Making Larger Class Sizes and Less Instructional Time Work
- Grades: PreK–K
Gone are the days of 20 or fewer students in a class. Good-bye to 180 days in a school year. With our current economic crisis, districts all around the country are being forced to make disastrous cuts in order to balance their budgets. Most states and districts have increased class sizes and many have also deducted days from the school year.
Even as this trend continues, we have to be sure that the education we give our students never declines in quality. So the big question becomes, “How do I use my time more efficiently and effectively in order to reach all my learners?”
Assess, Assess, Assess
The first step to more efficiently using your time with your students is to discover what they know and where their gaps are. I start off my year by working one-on-one with each student to get a feel for where they are in their learning. In kindergarten, I am looking at students’ letter and letter-sound knowledge; their ability to read any sight words; their reading level, if applicable; and at their math skills, including counting, number recognition, and shapes.
I keep an assessment record sheet for each child, which gets sent home to the child’s parents. I have found this sheet to be helpful when planning my instruction in the beginning of the year. This has also been great for school-to-home communication. Parents have thanked me over and over again for this information about their children’s skills.
Analyze Your Data to Effectively Group Students
After you assess your students, it is essential that you then do something with the data. This assessment data should be a living document that helps you plan instruction. It should never be a document that you just hand into your principal.
In my career I have watched many kindergarten teachers proceed with the traditional letter-a-week instruction — even after learning that a good number of their students already know their letters. What is the purpose of this instruction, and how does it match the assessment data?
Take some time to analyze your data, looking for patterns or natural groupings. Grouping students helps to make sure each student is getting instruction in the area they need. A typical kindergarten class at my school will have groups of students learning letters, working on letter sounds, and beginning level 1 sight word readers, with a few students reading at other levels. In math, I wind up having a range of students, from those who need work with basic numbers and counting all the way to students who can already identify numbers to 100 and do beginning addition. If I just taught one reading and one math lesson a day, most students would either be lost or bored.
Managing and Planning for Groups
Once teachers hear about grouping, many ask about managing and planning for the groups. I find that teaching specifically to what students need makes planning much easier. I am not taking time to fit the learning to the teaching, but am letting my students' learning and needs guide my teaching.
For more on grouping for math, read an earlier post "Developmental Grouping in Math."
Focus on Learning NOT Just Teaching
I sympathize with many teachers that feel they need to stick by what their colleagues are teaching or what their textbook says. The difficulty with textbooks is that they are not specific to your set of students. Talk with your administrator and share assessment results to gain support for differentiating your materials or pulling in other materials. Use your standards and your curriculum as a guide, but do not be afraid to differentiate. For example, my math curriculum starts out very basic, so I split my students into math groups and start the curriculum at different points to make sure each child is learning at the appropriate level.
Reprogram yourself. Stop teaching something because it is cute or because you always do, and ask yourself, “What do my students really need?”
Results of Grouping Students and Matching Curriculum to the Needs of Students
What can you expect from approaching education in this way? I've found that:
• Students become highly motivated. All students feel that their time is well used and that they are accomplishing something.
• All students have the opportunity to experience success. Students, no matter what their skill level, have the chance to succeed.
• All students progress! So often we catch ourselves focusing on our struggling learners. They are an important group and need support, but our other students also need to be learning. This way our stronger students continue to succeed and progress, too.
• Students progress through skills and curriculum much faster. By grouping students and giving them instruction at their level and for their needs, students acquire skills and progress through curriculum much faster.
As you are compiling your beginning-of-the-year data, remember to take some time to analyze it and use it to help guide your instruction. Don’t be afraid to step away from your teachers’ edition and your curriculum guides. Teaching is a craft. It is a science. It is an art. Listen to your students’ needs and teach THEM, not just what the textbook says.