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AT FIRST GLANCE, IT LOOKS LIKE pandemonium. But Mesa, Arizona, is piloting a Team Teaching project, wherein the separation of classes across physical or grade distinctions are dissolved. Here are tidbits on this concept, gleaned from “In 1 Classroom, 4 Teachers Manage 135 Kids—and Love It, by Neal Morton, The Hechinger Report, AP News, November 3, 2022. I add open classroom memories of my own from seemingly antediluvian times.
“This,” reports Neal Morton, “is what ninth grade looks like at Westwood High School, in Mesa, Arizona’s largest school system. There, an innovative teaching model has taken hold, and is spreading to other schools in the district and beyond.”
Morton continues, “Five years ago, faced with high teacher turnover and declining student enrollment, Westwood’s leaders decided to try something different. Working with professors at Arizona State University’s teachers college, they piloted a classroom model known as team teaching. It allows teachers to dissolve the walls that separate their classes across physical or grade divides.”
Chaos? No, Careful Orchestration. Morton writes, “The teachers share large groups of students—sometimes 100 or more—and rotate between group instruction, one-on-one interventions, small study groups or whatever the teachers as a team agree is a priority that day.”
“What looks at times like chaos,” Morton says, “is in fact a carefully orchestrated plan: Each morning, the Westwood teams meet for two hours of the school day to hash out a personalized program for every student, dictating the lessons, skills and assignments the team will focus on that day.”
Gaining Momentum. “This year,” Morton says, “the district expanded the concept to a third of its 82 schools. The team-teaching strategy is also drawing interest from school leaders across the U.S., who are eager for new approaches at a time when the effects of the pandemic have dampened teacher morale and worsened staff shortages.”
“The pandemic taught us two things: One is people want flexibility, and the other is people don’t want to be isolated,” said Carole Basile, dean of ASU’s teachers college, who helped design the teaching model.
Teaching, Hitherto an Isolated Profession. “Teachers are doing fantastic things, but it’s very rare a teacher walks into another room to see what’s happening,” said Andi Fourlis, superintendent of Mesa Public Schools, one of 10 Arizona districts that have adopted the model. “Our profession is so slow to advance because we are working in isolation.”
The idea of team teaching evolved in the 1960s. Morton notes, “In a survey of hundreds of the district’s teachers last year, researchers from Johns Hopkins University found those who worked on teams reported greater job satisfaction, more frequent collaborations with colleagues and more positive interactions with students.”
And What About the Students? Morton cites, “Early data from Westwood also show on-time course completion — a strong predictor of whether freshmen will graduate—improved after the high school started using the team approach for all ninth graders. ASU has found that students in team-based classrooms have better attendance, earn more credits toward graduation and post higher GPAs.”
One middle-school student remembers his eighth grade where “Two weeks into eighth grade, his science teacher quit—and was replaced by a series of subs. I got away with everything,” recalled the 14-year-old.
My kinda kid. But not in ninth grade: He says he appreciates the extra attention that comes with being in a class with so many teachers. “There’s four of them watching me all the time. I think that’s a good thing. I’m not really wasting time.”
Major Work Class, Cleveland, the Mid ’50s. As described in “On Being Rorschached and Otherwise Tested,” I was enrolled in a sorta prototype A.P. program run by the Cleveland Board of Education. My Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Grades were in a single large classroom. The teacher assembled us into evolving groups based on ability, not simply age.
She moved from group to group, topic to topic, with groups taught to work independently otherwise. Also, we had a second teacher giving daily total immersion in French. (To this day, when I attempt speaking français, I do so thinking en français, not just translating).
I remember fondly Major Work’s open classroom and highly interactive schooling. I suspect the kids at Mesa Westwood will have similar recollections. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022