Thursday, December 11, 2008

When Smaller is Better

As I've mentioned before, we have a somewhat legendary class of seventh graders this year. We've been hearing about them for the past few years, beginning with the elementary teachers who were thrilled to see them move to middle school. (Interestingly, it wasn't one group from one elementary school - all three of the schools that feed into our building had a wild group of kids.)

The sixth grade teachers last year were ecstatic when they moved on to the 7th grade. Cheering and dancing in the halls doesn't begin to describe the joy.

This year the seventh grade teachers are counting the days until the end of May.

This was, coincidentally, the same year that Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Robin and I volunteered to teach an 8th grade health class (Mrs. Robin taught 6th grade health), with a different group of kids every nine weeks. The drawback to this was that we had to cram five classes of seventh graders into four classes in order to give us the open period to teach the health class.

Most likely with any other group of kids (like the wonderful group we had last year) this would have worked out fine. With this group it was a recipe for disaster. We had our proof when we took our first benchmark.

I had one kid proficient. ONE. Uno. That was it. Mrs. Eagle and Mrs. Robin fared a bit better, but overall we still had only eight kids proficient in the entire school. What makes this even worse is that in the past, we've always been tops in the county when it came to scores, and our kids have always done better than their peers, despite being a low-income building with a fairly unmotivated population.

This was completely unacceptable to us, so as soon as we saw our scores we asked The Principal to come to our data chat to figure out what was going on.

What was going on was that we were spending so much time on management issues that we had precious little left to actually teach science. Our rooms are oddly shaped and somewhat small and we had kids crammed in there with every seat filled (and then some). The kids, who had trouble getting along with each other on good days, were having real problems with each other when they were crowded into our rooms. Even The Principal commented on the different feeling our rooms had with about five to six extra kids compared to the other teachers.

So, The Principal drafted some wonderful souls (librarian and guidance counselor) to take over the health classes, and we got to move kids from each of our big classes, thereby lowering the numbers, into an fifth section of science. This started right before Thankgsiving. It gave us a chance to build a class and put kids in there that were a good mix, as well as giving us a chance to separate kids who had no business being in the same room together.

I can't believe the difference.

I told the kids right up front why were doing this ("Your benchmarks were unacceptable which tells me you aren't learning what you should be.") and told them that this was one idea we had to help solve the problem. Three kids actually came up and thanked me for moving them to the new class so they could actually learn something. How often does that happen? I was able to get some kids away from each other, and the entire class noticed. My homeroom had four boys in there who could be case studies for severe ADHD. Two of them are now in the other class and my homeroom is actually somewhat peaceful.

Now granted, these classes aren't perfect (Fifth Period still gives me hives) but it's a whole lot better. The kids even noticed. A lot of them were delighted, after a few days, when they realized they were getting a lot more individual attention from me (I can help them rather than spend all period telling them to sit down, stop throwing things, keep their hands to themselves, blah, blah, blah.) They commented on that. They commented on how faster the classes went now that we were actually able to do something because deal with idiot behaviors. They love the fact that they actually have more room at their seats. It's been a good move all around.

They've taken two tests since the change and the grades have been quite a bit better then previously. Our next benchmark isn't until January, but we're hoping we'll see an improvement there.

They were so good (except for - guess who?! - Fifth Period) that I actually tried a lab today.

And it actually worked!


nbosch said...

Thank goodness you had an administrator that was thinking and staff willing to help out!

Mrs. T said...

Let's hear it for smaller class sizes!!!
I had 5 kids gone from my 4th block class of 29, and it made all the difference in the world.
You are lucky to have an admin who listens!

The Bus Driver said...

yay!!! I hope you continue the science club though... i think those students who you choose to attend will be grateful for the extra learning experience, and maybe you can attach some form of extra credit to it?

Teacha said...

I wish our principal/supe would listen to us like that. Instead, they make assumptions as to what is going wrong and making us do silly stuff like "whole class" stanford math and fuss about collaborative learning not being done. Oh, how I wish they would just sit down with us and LISTEN and then try what we said--specifically on classroom sizing. How in the boo boo are we supposed to teach when the room is loaded with 35 FRESHMEN and there isn't even enough room for 35 desks?