NEW School Update: Class Size Matters

This won’t surprise anyone in education, but class size matters. It matters a lot. The bigger the class, the harder it is to meet the individual needs of the learners in our classrooms.

As I began to pilot NEW School this year, my goals were to:

I realize now that the number one hurdle I face in successfully accomplishing these goals is the sheer number of students I see on a daily basis. There is only so much time in a day and large class sizes make connecting with individual students challenging. My co-teacher and I use blended learning models to create more opportunities to connect with students in person and online; however, it’s still a daily challenge to meet all of my students’ needs and attempt to tailor learning for individual students.

Piloting this program has been a real eye opener about why it’s so challenging to execute innovative, outside of the box programs at traditional high schools where teachers juggle large numbers of students. Although smaller class sizes require a significant financial investment, I believe it’s necessary if teachers are going to be truly effective in shifting from the status quo to more innovative approaches to teaching and learning.

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Hyperdocs & Self-Paced Learning

When I began using the Station Rotation Model with students, I made a habit of printing directions for offline stations and typing directions for my online stations. I used Google Docs for my online directions because it was easy to mix text and images then share that document directly with students. My goal was to create instructions that were so detailed and clear that my students would not need to interrupt my teacher-led station to ask questions.

Over time my online directions morphed into multimedia and multilayered “experiences” that engaged students in a range of activities. I did not realize it then, but I was creating hyperdocs. “Hyperdocs” (interactive Google Doc) is a word coined by Lisa HighfillKelly Hilton, and Sarah Landis, who joined forces to write The HyperDoc Handbook: Digital Lesson Design Using Google Apps.

As I read through their handbook, I began thinking about the value of using hyperdocs not just for stations but for all kinds of lessons to allow my students more opportunities to control the pace of their learning. When teachers march lockstep through a series of activities, many students end up feeling out of step. By contrast, when teachers use an interactive Google Document with the lesson outline, directions, and links to online resources and videos, they allow students to move at their own pace through the lesson. The teacher is then free to circulate around the room providing support as needed.

For teachers interested in exploring hyperdocs, the authors of The HyperDoc Handbook: Digital Lesson Design Using Google Apps created a companion website with samples and templates. They want teachers to share the hyperdocs they’ve created and, ultimately, build a community of shared resources. Below is a hyperdoc titled “Fables, Folktales, and Myths” created by Laura Moore that is shared on the site.

Both the book and the website are fantastic resources for any teaching using Google Apps with students!

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Station Rotation Model: Student Designed & Led Stations

One of the benefits of the Station Rotation Model is how easy it is to design activities at different levels to meet the diverse needs of a group of students. I spend a lot of time tailoring activities to support students who need additional scaffolds, but it’s important to challenge the strong students in our classrooms as well. 

One strategy I use to capitalize on my students’ strengths is to have them design and lead stations. I have some students who are extremely strong readers or gifted writers and other students who are incredibly tech savvy. These students are valuable resources in the class community, so I will ask them to design and run a station to share their expertise with their peers. I try not to overburden my strong students, but I do want to challenge them to think about how they can present concepts and engage their peers to help support the class in developing particular skills.

Even though some of my students have strong skills, they do not necessarily know how to design a dynamic lesson or activity, so I’ve created the template above to support them as they think about how to construct their lessons.

Students have a week to lesson plan and during that time, we collaborate on their Station Rotation Lesson Design document. This gives me a chance to provide them with support and feedback as well as connect them with resources that will help them to improve their lessons.

Letting strong students lead the learning and challenging them to design lessons that are interesting, engaging, and effective is a fantastic way to empower them. I’m consistently impressed by the creativity and commitment my students put into these lessons. They know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a poorly designed lesson, and they want their lessons to be fun for their peers!

They do need support during the design process, which is why having a template is helpful. The lesson design document can then be shared with the students moving through the station and serve as a resource during the station. This creates a clear path for the learning.

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