Today’s Contributor: Lorrie Salome, 5th grade math teacher at Hill Elementary. She spent what felt like a million years in graduate school and recently received her M.Ed. in Instructional Technology from UT Austin. Her hobbies include: acquiring and moving around classroom furniture, telling children stories about her fleet of fantastic felines, and fiddling with the computer until her eyes are beady. She likes to exercise at the crack of dawn and doesn’t even drink coffee!
I’ll start by telling you that when I was dreaming up what I would write about for this here blog post, I told my guy my idea and his first response was, “Are you really going to reveal the man behind the curtain?” Yes, I am! That said, before you read onward you must promise never to tell my any of my students–past, present, or future–about this very well-kept teacher’s best secret! Promise? OK, then…Here goes!
This year, a co-teaching partnership has blossomed between myself and my content area partner on the other teaching trio. We each teach 3 rotations of 5th grade math, and our class period times align well enough to allow us to fiddle with some creative intermixing of the classes. In the past, we might share lesson plans, but our students have never merged before this year.
We started slowly–with a little mixing of the two classes and it was delightful (for both students and teachers, alike!). As we realized how effective it was to co-teach, we became more bold with our experimental grouping. We used common assessment data to create skill-based stations or activities that include students from either class. We created ‘Mega-Stations’–a rotation system where kids rotate through 8 stations across the two classrooms (syncing our phone timers made this work like magic!); we’d offer hands-on games, self-based electronic activities (through BLEND, Nearpod, Quizizz, etc), and teacher-led small group stations that provided both reteach and extension activities. We hosted a “Switch and Swap”–where we’d each teach a lesson or host an activity and then we’d simply have the kids switch classrooms and repeat the activity. Following a major exam, we’d split the kids in to 2 groups: one classroom would host a review session for kids who could benefit from reviewing the test content, and the other room would host an extension activity for kids who were ready to move on. This intermixing has had so many advantages: the kids have better relationships with each other, we have relationships with every single 5th grader, students/teachers get to change up their space and approach, and true differentiation is much easier to achieve. It makes math class feel exciting and fresh and gives us all a better sense of community.
On the downside, the need for on-the-spot student grouping has been intense! We needed a way to sort, partner, and group kids in record time. We simply couldn’t do it as efficiently without the help of a very cheap ($0.99) app called Team Shake. Team Shake has changed my life! You can create a class list and then randomly select individual students for ‘random selecting’ (the tech version of pulling a popsicle stick) or for instantly grouping kids into small groups of any designated size.
Another cool sorting feature is that you can (again, behind the scenes) assign students to sub-teams which will either always group them with certain peers or, on the flipside, never put them with specific peers. If you know that you have two students that simply are not productive when on a team together, you can use this sub-team feature to ensure that the app does not pair them together. I use this feature very sparingly, but especially when you have an extremely passionate classroom, it can be such a helpful way to keep kids partnered in a way that maximizes their productivity without it looking like you are specifically separating the kids.
Check out Team Shake for instant sorting for your flexible grouping needs. While it is quite the lifesaver, it isn’t the most user-friendly app I’ve ever used. Don’t be shy to reach out if you have trouble setting up your classroom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy student sorting!