Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Give them jobs!

Have you ever wondered how to get 30+ kids to work together? As a science teacher with my own classroom I realized quickly that this was a difficult task to manage.  Each year I teach a minimum of 3 different grades, typically 7 classes and about 200 students which revolve through my room 3 periods each week.  This sounds like insanity… oh wait it’s still happening! Controlled chaos right!

So back to getting 30 or more students to work together… I was motivated to solve this challenge since my first year of teaching.  Over the past couple of years I have tried different management systems to find a way that would give my students more control over their tasks, activities, and experiments which we conduct every week. 

In my first year of teaching I assumed all students would just work together… bad idea.  I learned that without presenting my students with a controlled structure of routines and procedures for each task that chaos would construe, and it did.

Within my second year of teaching I assigned the role of a  “table leader”. This person was responsible for everything from passing out papers, getting materials, making sure their team was on task, and cleaning up their table at the end of class.  I noticed that there was less chaos than the previous year but this also presented additional problems. I noticed that giving one student per table a role left the other students at the table with no real sense of involvement.  I found that the student who was a table leader was quite stressed with all the jobs appointed to them.  They were constantly getting up to retrieve something for their table to use.  This also meant that this student would not be afforded the same amount of time to complete their work with all of these “distractions”.

I then attended a workshop by the famous duo Harry & Rosemary Wong in which they presented their famous book, “The First Days of School”.  In this workshop I was given the opportunity to reflect on what worked and what didn’t in my classroom and come up with a plan.  A plan! How did I not think to sit down and create a plan sooner? Sounds so reasonable and almost like it should be common sense, but I find that I was always so focused on making sure the classroom looked pretty, had what it needed, and that I had thorough lesson plans that I did not think about creating a management plan for my classroom environment. This plan encompassed everything from “how to walk into the classroom” to “how to pass out pencils and supplies” to even “how to work together in a group setting”.

I reflected on the fact that I had one person at each table for a number of years now, doing everything and this had more con’s than pro’s when I listed them out.

I then realized, what if I gave each student a role at the table instead of one student doing it all solo? I was quite nervous to attempt this as I didn’t want the whole class erupting in chaos due to too having “too many workers”. 

So, I came up with this:
  • Table Leader
  • Material Manager
  • Notebook Manager
  • Inspector
  • Assistant
  • Encourager


 *Come visit my TpT store for the downloadable freebie of these labels!*

*Here's my laboratory classroom tables, don't mind the tape that's peeling up on the edges, it was the end of the year!*

I made sure to inform the class that each student is assigned a particular role and will only do the job when told.  At the beginning of the year I was very strict about how I would hand out the “power” to do the job listed on their tables. 

An example, “ Material Managers – when I have finished giving the direction please grab the pencils and baskets for your tables.” “Notebook Managers – please gather your groups notebooks but do not pass them out until I inform you to do so”. “Table leaders, make sure everyone at your table has what they need to succeed in the days activity.”

I found that it took about 2 full weeks of modeling and reminding students of their jobs for my students in all classes to get into a routine.  I also found that they LOVED having a role to play in each class period.  One student told me, “I feel like I am working, but I like being in charge and helping my friends!” *happy tears*!

By giving them individual roles I noticed that students were not arguing over silly things like, having a pencil, getting certain supplies, knowing what the task was because they zoned out, etc.  This cut down on distractions and increased learning time in my classroom. 

The role of “encourager” has really blossomed in my classroom.  At the end of each class I ask the encourager to point out something that they noticed at their table about a student or group of students that was kind and/or helpful during the period.  The responses have been heart warming and help me catch the wonderful happenings I don’t always notice as I am working 1-1 with a student, in a small group, as I walk around to different groups, or just not within ears reach of that particular table.

This management plan and system has truly changed my teaching style and has given my students a sense of pride in having a specific role to play in their learning. Giving them roles has allowed my students to be more responsible for the activities and tasks I give them, and has promoted and created a sense of team work throughout the different classes and grades I teach. I catch myself smiling and sometimes have a tear in my eye as I see my students growing into young adults that society would be proud of!

If you have any suggestions for other roles that have worked for you please leave them in the comments below!