About four years ago, our class sizes increased by about 50%, taking our numbers from about 20 to about 30, and sometimes 30 plus. This trend is becoming much more common across the country as education budgets take massive cuts. When this change occurred, we needed to look for ways to plan, organize, and manage our classes so they would run as efficiently as they did before. Read on for some of our best practices.
Planning and organizing is essential in any classroom. Some of these strategies will take some time to set up, but they will save you time and heartache in the long run.
Filing supplemental worksheets and activities by standard has been a huge time saver. We started by labeling files by standard, and as we pulled out lesson resources or printed them from an online source, we labeled them with the standards and filed them away. By the end of the year, we had all of our activities labeled and organized for the following year. This has cut our planning time significantly.
Organizing centers so that students can easily manage them by themselves is another helpful strategy. We use a pocket chart to display the name of each center, a picture of it, and the students assigned to it. All you have to do is rotate the names every day. Having a picture helps the students quickly visualize where they need to go and what they need to do. This cuts down on time spent helping students head in the right direction.
Keep a quick and informal record of student progress or behavior using a folder and 3 x 5 index cards. This is especially useful when it comes time to write your report card comments. It's also a great strategy to use for smaller guided reading groups. It allows you to keep track of every student’s reading habits, strategies, and struggles in one location.
Student grouping is one of the most helpful ways to manage a class. We have found it best to use tables instead of individual desks, mainly because they work so well with the other strategies discussed below. So for a class of 30, we would have six tables with five students at each table. We try to mix them into heterogeneous groups, and as much as possible, we try to have one high achieving, one low achieving, and three average students at each table. If you have a low population of EL students, try to put one EL student in each group. We have found that putting all of the high achievers together at one table creates a power struggle within the group that is not beneficial. If all of the low achievers are together, they tend to get frustrated and are not able to participate as well as the other groups. By arranging students this way, all of them have a chance to share with one another. High achievers can take more of a leadership role and low achievers can learn from their peers and participate more actively.
Keeping 30 squirmy little bodies engaged has been a challenge. To aid with engagement, we incorporate as much “pair sharing” as possible. As we teach, we pause every few minutes and have partner A share what they have learned with partner B and vice versa. We designate partners ahead of time and do not change them, in an effort to save time down the road.
We also use the practice of choosing “nonvolunteers” to answer questions. During the lesson, we call on students to answer questions or share ideas. There are several different ways to do this. Some teachers have student names/numbers written on sticks, golf balls, or Ping-Pong balls. Using this strategy while teaching makes students much more likely to stay focused because they never quite know when you will call on them.
Use whiteboards to check for understanding often during a lesson. This not only keeps students engaged, but also serves as a quick assessment, allowing you to make adjustments to the lesson as you go. We made our own whiteboards with a heavy-duty sheet protector and a piece of card stock! You can see the results in the picture at the top of this post.
Can you say "interruptions"??? At the beginning of the year, it seemed as though guided reading groups were going to be impossible. Neither of us was able to make it through one lesson without some sort of interruption. Thanks to the ears, problem solved! If we have our ears on, students know that they may not approach us.
We would love to hear what you do to teach and manage your large classes. Comment below!