Happy January, my Friends!
I hope you are all feeling that “sweet spot” right about now. That’s what I like to call the time from January – March. We’ve got a lengthy chunk of uninterrupted teaching time. The kids know me, I know them, and they know each other well and can work together. The routines, expectations, and procedures are understood and practiced seamlessly.
It’s just my favorite time in the classroom.
This year, my job changed a bit. My building added an additional ELA and math teacher to both 7th and 8th grades. These teachers (me being one of them) are not on a “team” but instead pull students from each of the four teams at both grade levels. As a result, this has decreased the class size of all of the ELA and math teachers in the building, as we “add-on teachers” now take a chuck of the kids who would have been on their roster.
So what does that mean for me? Well, rather than having a large class of mixed ability students, including those with IEPs, and a co-teacher, I now have a small class of similar ability students who I teach on my own. I went from having class sizes between 24-28 down to 12-15. There are lots of strategic and logistical reasons for this change, but namely, it’s to provide intense ELA instruction to kids who’ve been identified as benefiting from a smaller group.
I could go on and on and on about why I firmly believe that NO class should ever have more than 15 kids. I actually feel overwhelmed with all the blog posts that I want to write on this subject because there are just too many. I’m sure you could name lots of them, too, even if you’ve never had a class with less than 15 similarly-abled students. I know I could before I had this experience.
But, it’s the reasons that I didn’t realize, the things that I’d been missing for way too long in a classroom of 25 kids, that really give me pause and have caused me to reflect so, so, so very much on my pedagogy.
More than anything, this experience has taught me that even though I’ve carefully planned a lesson and executed it well, and most kids seem to get it, there is a group of quiet, compliant kids who are sprinkled throughout your room who just don’t understand. These kids will often not let you know they don’t get it. They won’t distract you with avoidance behaviors like so many of our students do. They won’t ask you a million clarifying questions, following you around the room even so as to be sure they are doing it right. And they won’t sit and just do nothing, gladly taking a “0” instead of handing something in.
Nope, not these kids.
Instead, these kids watch those around them who “get it.” They try their best to copy what they see others do, as they’ve become mimicking experts. They avoid making eye-contact with you or answering your questions with anything more than a vague response or something to similar to what they’ve heard others say. They do all the work, handing in everything on time. And they gladly take the “C” you’ve given them because you and they both believe that they are peddling as hard and fast as they can and so this “C” is acceptable.
We all know these kids because we all have them in our classrooms. We might feel a bit guilty about giving them less of our attention, but we are quickly drawn to the kids with behavior issues and the kids with a million questions and the kids who are legitimately failing. These kids, with their adequate grades and minimal issues, lose our attention among the many hammering for it.
Well, now I have a classroom full of these kids. Kids who skirt just under the radar. Kids who’ve spent years avoiding detection, begging to remain invisible. And I’ve realized just how much they’ve needed from me for all these years but haven’t been able to get.
Something that I’ve done in my room that’s made all the difference in the world is changing my seating. I pushed my small group tables together to make a large table that seats us all during instruction. I sit right in the middle (not at the head, but the middle) and teach from there.
… the difference this has made!
No more raising hands to speak. No way to avoid eye-contact or conversation. No way to be “invisible.” We converse together, talking things over and over again, making sure that everyone can be heard and understands.
It’s informal, but intimate. We venture off on more tangents than a casual observer might deem necessary, but I haven’t felt like one single second has been wasted. Kids who haven’t said more than a dozen words up till now are participating, speaking up to share thoughts and ask questions.
And my heart is swooning!!
Now, I know that this seating arrangement might not be possible in a class of 28, but I can’t help but wonder what might happen if we shake up the traditional “rows and columns” that we find in most secondary classrooms? What would happen if you called the students to come and sit on the floor, “crisscross applesauce” with you for a lesson? What would happen if you give a bunch of kids some independent assignment while you worked at a table teaching a lesson to a small group of kids?
I know that these seating ideas might scare you, but I’m telling you that you might be pleasantly surprised by the result.
|I have more kids than this, but, this table in the center of the room fits all of us during instructional time. I cannot even explain what the gift of proximity and equalization has done for my kids.|
How do your students sit in your classroom? How do you think this seating arrangement shapes the learning? I’d love to hear from you!
This is so inspiring and has me thinking…
One of my 5th ELA classes has only 12 students. All are struggling learners, several with IEPs. I STILL have a few in there who do the no eye-contact thing with me & NEVER volunteer. I use popsicle sticks with names to get everyone engaged, but I am going to try to get another table and try this! Or push some of my extra desks together.
WOW! Such a great insight into your teaching situation (envious) and into your brave new ideas around classroom design, and what that means. I too struggle with reaching the kids that are flying just under the radar. Opening up our school system in such a way as to catch these kids with smaller class size and grouped with similar abilities is a great idea. I am confident that it allows for some of your best strategies and ideas as well. Thank you for sharing your ideas and I am definitely going to try the large table one in my classroom soon.
This is great advice because I am always changing around my seating chart. When students get too comfortable they want to talk and not work so as soon as that happen it is time to switch it up again.