The word “perfect” is rarely used by teachers to describe their days in the classroom because the classroom is so unpredictable––nothing ever goes completely according to plan. However, dare I say, I think that my teaching experience this week went perfectly.
Last week I started a unit on the solar system with my students. The unit is inquiry-based––for the next three weeks, the students will be researching a particular planet, and from their research, they will put together a project (a poster, a PowerPoint, a video, a diorama, or something else of their choosing) that demonstrates what they have learned. To help students with the research component of their projects, this week’s lesson was on jot-notes and graphic organizers. I found an article on the International Space Station awhile back and had the students through the article, pick out the most important information, and organize the information into a graphic organizer using jot-note form. When I was originally planning this lesson, I planned it for a class of 30 kids––I had specific teaching strategies and classroom management techniques in mind. However, a few days prior to my lesson, my co-operating teacher e-mailed me saying that there was a band concert that day, which most of the students would be absent for. As it turns out, out of a class of 30, 22 kids are involved in band, which left me with a class of only eight students…
Teaching to such a small class was awkward at first. Over the past six weeks, I have gotten used to teaching to a large class, and I have adapted my teaching style, the activities that I plan, my classroom management techniques, etc. accordingly. However, it actually ended up being a great experience for both me and the students, and I discovered many benefits of teaching in a smaller classroom setting. First, the classroom atmosphere, which is usually quite loud and disruptive, was relaxed and quiet. The students were all attentive, and they all participated in the lesson, which allowed us to have some really good discussions about what they had learned.
Second, teaching in a smaller classroom setting made it much easier to gauge student learning because I didn’t have to dedicate as much time to classroom management. As a result, I was able to spend one-on-one time with students, which doesn’t happen often in a larger classroom setting. During my one-on-one time with students, I was able to assess their learning, and if they didn’t understand a certain concept, I was able to differentiate my teaching and explain the concept in an alternate way. I think this one-on-one time with students made a huge difference in student learning, as by the end of my lesson, I was confident that every student had mastered the lesson material.
Third, I noticed that students were more relaxed and outgoing in the smaller classroom setting. A few students made comments that they liked how quiet it was in the classroom because they could actually concentrate. In addition, a couple of the quieter students started to open up and become more talkative throughout the lesson. The smaller classroom setting also influenced my teaching and I became more relaxed, too. For instance, I adapted my lesson and allowed the students to work on their assignment with a partner, instead of individually. Normally, I try to avoid group work for classroom management purposes; however, I think that working in pairs and being able to discuss with a friend helped reinforce student learning.
Teaching in a smaller classroom setting this week was a great experience for both me and the students. The classroom atmosphere wasn’t so strict, so I was able to spend less time on classroom management and more one-on-one time with the students––reinforcing learning and building student-teacher relationships. Overall, I think my lesson went perfectly. However, my experience this week made me realize how much stress and anxiety a large, disruptive classroom setting puts on students and teachers alike. I believe that overpopulated classrooms are a problem within the education system, and unfortunately, it is a problem that teachers have little control over. So how do I work within a large classroom setting to create a positive learning atmosphere for myself and my students?