At a low-performing Houston middle school, the new principal is trying something very different: Classes of 75 students taught by five or more teachers. Often, one teacher starts with a lesson, then the class breaks up into small groups based on level or learning style.
(Instructional specialist Raymond) Cain said he first thought the change was too ambitious, but after a month of visiting classes, he rattles off positives: Teachers switch off taking charge based on who is best at explaining the topic of the day. One might have a trick for fractions while another excels at integers. Teachers can learn from each other. And if a student misbehaves, instruction doesn’t have to halt.
“When you don’t have to spend so much time on managing a class, you can deliver a more rigorous lesson,” said Principal Lannie Milton, Jr.
On a recent morning, about 70 seventh-graders filed into the old band room for math class. One of the seven teachers, Corey Gonsoulin, launched the lesson on dividing numbers with decimals. Writing on the dry-erase board, he showed the students how to move the decimal point.
“Do the opposite of Beyoncé Knowles,” he said. “Instead of going to the left, to the left” – as she says in one of her songs – “we go to the right, to the right.”
Gonsoulin then handed the marker to his colleague, Andre Roper, who wrote out four practice problems. Clifford Thomas, another math teacher, used a board on the side wall to explain to a group of confused students how to show their work process. Teacher Tereva Wright stopped at the desk of a boy not doing anything.
“In the beginning,” Wright said of Milon’s plan, “we felt like he was invading our privacy. We’re used to having our own area. It’s gotten better and better everyday.”
Class sizes averaged 35 students before the chance. It’s not clear to me how the principal could double class size and quintuple the number of teachers in the room.