Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My Decision to Go From Rows to Desks

This is a big year for me. It's my third year as a teacher, so I figured it's the last year I can claim being a Newbie. This means I might as well take a big leap and change some things up - if I fail miserbly then at least I can say it was while I was still a new teacher.

I have two pretty big changes this year. The first is that I am going to try to use Interactive Student Notebooks. It's going to take a lot of work on my part to get everything ready, but I am excited to try it.

The second is something I've thought about doing, I've done in pieces now and then, and something that research says is beneficial to students. I decided to put their rows of desks into groups of four. They're in the "star" pattern:

The yellow papers on the desks are the names of the groups that sit there. I made these up before school started and had them find their own seats when they got to the room, that way I could stay at the door / hallway and welcome and guide students. I also have directions up on the bored so A) they can get started and B) I can see what kind of directions followers they are. The scissors are on the desk because they started putting together their Interactive Student Notebooks. I am so excited to start this ISN process (clearly because I've said it twice now) - wish me luck!

Okay so the reasons behind this decision:

I think group work is really important and I try to encourage my students to explain their reasoning to their peers. There are always reluctant learners, shy students or students who generally prefer to work alone and it is difficult to get these students to open up to others. If they are in groups, my hope is that they would be more willing to share.

Whenver I try to do discovery learning or group activities it seems to be a little out of control because they are more excited to together. I feel confidant in my classroom management techniques and we always seem to accomplish the task at hand, I just wish it was a little less chaotic in the beginning (you know, when I'm trying to give out directions). It takes longer to start than I want it to. It is my hypothesis (and I'll let you know how it goes) that because they are already use to being in groups, they won't spend as much time in off-topic chit chat as they would if I moved them into class for just one class period.

I don't necessarily need my desks in rows for testing, but I don't want them to be in these tight groups, either. During SOL writing tests I let them move their desks anywhere in the room as long as they can't see others' papers. It is easier and quicker to move desks apart the few times they really need to be, than it is to move desks into groups whenever I remember to.

It's like a perpetual cycle of terror: I'm afraid of the (time/learning) cost of randomly putting them into groups every now and then so I don't put them in groups as often. Because I don't them in groups that often, I am afraid that when I do, there will be a sacrifice of time and learning. By having them in groups from the get-go, I no longer need to be afraid!