Study: Class seat location linked with grades, more so for the shy

Classroom environments have a recognized impact on student performance. According to “common sense” classroom observations, choosing to sit in the back row(s) is among the most telling signs that someone will be less than engaged in their studies. Performance impairments may also result from situations where seats are assigned, as people in the back rows must deal with being furthest from the information source (teacher, blackboards, etc.). Oddly, little research has been conducted to objectively investigate the relationship between grades and seat location.

Marco Pitchierri and Gianluigi Guido of the University of Salento have recently added to the knowledgebase by both confirming the relationship and identifying shyness as a potential moderating factor. Their study was published in the journal Learning and Individual Differences.

Data was collected by surveying multiple marketing classes over a five-year period. A final sample of 270 students was included (56% female). During each year students were required to maintain their seating position. Surveys included items such as seat location, self-assessed shyness and self-assessed level of nonconformity. Each of the latter two measures was reported using a 7-point Likert scale. Students were also asked if they were sitting near friends to account for the potential influence of their presence, as it could provide additional environmental comfort.

After an initial analysis it immediately became apparent that the impact of nonconformity was not statistically significant as a moderator of the seating-performance relationship. Accordingly, the variable was eliminated from additional tests. As predicted, seating position was significantly linked to grade performance, with scores dropping as distance from the front of the room increased. Shyness was found to have an appreciable impact on this relationship. Specifically, low levels of shyness were related to a lessened effect. Grade performance for less shy students still dropped as seats moved toward the back but not as much as those with higher levels of shyness.

Many current educational studies are focused on the integration of new technologies and alternative approaches to learning, but this investigation suggests that there is still much to be learned about more traditional concerns. The results show that grades are worse for students who sit toward the back, suggesting that even planned seating arrangements in classrooms can put some students at a disadvantage.

This effect is worse for shy students, possibly because they are more intimidated by the idea of asking questions from a distance. Accordingly, shy students may be better placed in front seats. More testing would be needed to evaluate such a theory, but it is an example of the potential benefits that could result from continuing to study traditional educational variables like seating position.