Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Coming out of the class size closet

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Now, before we start, I need you to press the enable button on your growth mindset. This should disable the fixed mindset functions such as making excuses, blaming, anger, frustrations, judgement and belittling. Alternatively, if you find that your growth mindset button is faulty today, I recommend reading this post once the repairs have been made.

Now that you have your growth mindset enabled... I don't think class sizes matter. Take a breath. Yes I did say that. But fortunately you have your growth mindset enabled, so not only will you hopefully listen to what I have said, but you will also hopefully genuinely consider what I say.

Team teaching with Claire Amos and Steve Mouldey means that I often have to share them with the rest of the country. Inevitably, this means that they are often away. Now, I could request a reliever for our classes of 45+, however, having done it so many times now, I have more and more, that I am not only capable, but even rather enjoy the big class. Of course, there are a few lessons I have learnt that makes this more manageable. Some of these lessons include:

  1. Differentiation - Students who are challenged at the right level are less distracted, more on task and more engaged. When students are engaged, behaviour management becomes a non event, it becomes largely unnecessary.
  2. Know your students - In order to challenge and engage your students, you have to get to know them. This means spending time with them in conversations on duty, going to see their sports games, seeing them in school shows. It means being involved. It also means working much smarter with gathering data. It means using clever tools like your school student management system and learning management system, Socrative, Flubaroo, Hapara, Schoology, Edmodo, Kahoot and Google forms to gather and process data about your students quickly. It means that you can be more responsive to their needs, interests and level.
  3. Resources - Managing 45 students means that you can not physically help every student that gets stuck. However, considering the 'learnt helplessness' that so many students display, this is actually a great opportunity. Having short explanatory videos, websites, articles and more readily available for students to access, means that students learn to be able to help themselves. The ideas of universal design for learning is crucial here. This makes sure that all students can access the content. It also means that when a student asks a question, I can often point them to the correct resources quickly, rather than explaining it from scratch. I will often run mini lessons within a lesson too. If I notice that a number of students have asked me the same question, I can run a mini lesson whilst other students who do not need it, will continue working.
  4. Transitions - Ironically, transitions was one of the things an associate teacher recommended I work on back in teachers college. Managing the way students move about a space, deliberately, thoughtfully, and with purpose just preserves sanity. 
The thing to notice about my lessons above is that large classes sizes are completely manageable and doable, it is in fact other factors that makes things hard. It is trying to fit more students in a class that is physically too small to be comfortable. Or the physical space having no acoustic panelling to absorb the voices of these students. Voices that should be given a chance to speak and a chance to be heard. It is about shutting teachers and these classes away behind doors in cell classrooms, rather than open plans where they are visible and have access to support, if it is needed at a moments notice. It is about a lack of access to technology that enables us to quickly get to know our learners, or give them options to access resources. Without a device, they are left to significantly fewer resources. It is also perhaps about not streaming classes, so that the diversity in a class might give more opportunities for peer teaching, for better discussion, for independent learners to lead (if you haven't yet read Steve's post about student echo chambers, do so immediately).

You see, I think the argument about classes sizes is all wrong. I think the class size argument distracts from the real issues. Physical spaces that do not enable learning. Limited or no access to technology. Meaningful data. One size fits all lessons with no differentiation and no universal design for learning.

What do you think?