By Laurie Chapman

The reality of teaching today is that there are bound to be stacked classes. Some teachers choose to flip the classroom and have students watch a video they have either found or created for themselves to prepare for class. Some teachers choose to find common curriculum expectations to teach around. Some teachers choose to teach each course separately giving time to each course throughout the day or week.

My experience with stacked classes is level differences but the most challenging is teaching two very different courses in one period (HSB4U and HHG4M). Students may be independent learners and self starters versus those students who are dependent and need much support. My love of teaching is the discussions in the classroom when I raise a controversial topic to encourage critical thinking from a variety of perspectives so that is something that I have had to adjust to in a stacked classroom.

Survival tips for a stacked classroom:

Having access to technology is imperative for sharing files between teacher and student, student and teacher and students to students. Providing editable files and notes, and current news or video clips in an online classroom allows collaboration and discussion to occur online and in the classroom. Students are able research answers to questions they may have been given or come up with on their own.

Students need to have flexible seating arrangements that allow them to share through conversations and brainstorming on apps or on paper. By not having a set seating arrangement, they can change groups based on shared interest, strengths, and group size.

The teacher needs to be flexible to recognize that the student’s end result may not be what they were expecting. The teacher needs to be able to facilitate learning rather than deliver a set curriculum which means conversing with students along the way, allowing them time to collaborate, share and discuss topics that relate to the curriculum. Learning about topics and issues from students is key in education today.

Loose planning ahead of time is important ~ interpret the curriculum, set your goals, discuss the expectations and outline the timeline, knowing it may change. You need to plan both classes loosely so that you know how you will spend your time between the two groups. You might need to tweak existing notes to allow students to find information on their own or in groups. Plan for how long research will take and how information will be shared after a research period.

Sharing and recording information from peers allows for movement while learning from others and seeing levels of success

Gone are the days of presenting facts in front of the class for 5 days straight. Strategies I have used with success is to provide a period of sharing where students are given handouts to complete based on everyone’s research ~ they travel around to each presentation (slideshow, webpage, poster, video etc) to learn more about each topic while recording answers that I have created while marking. Another strategy is students share information on a timeline they created while I ask them to look for patterns and trends. Students appreciated the strategy I used is based on the speed dating concept ~ answering open-ended questions based on research they conducted independently as they move around the room answering questions with a different partner each time ~ one student reflected that she appreciated the time to discuss and be heard rather than being a small voice in a large group. In a group of four, have students research a topic with each member choosing a specific perspective ~ based on The View. Have students debate a topic in small groups. Create the criteria for success together so they know how to be successful.

The girls are showing the results of their collaboration ~ each student had a decade and they colour coded the themes to show their results of research which allowed for a quick and in-depth discussion

In summary, if we allow students to choose the topics they are interested in, they will engage and learn to love learning. If we encourage and converse with them during the planning and processing stage of learning, we will observe their sense of empowerment as they use those skills in future tasks. When we encourage them to produce alternative and authentic products, we are allowing them to build confidence. By making changes to your teaching practices and accepting stacked classrooms, you also embrace the 21st century skill mindset for teaching.

Laurie Chapman is a Social Science teacher with the Avon Maitland District School Board

Contributing Writer

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