Jaime Groeller & Ivy Waite
On April 30 we conducted a formal survey of our students regarding the team teaching approach we have taken up over the last 9 months. We had conducted informal surveys twice before, and tried to take into account the concerns and suggestions provided to make the experience more positive for the students. Here is part one of an anecdotal analysis of the formal survey. (Part 2 can be found here.)
As is human nature, the less supportive comments often overshadow the supportive. As teachers, we want to ensure all students have the opportunity to learn in a safe, supportive environment, while continuing to provide differentiated instruction and authentic learning opportunities. The reality is, and we are learning to accept this and work through it, you can’t please everyone. Not every person in 100 will completely support anything, but we hope to find some compromises for those that are less than thrilled with the team teaching approach.
The noise level when all 50 students are working in one space is something that has been raised in every survey we have conducted, formal and informal. We have tried to mitigate this by limiting the time all 50 students are together, and encouraging students to spread themselves out over the two classrooms when working collaboratively, which is often! Reflecting on the formal survey results, it seems many students have not perceived this change as they see the time all 50 students are together at higher than 50%; some even see it as high as 95%! The reality is, we are together as a group of 50 for about 30%-40% of the time, with most of that time being spent on explaining assignments/projects and quick direct instruction. This perception is something we are still working on combating, and will continue to ensure we are providing appropriate spaces for all students to work. Naturally, we also have conversations about the choices students are making in creating the classroom environment, and encourage them to make positive decisions and take responsibility for their learning.
Being a teenager is hard, and speaking in front of 50 people can be intimidating for anyone. During class discussions we often hear from the same students, while others sit silently. We have tried multiple strategies throughout the year to combat this challenge, and have found that having the students engage in small group discussions before being asked to share with the larger group works well. We also feel that this is one opportunity to help students build community and trust in one another as they tackle their fear and share their thoughts to enhance and support the learning community. Having said that, recently we have conducted a few class discussions in groups of 25, and we were surprised to see that many of the same students still contributed, but some of those who don’t often share in the group of 50 did share. A possible idea would be to conduct some class discussions in smaller groups, and use collaboration tools such as google docs or “Today’s Meet” to join the two groups and their ideas, or meet up as a larger group at a later time.
Since our school is structured around homeroom groups of 25, students have come to know those 25 students as “their class”. One impact of combining classes has been that some students feel they are losing the community of the homeroom. Our intention from the start has been to encourage students to think of the entire grade as their community. We want students to feel safe and comfortable with all of the students in grade eight, not just the ones they share a homeroom with. This is part of a larger school initiative to build community and a culture of mutual respect in all situations. We have also tried to address this issue through various activities designed to build community and help students get to know one another in a larger setting. As a grade team, including our math/science counterparts, we are in the process of determining how to better build this grade-wide community at the beginning of the year, and then throughout the year as well with team-building and cross-curricular activities. We are lucky to have the opportunity to loop with these students into grade 9, so we may have the chance to assist in building this grade-wide community over the next year as well.
While it’s quite easy to get “down” on ourselves when confronted with these messages from our students, it is important to focus on how these challenges have been an excellent learning opportunity, and that we are continually forced to reflect on our practice. We welcome feedback in the comments from you!