A week or so ago I blogged about what happens when our group/class sizes start getting too big. If you want to refresh, the post is here: Keepin it Real.
I know that many of you are in big classrooms. I also know that personalization happens best when you’re small. It’s just easier to work with a group of 5….not 50.
One reader left a comment, an observation, that has left me thinking:
Later on, James over at crisp reflective disarray, followed up with a similar question:
"What would be useful here would be practical and tried suggestions for how to keep the personal touch and attention in large classes while maintaining clear standards and expectations."(Marco Polo)
"My question: how do you deliver boutique coffee when the place is lined up out the door? Or, how do you deliver customized learning (what some would call differentiated instruction) when you have 29 + students in one class — and I’m talking private (boutique??) school here, not public. This has been my frustration for some time." (James, Pointing to Boutique learning…)
So…how do the majority of you handle large classrooms? They’re a fact of life, like it or not. I don’t have any contact with such environments, and so the ideas that I have here may or may not be useful…but here I go:
To paraphrase Seth Godin again: "Small is the new Big, not so much in size, but small in how you think and act." (You can listen to this interview - focus is on social software and marketing, so be warned - here.)
How does this relate to the classroom? Well, I think that this approach will mean more work for the teacher - and that’s not always practical I know, but I wonder if it’s worth the extra work? (You tell me.) But what if you took more time in the planning phase to develop lessons that can be broken down into small group activities? Lessons which, while targeting and working towards your learning objectives and grading standards etc, would allow for some personalization at the small group level? I’m trying to think of an example…maybe you’re curriculum goal is something like this:
"It is expected that students will draw reasoned conclusions from information found in various written, spoken, or visual communications and defend their conclusions rationally.
It is expected that students will:
The teacher will define the criteria, but what if you broke the class up in groups of student interest. Instead of getting everyone to work on the same source, perhaps you could plug in to student interest.
Maybe one group is interested in say, the war in Iraq because they have family members or friends serving there, or they just strongly agree or disagree with the whole thing.
Maybe another group would be interested in climate changes due to global warming.
I dunno, I’m guessing here, but I would expect that if you worked with your class a bit, you could get a few groups to organize around topics that are of personal interest to each group member.
Your activities could be to have students use the internet, magazines, newspaper clippings, etc, to help build and defend their position as the learning objective hints at. During the opening phases of the activity, you could invite each group to reflect on their thinking about their particular topic. Why do they think the way they think? How strongly do they feel about their position and why? Record these ideas, and proceed with the research or info collection around their points of interest.
As students find information about their point of view, they would present it to the rest of their small group, and explain why they decided to use that article or bit of media. To finish the project, the groups could present their findings and opinions to each other, (inside their small group) and have a time to reflect on what was uncovered or added upon by what each group member found as they worked the media. Did their ideas change? Why? Did their point of view become stronger? How?
Next: have the small groups present their projects to the rest of the class, explaining what they learned, how their ideas were changed, strengthened etc, by what they found in their explorations around their topic of interest.
By doing small group work you would still be working toward your curriculum goals, but in a way that makes sense to your students.
Likely not all learning objectives would lend itself to small, but with out of the box thinking, many of them could.
Am I totally off the track? What do you big group teachers think? I think this is a valuable discussion, and would love to see it roll into something bigger than just my own thoughts.