Every teacher knows that the arrangement of the classroom contributes to the environment of the classroom. Different styles and arrangements serve different purposes. If you want things to be structured or you are testing, you pick rows. If you want to do projects and cooperative learning, grouping your seats or using tables is the way to go.
Lately there has been a lot of articles popping up about flexible seating in the classroom. The concept being that you have different types of seating arrangements in the room for students to choose from. You could have different types of chairs, tables, couches, bean bags, etc. The goal of this is to create different zones for students so they can find the most productive area for themselves. Edutopia has put out some great articles on the benefits of flexible seating and how it can be done. Check them out here:
Here is my classroom and I still consider it a work in progress.
You can see that I have a small section that are rows. I use this for testing and students that want to work individually on activities. Then I have partner desks in the center of the room and groups of 3 to 4 around the edge of the room.
Right now my students tend to sit in a section of the room based on progress. Students that are working on reading material and notes tend to sit in the rows. Students working on other parts of the content are grouped in the other sections of the room. This is not a perfect system and it is done partly as a classroom management tool. It breaks up certain groups of students that are having a hard time progressing through material because of the people around them. It also is nice for me when it comes to working with students because based on the zone they are sitting in, I already have an idea of what section of content they are working on. I also use the 4 person table at the back of the room as the place where I work with students on pull-out sessions.
When thinking about the self-paced classroom and room arrangement, it really comes down to giving students good work spaces that meet the needs of your content and allow for some freedom of movement based on student and teacher needs.
My classroom set up is very similar to Danielle’s room. The biggest difference between the coursework set up in our classrooms is that students have to constantly be quizzing in my class to demonstrate their knowledge. You can see I have two different sets of rows of individual desks. One of these is specifically designated as a testing area. When students move to this section of the room, it is a visible signal to me that they are attempting to progress through the content by testing and it also means I need to run over there and type in an access code for one of the quizzes.
I also have three pairs of desks and three tables that can seat up to six students. On some days I group them based on the lesson they are working on. For example, all of the students who are studying for a cumulative test would sit together and others who are on the first section of the next unit would sit together. This can be incredibly helpful for the students who can help each other out when they get stuck on a problem. It also provides a targeted small group I can work with for intervention or enrichment.
There are days where this just doesn’t work depending on the students and I need to rearrange them so they can stay focused. I just try to be as flexible as possible with moving students. That has been a big change this year I didn’t realize until writing this blog. While in past years moving a student during class may have seemed like a punishment, this year I hear myself saying, “Why don’t you sit here today?” and they just grab their stuff, move, and get back to work...at least 95% of the time that’s how it goes. I’m still teaching real live students just like everyone else so it’s not this easy ALL of the time but it has become part of classroom culture for the most part! :)
I think a large part of it is that I don’t typically have assigned seats, students have the option to work alone, in a pair, in a small group, or in a large group, and I brought in a couple of bean bags.
The key to arranging your room is to have options while keeping classroom management/behavior expectations very clear.
Still looking to improve...
Danielle: I am looking to create a ‘break zone’ in my room because I know if sometimes I need a brain break from my work, the students probably do too. I am looking to pick up some different types of chairs and tables so there can be even more flexibility in how it is set up. My struggle is class size and making sure that I have enough spaces in my room 26-34 students I have in my classes. This concept is leading me to think it is time to get rid of my teacher desk and find some new ways to store classroom materials. I am honestly not sure how things will change and evolve as I explore the self-paced environment. I am sure that my room next year will look different than it currently does. I promise to keep you posted on changes!
Becca: When Danielle told me about getting rid of her desk, the first thing I thought was that it would be the perfect way to add another flexible seating option to our classes. Something great about the desks we have is that the height can be changed. While I currently have a couple of bean bags for students to get comfortable closer to the ground, I have some student who like to stand. Some of them just use a clipboard and stand in the back of the classroom but it would be fantastic to move my desk to the standing height and place it either against a wall or in the back of the room for students who prefer to stand or use stools rather than the standard chair. I also love the brain break idea. While I expect my students to be working from bell to bell, I understand needing a break from a specific task. I am looking into setting up an area with some logic puzzles, geometric coloring pages, puzzles, legos, and maybe some play-doh. Obviously it would be expected that students don’t spend too much time at this station. It will require some self-regulation to know when they need the break. The expectation would be that students do not visit the brain break area more than once in a class period and that they spend no longer than 5 minutes at the station. There are so many fun hourglasses or timers out there now, I am sure I can find one or a couple to keep at the area for students to track their time!
To sum it up...
“Zones” are an easy way to get students up and moving throughout a class. Whether you have a 46 minute period, a 52 minute period, or a 96 minute period (we have a combination of the three!), students will need to get up and move in order to really stay engaged in any curriculum! When creating your zones, try to create as many options to fit your students’ needs as possible but you should anticipate needing to review class rules and expectations regularly.
We’ll keep you updated on what we are trying out! Let us know what works for you!
When you think about what to teach in a course, there are always certain components that come to mind like standards, learning intentions, objectives, essential questions, big ideas, success criteria, assessments, etc.
