that students who sat in the center of the rows tended to participate more in class than those who sat on the edges or that students who sat in the half closest to the teacher tended to communicate more with him than those at the back, nobody was surprised.
It was also not surprising to learn that those students in the front rows had better self-esteem than the rest: se autopercibían as smarter and thought they had a better relationship with the teacher. That translated, in the end, in a greater motivation and, above all, in better results.
But in 1980, Stires slammed the table (from teachers from half the world). Their experiments showed that the phenomenon of good students being in the front rows occurred whether the students chose their own seats or were randomly assigned their seats. That is, it was not a question of the students choosing according to their personal characteristics: it is that the location in class is not neutralHe had an effect that went beyond what we imagined.
For years, studies showed conflicting results. Above all, because educational research has some ethical and methodological problems that make it difficult to carry out solid experiments. But in 2010, Marshall y Lonsoczy presented a gigantic analysis that analyzed more than 70 classes over 15 years and they confirmed that the students in the central area of the first rows not only participated more, but also had better results (both in assignments and in exams.
Why is this not used in schools?
What was clear is that, although the personal characteristics of the students are important, the same class structure era a very interesting pedagogical tool. With this evidence on the table, why is it not used more commonly? I mean, why do teachers use these reorganizations only very sporadically?
We could argue that it is a consequence of the underdevelopment of “evidence-based education” and, although it would be true, it would not be accurate. The reality is that the organization of classes has an important effect, but it is not the only thing that influences.
If we ask students As to why they sit where it does, there are two large sets of responses that draw the other two large factors with surprising precision. The first of these groups is made up of students who usually respond that they sit where they do “because that way they can attend without making an effort”, “to avoid the anxiety caused by interacting with the teacher” or “to feel more committed to the class”. That is, by the individual characteristics of students.
This is something that, as we know, also has a role in academic achievement. And, precisely, it is something that makes us be cautious about possible reorganizations in class. Exposing shy students or making motivated ones invisible can have dire consequences for themselves (and for the whole class).
The other large set of responses students give is summed up as “because that’s where their friends sit.” It seems like a triviality, but it is not. Educational studies clearly show that students who sit together by affinity get better grades (and, in addition, these were very similar between them). In contrast, students who feel in isolation have worse results.
This indicates that the formation of peer groups has a positive effect on the achievement and commitment of students and is what makes it almost impossible to precisely manage the sites in the context of a class: maintain groups, attend to personal characteristics and distributing the positions cyclically is an (almost) impossible mission.
Tips for better results
This, which is a problem for teachers, is an opportunity for students. Convincing your class group to sit in the center of the front rows is a decision as simple as it is powerful to improve academic results. Whatever the educational level we are talking about.
They are not the only tricks that we have at our disposal. As Filip Raes explains, there are some ideas that improve the results: not having the presentations before class, studying on physical support, do not use the laptop or to take notes, attend all the training sessions or be aware that what we are ‘buying’ it is an opportunity to learn and not a degree.
Imagen | Jeswin Thomas, Kuanish Reymbaev