Houston school tries big classes

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.

1. Genevieve says:

I wonder if some of the additional teachers were instructional support/special education. In most of my districts Title 1 schools, there are several teachers that don’t have classrooms (title one reading and math teachers). There are also several special education teachers, ELL teachers and tutors, as well as paraprofessionals. There are also literacy coaches, school improvement leaders, etc. Thus it would be possible to double class size, while quadrupling instructors.

2. Roger Sweeny says:

One of the tremendous problems in education today is having one teacher with 25 kids who show a wide variance in preparation, motivation, and general smarts. There is no way to teach them all, proponents of “differentiated instructed” notwithstanding.

This might actually help ameliorate that problem.

3. SuperSub says:

So, essentially, they are tracking students into different ‘classes.’ The only revolutionary thing is the use of a single teacher to do the presentation… which may be beneficial if the best teacher of the group is chosen.

4. EB says:

It’s not tracking if the students can move between groups. But there is a downside: many students have a hard time dealing with the sense of flux and constant background noise that goes on in a huge class like this. I sure hope that it’s not an all-day, every-day format.

5. Instead of 5 teachers with 75 students, simply make five classes that can change enrollments each month as needed. It’s all the same period.

6. I have classes this year with sometimes 4 teachers for 27 kids. You’d think that a class like that would run as smooth as silk. Well, it might have if the classroom weren’t sized to hold 20 students max, if more than half hadn’t been pushed out of special ed where they had apparently never had to do a day’s real work in their lives, if there were some actual common planning time available between the teachers, and if there were any actual consequences available for misbehaving students.

7. PM says:

Next thing they’ll do is record the instruction and let students replay it at the speed they like. Maybe even throw in some questions to see if the student is paying attention and learning the material. Just imagine that, all students getting access to the best instruction available time after unfailing time.