In the self-paced classroom all these factors are still there but there are added questions to consider since there will be students working far ahead, far behind, and somewhere in the middle.
In this situation, a few decisions have to be made when it comes to curriculum and it can change depending on your content. Here are the two big questions to consider:
Social Studies viewpoint
In my World Geography course this comes down to looking at my standards and deciding which of these are the most important. Many factors are at play in this. I have to consider how to help my teachers that are tested (American Government) and meet the hard to decipher and slightly nonexistent Missouri geography standards. If you have looked at them, you have seen how they are mixed in with other social students content. It is nice to have some freedom I would say not being tested, but I of course feel very passionate about my subject and want students to gain as much as possible. This makes it difficult to narrow down content sometimes.
I start by planning out what I would do for the middle of the road student. What would I plan out if I were to run my class like I had before and expect everyone to get through? That is where I start creating and planning out activities and resources for those students. I layout all of that out to see what I have.
Once that is done I turn my attention to planning for the students that move really slowly. This is when it really just comes down to deciding what you really want students to come away with in your class. In this scenario, it basically the same as when you modify for a special education student. Your school’s special education department would be a great resource for helping to come up with some handy ways to modify material. I have turned to mine so many times for ideas. With these students it usually comes down to making an assignment smaller and skipping some activities all together so that they can learn the essential material. It might mean making modified or smaller more concise assessments as well.
Then I turn my attention to the students that work faster than all of the others. This is more difficult for me. Basically I have two options:
Right now my philosophy is to have a bunch of projects for students as options to complete if they discover their grades are not where they want them and they want to complete one or more of them to boost their grade. It is enrichment for the content and potential for student choice in which projects are chosen for completion. There is also one project that is required for students to complete as well and right now I am hoping that will be enough for my fast students. I really won’t know until we get through this semester on how I feel about the process and what I want to change.
I honestly feel that if I am successful in creating an environment in my classroom that is really focused on learning and exploring our content, then students won’t be as concerned with the amount of assignments or projects they do in relation to someone else.
If anyone has any ideas or suggestions, please comment and let me know. I will keep you updated on my progress.
All but one of my classes are co-taught with a high percentage of students with IEP’s that include math disabilities, extended testing time, and/or major ADD/ADHD/Anxiety issues that can take kids off focus easily or sometimes out of school for an extended period of time. But as many of you know, I still need to teach all of the kids in my class the same thing they would learn if they were in any of the other Geometry or Algebra classes.
I have the same standards/objectives to teach and all of the grades for any of our Algebra or Geometry students in our building come from assessments. Before becoming a self-paced classroom, test/quiz days were a wasted day. We would get started and either I would wait until everyone was finished to move on to the next lesson, wasting a ton of time for my students who breezed through tests, OR I would move on with the class and have my co-teacher finish testing those who needed more time in a separate area. Those kids would end up coming in during the lesson/activity with no clue what was happening and I would have to spend time catching each one of them up individually. It was a nightmare.
With all of this wasted time, I had to completely cut content out in previous years in order to make time to teach the “more important” objectives. I felt like a terrible teacher that was cheating my students. I had some kids that were lost and others that seemed bored. My self-paced classroom has completely changed this for me!
Again, the essential content for my classes are clearly defined in our objectives by course and each objective is broken down by target. It looks like this:
There are a lot of different resources I need to have ready for each target (another shout out for flippedmath.com for having most of these resources already made and available for free!). I am continuing to expand on the resources I offer for each lesson and I have some ideas for the future, but this is what I am currently working with:
Like Danielle said, you need to be prepared for students who need enrichment or accommodations.
When I have a student who is getting really far ahead of everyone else, I have two options:
For students falling behind, I offer tutoring outside of class time or I have them come see me during our intervention time at school. I still want all students to learn and earn a passing grade for each target.
Having all of the resources available to them means that they can get some help no matter where they are (at home, out of town, in school detention, etc.). After surveying our students, we found that they really loved the new method but they also communicated that the hardest part of it for them was that they were responsible for their learning. If they did their work and asked questions and used the resources, they could pass the quizzes. If they didn’t use their resources and wasted class time, they saw their grade plummet. As I was reading the responses I just kept thinking, “exactly!”
Another positive thing I’ve noticed is that students can communicate where they are in the content and what they’ve learned a lot better. They don’t want to waste time that they may have in a small group or one-on-one with you so they tell you exactly what they know or don’t understand and are eager to be able to show they can do it without any assistance. They are motivated to move on to the next lesson so it is in their best interest to actually learn and understand the material!
We are loving trying out the self-paced classroom, but it isn’t all sunshine and daisies.
Having a self paced classroom takes a lot of work. That being said, teachers are some of the hardest working people in the world so we know that isn’t enough to turn someone away.
The key to making a self-paced classroom easier on the teacher is putting in as much behind the scenes work ahead of time as possible. I (Becca) have been wanting to put together something like this since my first year of teaching but the thought of having all of the materials ready and making sure they were good quality was too daunting. This year a fellow teacher turned me onto a free online resource (flippedmath.com) and it was the game changer I needed!
