Where students choose to sit in a classroom can have an effect on how professors perceive them, says Chris Hakala, a psychology professor and director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Western New England University.
Students who sit in the front of the classroom may find it easier to develop a better relationship with their professor, unlike those who choose to sit in the very back.
Although choosing to sit in the front of the classroom may improve classroom engagement, it won’t necessarily translate into better grades, he says.
“In bigger classes, students in front do tend to be better students,” Hakala says. “That being said, if you tell a bad student to sit up front, it’s not going to do a lot.”
Still, sitting closer to the front of the room does have an effect on student-teacher rapport, which is linked to greater academic performance. Students who choose to sit in the front may find it easier to maintain eye contact, and there is a greater likelihood that the student will be spoken to, he says.
Perhaps most importantly, students up front are more likely to pay attention.
“Classroom attention is important. A student who can’t focus or who can’t be brought back to the situation is not going to learn,” Hakala continued. “There’s a lot of research on the waxing and waning of attention in the classroom. In lecture, students’ attention tends to bottom out about 30 minutes into class, which is just when faculty are getting to the most important information. Proximity to the professor does have an impact on that.”
Although there has been a lot of research done on seat placement in classes, Hakala says the data is hard to interpret because it relies on correlation.
“It’s not clear if they sit up front because they’re good students or if good students just prefer to sit up front,” he says.
Other factors may dictate whether a student chooses to sit in the front of the classroom. Chief among them: Where their friends are sitting, how good their eyesight is, if they were late to class and the front happens to be all that’s available, says Deborah Ricker, Dean of Academic Services at York College of Pennsylvania.
Still, as a lecturer, Ricker says seating choice alone has little to no impact on her perception of a students’ work ethic, and many of her colleagues agree.
“Teaching and learning is less about where the student sits and more about how a student thinks, works and behaves,” she says. “I have personally had some very talented students sit in the middle and back of the classroom near the door.”
Although where students choose to sit in the classroom doesn’t make or break academic performance, it can have an effect on your level of engagement, says James Black, director of the Center for Academic Achievement at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa.
“You have to realize that where you sit communicates something to the professor and affects your engagement in the classroom, but it’s not more important than learning the material and studying,” he says.
Black admits that when he was a student, he tended to sit in the back of the classroom and was nervous about speaking up during class.
“From that perspective, I understand why students may not want to sit in the front, which is why I encourage them to not alienate themselves from the professor,” he says.
Still, it’s important for students to feel comfortable, no matter where they choose to sit.
“If students aren’t feeling that confident, they don’t need to sit up front and feel stressed the whole time,” Black says. “Maybe sit halfway back and make sure to make eye contact with the professor. Then you can gain more confidence and start to move up to the front.”
Where do you sit in the classroom and why?
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