During a recent “Professional Development Emphasis” teachers meeting, we discussed an article by Max Fischer titled “Learning to Cope With Larger Classes.” Fischer encourages teachers not to resort to only lecturing when the class size is large but to modify group or whole class activities to accommodate the larger classes. The key to effective group activities is the teacher’s preparation and instructions. The teacher needs to break down each part of the activity and clearly explain each step of the process (it will feel like over-simplification but the students need the structure). When the students understand what is expected of them, the results will amaze you.
Last year my junior class had about 17-19 students (the enrollment changed several times during the year) and I felt very comfortable incorporating both large or small group activities. This year’s class size is 25 in Research and Writing and 30 in junior English.
I have shied away from some interactive activities because it was difficult to organize and manage that many students. Today, however, I had a successful group activity in my Research class. I am extremely pleased with the focus of the students and the learning that took place today. On Tuesday I asked each student to bring in two letters to the editor published in either a magazine or newspaper and three articles they were interested in responding to in their own letter to the editor. I split the class into groups pairing strong students with weak or ESL students. I gave the entire class instructions and then talked with the group leaders about how to help the ESL students in their groups. I was really proud of the leadership some of my students took. I observed them analyzing the articles, underlining topic sentences, explaining the definitions of terms, and summarizing the articles. At the end of the letter/article analysis, a spokesman summarized the organization and good/bad points of the article. One group leader had each person (including the brand-new ESL student) in her group explain one part of the evaluation. Another spokesman presented an articulate critique and summary.
My faith in group work has been restored. With proper planning and guidance, the experience of working with classmates toward a clear objective is profitable and valuable.