I’m working on community building a little more within my classes. Now that things are a little smaller I want to place a greater emphasis on the whole group being involved, rather than 5-6 kids at one table. Last year’s BC Calculus group was my first foray with a sub 20 class in a while, and I structured like it was a big class. Kids sat at three tables, and they stayed more or less confined to those tables. At the end of the year I felt like in a room of 15 people, they should’ve known each other and worked with each other better.

Year two I’m trying to fix that. This year’s group of 14 sits at two tables of 7 normally. I didn’t assign seats, they could just pick wherever. In this setup they’re with long time friends or whatever. But at least once a week I make them mingle.

I randomly assign partners for the day and make them combine the two tables into one big table. Sometimes there are snacks.

One, I want to make sure they’ve had multiple conversations with everyone in the room. As we progress through the year, I want them to seek out any kind of person for assistance, because they’ve worked with everyone in the room. Second, I want them to operate like a unit. Last year the class was all seniors. This year it’s a mix. I want the 11th graders to feel like they belong, and the 12th graders to respect their membership in the class.

There are things to improve upon, but this is a good start. They’re now used to the idea that I will randomly arrange them whenever I see fit. I want to better tailor the assignments for partner day, make them use 1 computer instead of 2, or version the task a bit so everyone isn’t doing the same thing. At the moment I’m making them confirm all work with their partner, and it’s working for the most part.

This isn’t anything special. Search for “visual random grouping” and you’ll find people who have been doing this and doing it better than me for years. I felt like the scale at which I had to operate wasn’t conducive to it. With that no longer a problem, I figure this pilot couldn’t hurt.

It also does more of what I always want in a classroom, students facing other students. My location in the room is irrelevant. When they’re sitting at the dinner table and we need to talk about our findings of the day, I’ll grab a seat with them. It is an incredibly relaxing way to teach. It’s the way my AP Government teacher always started class, everyone in a circle, discussing the current events of the day. I really looked forward to it every day.

AuthorJonathan Claydon