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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
That many people and that much noise would have stressed me massively. It took me until I was about 20 to realize that I’m not great in crowded learning environments.
Mr. Albrecht got here ahead of me. This approach will simply crush students who are introspective and quiet. We already amply reward the outgoing students: throwing everybody into a noisy, chaotic room will finish off the introverts. Yes, I know you said “What looks at times like chaos” is orchestrated. I can argue with that idea because my wife was involved with ‘team teaching’ about 50 years ago. Then, it was necessary to be enthusiastic about the concept because all the people at the school board were. I very much doubt things have much changed.
At 14 I moved from Minneapolis with single classrooms to “open concept” Houston. I hated it. The couple of subjects that weren’t really easy for me I just tuned out, and my grades suffered, but I still tested really well and made the (in hindsight) really stupid idea to go to the giant popular university. Same results as my last years at high school. I switched to a small engineering-oriented university and never made lower than a B. As the years have gone by, I’ve learned I wasn’t alone.
I also learned exactly what your point is: High school decisions are very political and the decisions come from above, not from teachers’ groups.
More students with fewer teachers and large rooms with shared equipment are less expensive than closed classrooms with 20-25 students per teacher.
I’ve led a lot of training courses in my career. It is never easier to teach a larger group of students than a smaller group. More lucrative if they are paying per trainee, but not easier.
I can’t speak to Team Teaching, but I did experience some novel teaching techniques in my many years of education.
In Ontario we used to have Grade 13 (although many years ago they finally eliminated it). English classes in Grades 11 and 12 were insufferable, with teachers who delighted in torture of various types to make the subject unappealing.
In grade 11 we had a teacher who would make us “learn” a passage of some prose or poetry and then expected us to write it out verbatim in class. She would tell us which line on the sheet of paper to start writing to discourage us from substituting a pre-written sheet, but we would just copy out several versions at home. I probably got more out of reading and writing the multiple copies than I would from short term memorization anyway.
In grade 12 I used to look out a window and watch a distant traffic light go through its cycle, to relieve the boredom as the teacher droned on about something in a monotone voice.
Then came Grade 13 English, and what a revelation. First class he announced that we would not be studying several of the books/plays that were on the curriculum, but substituted other classic novels/Shakespeare plays. Two replacements of each actually, instead of the specified books.
Interestingly I had a rather odd selection of electives, and could not make all five of his classes each week in the same session, so M-W-F I’d attend a morning class, and T-Th an afternoon class. He was never really sure when I was supposed to be there, and I could have probably skipped a few classes without him really noticing, but I never did. I don’t think that anyone missed his class (illness excepted).
He on the other hand was an avid pilot, and there were a few days when he decided to go flying instead of teaching. This was never really a problem because he did that on days when we were reading a Shakespeare play, with individual students reading the various parts out loud, and we just carried on without him on those days.
Other days he’d come in and make some outrageous statement which would inevitably trigger a reaction and we’d spend most of the class with a debate on the topic.
In addition to the modified and somewhat expanded curriculum, he encouraged us to read historical novels, and dystopian novels like 1984 and Brave New World on our own time outside of class and then we would talk about them in class when enough students had read them.
He also asked us to read at least three books from a favourite author, and then write an essay on the themes and style of that author. Again, this was on our own time outside of class. Thomas Hardy was my author of choice.
I think that if I had been taught by this gentleman in the many years before Grade 13, the “Eng” in my university education might have been English and not Engineering.
Many years later there was a high school reunion for anybody who had attended in the 50 years the school had been around, and on the website for the reunion there was a section on favourite teacher, and he was voted as favourite by almost everybody (or at least amongst those who had had the fortune of being in his class as he taught 1/2 of the Grade 13 cohort). Unfortunately he was not at the reunion, having passed away a few years earlier from cancer. He was the only teacher who I really wanted to see and thank at the reunion.
What a great story. Thanks!
Thanks to you all for adding comments. I have misgivings about the chaos aspects, but also recall my daughters’ early Montessori schooling on STT. It was another “seemingly chaotic setting with careful orchestration.” I believe it enriched both daughters.
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