This resource has good quality videos to assist with guided notes, practice problems, and solutions. My part was setting it up in our school’s learning management system (we use Canvas) in an easy to use way, adding supplemental resources, and creating assessments for each lesson/unit.
With a classroom of 30 freshmen through seniors taking Algebra, some having a hard time with the speed and others seemingly bored out of their minds with the pace, I wanted to start as soon as possible. I created the Canvas courses over the weekend and introduced it to my class the next Monday. It was great to get the kids started but I backed myself into a corner a little bit for the kids that sped through! In our math classes, the grades come solely from assessment grades. With this new method, student would take a 5 question test over each lesson and need at least a 4 out of 5 in order to move on. This required creating multiple versions of each 5 question quiz. Every night I was working on making quality assessments. My in class time was spent moving from student to student, answering questions or going over their assessment results. When I had two students get ahead of me, I asked them to help tutor others in class until I was able to make the assessment.
This semester I am joined by other Algebra and Geometry teachers trying this method so we have teamed up! We each took a chapter from our curriculum to write quality assessments so it doesn’t feel like such an overarching task! Now that my online course is built ahead of time, my time out of class is spent working on creating supplemental full class activities to help my class culture still feel like we’re all together. It is such a relief to be more focused on creating things I will do WITH my class instead of just the assessments.
My class (Danielle) is structured a little differently so front-loading means that I have to also have my online course created ahead time. Like Becca said, we use Canvas as a learning management system. In World Geography a self-paced environment is different than the math class because of the content structure. It is not really as linear as math is. I unfortunately did not have the resources that Becca had in flippedmath.com, so I have had to create most of my materials or borrow from other teachers and the Internet.
Here is an overview of what I have been creating for World Geography:
Here is what all that boils down to: I have all of the materials for a unit created and uploaded in canvas in advance or at least as far ahead as I can get. At the beginning of each unit students receive their unit checklist. I review the unit goals and outcomes with them, then they start working. Students work at their own pace through the material and I sign-off on their progress as they work through. As I check in with students I figure out where they stand on the goals and content. I use this information to plan my pull-out activities during a week. I have a list to pull from and then pick students that need to work on that area with me. Tuesday’s are typically reserved for remediation pull-out. Wednesday’s and Thursday’s, I work in a rotation through all students on a specific content piece or skill. On Monday and Friday, I am walking around the room checking on as many students as I can, reviewing work, and signing off on checklist progress.
Talk to other teachers because they can sometimes have the most amazing resource up their sleeve!
Throughout my education at Eastern Illinois University (Go Panthers!), differentiation was the concept discussed the most. We often discussed how we would eventually be giving all students their own personalized education.
Another math teacher and I were at school working on creating materials for the next unit of our geometry curriculum one Saturday when we started discussing the struggles we noticed. It is so hard for students to get caught up in a math class once they get lost because it builds on itself so much. We had students who would miss because they were sick, participating in a school activity, or leaving early for an athletic event who would come back and be lost. We had some students who did not understand the first unit , struggled on the second and were now failing the third. The way we were doing things (guided notes for class, practice, test) was working for some but not all. I started talking about how nice it would be to give students more time to work on the lessons that they struggled on and that’s when she showed me flippedmath.com.
Flippedmath.com was created by four teachers (the Algebros!) for just this purpose. On their site they have a video to go along with a guided notes packet and practice problems as well as solutions to the practice problems AND more practice problems! They had built each of these resources for each lesson of a full Algebra, Geometry, Algebra 2, Pre-Calculus, and Calculus curriculum. The videos were great quality with entertaining factors thrown in to make it so much more interesting than a lot of math tutorials I had found on YouTube previously.
How I structured it
I built the course on Canvas and started it the next week in my Algebra class.
It was amazing. Here are some of the benefits I saw in switching to a self-paced method.
Basically, I love it. And my students do, too. I surveyed them at the end of the 1st semester and 83% of them said they prefer the self paced method and wished it could be adapted to other courses they were in.
Updates to 2nd Semester
For the small percentage who missed a traditional math class, I teach a short lesson twice a week in front of the class. It may be using the guided notes or it may be an activity, but it brings back some of the traditional components that a few of my students were missing. The remaining class time is spent in the same style as 1st semester!
There is so much more to say about this method and how to make it work better, but we’ll save that for another day!
Webster defines self-paced learning as “designed to permit learning at the student’s own pace”.
In a self-paced learning environment, the teacher creates multiple weeks of materials (notes, activities, assessments) in advance for students to complete when they are ready. Students do not move forward until they have mastered the previous skill to certain pre-determined level of mastery.
It is really the first and most logical step in my mind to differentiating your classroom. Allowing students that move slower to move slower and those that move faster to move faster.
Becca had started the process in her class and I was eager to try it in mine. She implemented it for a quarter in her class and I gave it a trial at the end of last semester. Here are some things we discovered about logistics and complications related to starting up a self-paced environment. If you are interested in bringing this to your classroom here are some tips from our trials in the new class format.
Logistics & Potential Complications:
This is a system that both Becca and I are very excited about using in our classes. We will continue to post about our success, challenges, and adventures in the self-paced environment.