Accommodation Breakdown: Strategic Seating

File this under “accommodations that shouldn’t go wrong, but end up leaving you paralyzed in jaw-dropping numbness” at the absurdness surrounding incorrect interpretations and/or implementations, or both. Who knew such a straightforward accommodation could become a nightmare?

What is Strategic Seating?

Strategic seating is just what it sounds like. It is a seat in the classroom that is chosen for a specific student, to help address his or her unique needs.

Who Needs Strategic Seating?

This is another of those accommodations that would help the majority of children, both general education and special education. Maybe the student has auditory processing challenges and needs to be away from extraneous noise and near the teacher. Perhaps the student is easily distracted and needs to be away from open doors and windows. It’s easy to daydream when the playground is right outside or the open door provides a mental exit from class. The student might be shy, full of anxiety, and need a certain spot to feel comfortable, where she can catch the teacher’s eye with ease, or where the teacher can monitor her without hovering. There are a lot of applications, so if you think this would be good for your child, consider asking for it.

What Could Go Wrong?

True story: A student with auditory processing challenges had the following accommodation:
Preferential seating to minimize distractions.
Extraneous noise got in the way of the student’s processing of information. It wasn’t that he was easily distracted, but more that when multiple noise sources were in play, it was kin to being at a cocktail party. His hearing was perfect, but as the number of noise sources increased, so did the buzz at the cocktail party. The parent assumed the student would be at the front of the classroom, near the teacher, so that if there were background noises, kids talking, and so on, the student would have an easier time. The special education teacher thought that it would be easier for the student to avoid distractions if he was sitting next to her desk in the back of the room, where she could keep an eye on him. So, yes, the special education teacher had an eye on him, but the student was as far away as possible from the general education teacher who was the main source of instruction. In addition, when students were doing independent work, the special education teacher brought students to her desk to work with her, which meant the student with this accommodation rarely experienced silence.  His “strategic seating” was perhaps the worst—and noisiest—seat in the class. In this case, this classroom happened to be a middle school English class and the student happened to have Dyslexia, reading comprehension, and writing fluency struggles, too. Toward the end of the year, the student grew increasingly frustrated with the special education teacher and the mother, who had experienced difficulties with the teacher herself (the special education teacher was also the student’s IEP case manager and went MIA for weeks at one point), contacted the special education teacher. The teacher responded:
He does respond to my redirection and is very polite, but returned quickly to off-task behaviors. At times, he is avoiding the work. I have told him several times that he needs to complete his work more quickly, and work more diligently towards that goal. The book reading was read out loud together, which is what we always do at least once or sometimes more than once, but the questions are not. Each student works at their own pace. I explain a question to individual or small group students when needed and/or asked for. I take extra time to explain questions to XXXX and/or he hears me discussing the questions with other students, since he sits close to my home location.
Are we surprised that a student with Dyslexia, reading comprehension, writing fluency, and auditory processing challenges might try to avoid reading and writing work? Nope. Are we surprised that the student didn’t learn the lessons via osmosis, just because he was sitting next to the special education teacher when she worked with other students? Nope. Are we surprised that a special teacher who knows that a student struggles with Dyslexia, reading comprehension, writing fluency, and auditory processing would interpret his accommodation to mean he should sit at the back of the room, away from the main source of instruction, and next to her, where, when the gen ed teacher isn’t presenting, she’s working out loud with groups of students? Yep. Are we even more surprised that this special education teacher would tell the student to “work more quickly, and work more diligently”? You better believe it.

Just When You Thought You Were Safe . . . There’s More!

There’s a lot more to think about.


If the accommodation includes “to avoid distractions”, teachers who don’t read IEPs in full (I know . . . Can you believe such individuals might exist?) might assume the child has attention struggles, hence the use of the word “distraction”. This might lead the teacher to believe he or she needs to keep the student nearby, where the student can be watched. That might lead to your kid sitting in the back of the room, which is exactly where he doesn’t need to be.

Teacher Location and Classroom Layout:

If the accommodation includes “sit at front of room”, the student will struggle if the teacher instructs from the back, near his desk. This teacher might rely heavily on Power Point, and while the student is near the screen, the teacher is speaking from behind him, at the back of the class. What if the desks are arranged in fours or circles or other configurations, and the teacher walks around as he instructs?

Classroom Location:

What if the classroom is right next to the band room or the cafeteria? The teacher will have to keep the door shut. Same goes for windows if the classroom overlooks the playground, basketball court, parking lot, and so on.

Group Projects:

What do you do when students are grouped with other students for classwork? Can your child choose an alternate location for her group?

How to Write the Accommodation?

There’s a lot to think about, much of which comes down to your individual child and his or her needs. Here’s an example:
Strategic seating. During large-group instruction, student will sit near primary speaker and away from extraneous noise. During classwork, student will be located away from extraneous noise. During group classwork, student will have option to work in quiet location with group. If classroom configuration and teacher point of instruction are not the traditional layout, with all desks pointed toward the front of class, with teacher instructing from front of class, the student, teacher, and parent need to meet, to identify the best seat location.
If the classroom is next to the cafeteria during lunch or overlooks the playground while other kids are outside, you’ll need to add something about the doors and windows remaining closed. This accommodation proved to be a major surprise, so I’m guessing there are other issues to consider. If you have any, please email me and I’ll add them to this article.

2 comments on “Accommodation Breakdown: Strategic Seating

  1. Our daughter’s similar 504 accom. was ignored when it came to other distracting students. In middle school, they would sit her next to other kids with adhd (THE H in ADHD) or disruptive behaviors (usually boys), and others who would use headphones and/were allowed to play computer games!

    1. K, Thanks for your comment. This is one area where an advocacy goal would have helped my own student. Being able to go to the teacher and asked to be moved to a different seat is a way of advocating for oneself. Of course, the student first has to get to the point of knowing that sitting in a certain place, next to a certain person, and so on, won’t work for him or her, and the student needs a teacher who will cooperate if the student asks to be moved. This is another example, too, of why progress reports should be done more often in some cases. If the accommodation as is isn’t working, waiting until the end of the quarter or end of the year to adjust it is waiting too long. If adjustments need to be made, then they need to be made.

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