Tools for Teaching: Managing a Large Class SizeOctober 3, 2012 | Rebecca Alber
Do you have more students than ever this year? With serious education budget cuts in most states, we are seeing class size reduction programs as a thing of the past in many schools. Teachers semi-new to this profession may be experiencing class sizes above 30 for the first time. In a recent conversation with such a teacher, as we discussed her new situation, she resignedly said, “Well, there goes group work.”
This conversation, and several conversations with others, got me thinking about this sudden change for many teachers. If you’ve found yourself with a large class size this year, here are a few things to keep in mind…
Tip #1: Don’t Give up on Collaborative Grouping
Students need opportunities to check in with each other around their learning, ask questions, guide each other and reflect together. And this is even more crucial with a large class. If a tight classroom space won’t allow for quick triads or quad grouping, use “elbow partners” -- two students in close proximity. Do this often. As we know, with large class sizes, quiet students tend to get even less airtime. With less one-on-one time with small groups and individual students, teachers need to keep that large number of kids talking and being listened to!
Tip #2: Accept that Things Take Longer
Know that a learning objective that maybe took 20 minutes with that smaller class in the past, might take twice as long with this larger group. You might also be lamenting over the days when you could whip around the room and spend a few quality moments with each student or group. Or when you could offer immediate and thorough support. Unfortunately, if you did that now with 35 in the room, you’d find yourself out of time before coming close to accomplishing the daily learning objective.
One remedy, especially when it comes to checking for understanding? Strategies like thumbs up/thumbs down, or having students hold 1 to 3 fingers on their chest to let you know how well they understand (3 is, “I’ve got it!) Other quicky formative assessments, such as sentence starters, can help beat that Time Thief in the room. You can also use exit slips to see if they “got it,” asking one strategic question about the day’s learning.
Tip #3: Find New Ways to Know Students
Unfortunately, the larger the class size, the more the relationships with students suffer. Consider creating surveys once or twice a week where students can answer questions on a likert scale and also ask questions of you. Invite students to write you a letter about their learning, their accomplishments, challenges, and interests.
You can also rotate your focus every few days to 5-6 different students. That way, no one will slip through the cracks. Often with large class sizes, the squeaky wheels, so to speak, are the one’s that receive much of the teacher’s time. Make sure you check in regularly with your “proficient” students, and continue to create differentiated assignments for those gifted kids in the room.
Tip #4: Be Okay with Loud and Letting Go
Start saying this mantra immediately, “just because it’s loud doesn’t mean they aren’t learning, just because it’s loud…” Somewhere along road, we began to attribute silence to deep thought and high-level learning. It's more often just a sign of kids being compliant. So go ahead, take those 37 kids and put them in groups! Give them a challenging task and some supplies. Let it be loud! Roam from group to group and if your door suddenly swings open to visitors from the district… Let them get an eye full of engaged, enthusiastic learners!
As for the letting go, if you are still passing out papers, collecting supplies, stamping homework all on your own -- stop. Assign students “jobs” immediately. By giving up these managerial tasks, you will have more time free to check in with a child who has been absent a lot, add a step to an assignment for that advanced student, crack a joke with the quiet, moody teen who avoids others, or pose a strategic inquiry question to the whole class.
How do you manage a larger number of students? What tips would you like to offer fellow teachers?