Well two weeks in and so far so good. I have a large class this year with 34 students. In a split 4/5 classroom with many special education needs there is no doubt that I will have some challenges to overcome this year. Don’t get me wrong 34 kids is going to be hard work there is no doubt about that. I know that I am only one person and that I will do the best I can. I am envious of those with classes of a more reasonable size but without much choice I will make the best of it. I just have to trust that my union will continue to negotiate for reduced class sizes. In the mean time, I am a professional and I will do the best with what I have.
With a class this large I needed to find a way to fit them all into my classroom. I am fortunate that my classroom is slightly larger than the other rooms in my school but on the whole it is an average size classroom.
In June when I was told the number of kids that would be in my class I went back to my scale drawing of my classroom to determine if I could even fit in 34 student desks in my room. I was not willing to give up my desk, guided reading table or carpet. However, there wasn’t room, they simply wouldn’t fit. Thankfully my administrator was supportive of using tables instead of desks. So I made the switch. Let me just say that two weeks in and I love my tables. There is so much more room available in the classroom. I think it even feels like more room in there compared to last year. Supply management is more complicated initially but with some simple routines it is manageable and in my opinion a lot easier than desks.
Another thing I realize is that classroom management is very important. Managing 34 students is not easy especially when you need to get things done and quickly. Transition times are something to manage and reduce wasted time which is a feat with a large class. I did some preplanning prior to school starting about how I would manage this. This year I am continuing to use the whole brain teaching rules (with a modified rule 3) to help my students understand expected behaviour in the classroom. I have a class point system where the whole class works together to earn point against an evil villain named Count Snaggit. The kids really like this narrative and I find it is much more conducive to building a positive classroom culture than students against teacher.
Although I do give points to Count Snaggit and remind students about the rules when students forget to follow them, I also believe in the importance of positive reinforcement. So many students are motivated simply by a genuine “You know what? I noticed that you were working really hard at getting your work done today. Thank you so much! I’m proud of you!” or after a student has needed multiple reminders about talking out and distracting peers pulling them aside and saying “you know I noticed that I had to give you a few reminders today about talking out. What can we do to help you be more successful let’s think of a strategy that will help you be more successful with this.” These are so easy to do and they make a tremendous difference. I like to think of the ratio of 2:1. For every negative interaction I have with a student I try to have two positives. Even if that means noticing that for 2 minutes they were able to do as you asked. Along with the whole brain teaching comes the concept of practicing. My first two weeks were full of practice. We practiced coming to the carpet, walking in the hallway, moving to our desk, working independently, working with a partner, etc. I explain what is expected and then I watch to see if they do what I have asked. If they do not then we do it again….and again….and again. My philosophy is that if they don’t do it the way I want them to then I was not clear enough in my instructions or I did not enforce this behaviour consistently.
Assessment will be my biggest challenge. There is just so much to mark and assess. (I say this as I avoid marking 34 creative writing drafts right now) So with my dislike of paper I really want to go paperless but cannot find a grade book that allows me the flexibility that I require other than a spreadsheet on the computer which still isn’t as convenient as that dreaded paper. So I kept my ears out this week on the facebook teacher forums and I heard people talking about two products iDoceo and Sesame HQ. I have tried iDoceo and I know that some teachers swear by it. Our Phys.Ed teacher at school uses it and swears by it. Plus what she can do with it in the gym is amazing. I myself found it wasn’t as user friendly and quick to use as I needed it to be. So I tried Sesame HQ this week and so far I love it. I really like how I can access it and set stuff up on my computer but quickly use my idevice to mark student work quickly. No really it was quick. I set up a rubric and marked 34 open response paragraphs all during a 40 min prep. (for me that is unheard of….) So I will let you know how it goes from now on as I keep using it but so far so good.
Finally my last and final thought is to the environment. With 34 kids in the room I need the room to feel organized, clean, and inviting. So with the help of my principal finding a way to help me get it done. I painted all of my bulletin boards one colour (thanks to a tip from School Girl Style), ordered more borders from scholastic book order coupons, had the walls and cupboards painted – with the colours I was able to pick out (by the school board) and painted my blackboards so that they matched. Plus spent the week before school decorating. This has been a tremendous help at making the room feel like it is mine, and a place I like to be. No more mismatched, chipped, and peeling surfaces. It is fresh and clean. (now if only I could give my house a makeover…lol)
To me class sizes matter and 34 kids is a lot of bodies and provides a challenge that is not envied by many. However to my 34 wonderful students who are great kids I will make some lemonade and enjoy every minute with them in my classroom. (and when you see me blogging on a Sunday night you know it is because I am avoiding that mountain of marking that needs to get done)