We often hear about accommodating a student with special needs in the classroom by giving them preferential seating. Preferential seating means that the student’s seating is in a location that is most beneficial for the student to learn. It means different things depending on the disability.
Preferential seating may not always be the front of the class. I initially learned this from a student so it’s always best to base decisions on student input.
A student with auditory processing difficulties may need to have a seat in the least chatty area of the class or away from open doors to the hallway because he/she has trouble hearing in noise. Students with this problem have brains that cannot ignore noises: all sounds compete equally and nothing is understood. Fans and heating system noise should also be considered.
Another student with auditory processing difficulties told me that sitting in front with the best ear towards the teacher worked best. In this case, the signal to noise ratio is better (S:N). The teacher can be heard above other noise. There is less competition between the teacher’s voice and background noise. This only works when the teacher instructs from one place. Taking tests in a quiet setting including another room also would be considered preferential seating.
Second language learners and hearing impaired students and students who have difficulty attending will also benefit from any conditions that improve the signal over the noise.
A student with attentional difficulties may benefit from a placement away from distractions (windows and hallways or students who are loud or chatty).
A student with a visual impairment should be close to visuals. This may mean close to the board or it may mean access to classroom notes at the student’s desk or a computer screen if the board is rarely used. Always consider this student’s reliance on his/her auditory system!
As you see, preferential seating varies for each child and requires matching the conditions that benefit the student with a disability to the teacher’s use of the classroom space.