Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Class Size – Learning to Live With It

There has been a lot of discussion over the blogosphere about class size lately. The majority agrees that small class size is the best but there are debates about what size is effective and how to go about getting it. I’m not here to debate about it because I feel that I can be most effective if my class size is small. But what if I didn’t have a small class? As a teacher, I learned quickly that I didn’t have any control over my class size. I could yell, scream, complain, and whine but ultimately it wasn’t my decision.

On the first day of classes at my new school, due to a schedule mix up, I ended up with 30 students in one high school English class. Now, some of you might say that this wasn’t as bad as some could be. The problem was that this was a self contained special education class with students from 9th to 12th grade with all different disabilities (learning disabled, emotionally disabled, mentally disabled, and autistic). I also shared a paraprofessional with another teacher, but it was not my turn to have her. Of course I knew that we would have to fix schedules which would take time, but I had to deal with the situation that I had. I was told that it could possibly take up to a week or two to fix the schedules. I didn’t think that was fair or right for my students but there was nothing I could do except make the best of a bad situation. I have always heard that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. So that is what I tried to do.

First of all, I asked students to get in groups of 5, which helped me with management. I asked that one person in each group become the leader. Each leader knew the names of each person in their group and let me know who was missing each day so I could take attendance. Many of the students enjoyed this position of leadership. This leader was also responsible for getting handouts for every person in their group and collecting papers from the members of their group. I would have a special place for handouts so that when it was time, leaders knew where to pick them up for their groups. I was amazed how much this freed up some of my time. This leader was also responsible in reporting at fire drills which students were missing. This helped me take attendance in class and at drills much quicker.

After I taught a group lesson, the students worked on their assignment. I let them get in groups to help each other. I also explained that this did not mean copying each other’s work, because if it became a problem, we would not work in groups. When I explained things like this to the students ahead of time, instead of after a problem, they tended to respect the rules better. If necessary, I changed students’ groups but only as a last resort. As the students worked, I was able to walk around and go to each group in order to answer questions. When the students helped each other, they also did not get bored waiting for me to come around to help them.

I also had to be better organized than if I had a smaller class. I had to have routines and procedures set up so there would be less confusion. As students entered the class, I would have an opening assignment every day that they needed to start on as soon as they got to class. This was collected 5 minutes after the bell rang. During this time, I was able to check with the leaders to take attendance and handle any procedural paperwork (absentee notes etc.) required by the school for each class. My opening assignment usually consisted of copying a motivational quote and then writing a paragraph in their journals. At the end of each quarter, students were allowed to take their journals home to keep. This assignment worked well for students on different levels.

I’m not saying that life got easy because of what I did but it made it easier to bear. I have also been in situations where my class size was 22 for a self contained class so I’ve used these ideas in most of my big classes. As I said before, I feel a small class size is most effective, but sometimes you have to deal with what you have.

Do you have any other suggestions for dealing with large class sizes? If so, feel free to leave a comment so we can learn about it.

No comments: