One of the challenges of my particular job, above and beyond the regular challenges of being a new teacher, is that I teach a combined Year 11/12 Physics class. That means that I currently have three students studying the Year 11 syllabus, and five studying the Year 12 syllabus, and we all meet at the same time, in the same classroom, for 4 periods a week.
I’m sure that some of you have done the maths and realised that 4 periods, split between 2 classes, only gives 2 periods a week I can dedicate to each year. My readers who are also teachers might have also calculated that 4 periods a week, with 2 different classes, equals 8 lessons planned! Last term the poor Chemistry teacher was teaching combined Chemistry AND covering the combined Physics, and you could see the stress of juggling so many classes was really getting to him. And that’s where I come in…
My head teacher’s advice was basically to experiment, find a method that worked for me, and re-evaluate once the students had had time to get used to me. I also had a few things that were working in my favour, the most important being the independent study skills of my year 12 students – their experience of Physics had been a mixture of being taught by a non-Physics teacher, doing some intensive lessons through distance education, and being left to their own devices to study. As such, they had developed some really great independent study skills. All of my students were also very good at collaborating and helping each other out when they were stuck.
So here’s what I’ve been doing
Stages of Lesson Prep
- Select the syllabus dot points I want to cover with each class.
- Plan active teaching methods that address the dot points (e.g. How am I going to explain or demonstrate this?).
- Collect resources that address the dot points (textbooks, websites, worksheets).
Stages of the Lesson
- Walk in, tell one year group to read ahead on what we’ll be covering today, usually from the textbook.
- Spend 10-15 minutes talking with the second year group about their topic. This could be a straight up lecture, a practical demo, or working through some problems together.
- Leave the second year group with something to work on, usually answering questions or writing notes.
- Go over to the first year group and ask them to explain what they just read. Elaborate on their points and correct misconceptions. This could also take 10-15 minutes.
- Leave the first year group with something to do, check in with the second how their work is going. Once again, help them when they’re stuck, correct misconceptions.
- Check how the first year group is doing with their task.
- If the bell has not yet gone, continue switching between groups at regular intervals until it does.
Usually the way it works out is that within each period each year group gets one introductory style lecture, one question-answer problem solving session, and two blocks of independent study. And how do the students feel about this method? Well, last week we had the chance to ask them, and the take away is this…
The students all said that they like the way I split the time between the two years, and that my teaching style generally is working for them. Which is such an encouraging thing to hear as a first year teacher!
I suppose the final point I want to make is the way challenging teaching situations force us to confront the weaknesses in our teaching style. I have a tendency to be a bit of a helicopter teacher, hovering over the students’ shoulders, ready to default to a lecture whenever they get stuck. Splitting my time between the classes means that the students automatically have blocks of time to work through problems and solve them at their own pace. This makes them more independent, and better prepared for the HSC and beyond. So really, it’s good news all round.