Tables vs. Desks in the High School Classroom: A Reflection

How should I set up my classroom?

This is a question that I have pondered at the beginning of every school year. I play around with the idea of arranging the desks into tables so that students can easily work with one another. I move the desks and look at the room imagining the classroom management nightmare that may ensue should I allow my high schools sophomores the ability to sit with one another all day, every day. I fear that the temptation to talk will just be too strong and we will never get anything done. Don’t get me wrong, I love to have my sophomores work in partners or groups of 3-4 (depending on the activity), but what I like even more is the ability to move the desks back and forth to fit what we are doing. The beginning of the 2013-2014 school year I had this luxury. The end of that school year I did not. It is a long tale about the testing monster, but to keep it short and sweet, I was forced to move classrooms in February 2014. I was displaced until the end of May. My new classroom had tables. TABLES. When I first peeked into the window I remember thinking to myself- “They have got to be kidding me. How do they expect anything to get done at the tables?”

I was nervous in my own ability to take on this challenge. My students are pretty well behaved, a little talkative, but good overall. What were those evil tables going to do to them. Were they going to take my little angles and turn them on me? As a new teacher, I was still getting a hold of this whole classroom management thing.

My original classroom was made up of five rows of five. Every day my 25 students would come in and sit down. If they were working in pairs, they knew what to do. We would just move the desks. If they were working in groups they knew what to do as well.

Moving into the new classroom I was not sure what to expect. I knew that I would have to change my teaching style to fit the new classroom environment. I decided very early on that I was going to work with the temptation to talk instead of against it. The move to a new classroom transformed my teaching.

Suddenly, I stopped relying on lectures. They just did not work. I would be able to hold my students attention, but only for so long. I started making the notes short, sweet, and to the point. The rest of class would be filled with interactive activities. Maybe my students would work on writing a group summary. Some days they would come up with their own definition of a term we were learning in history. Other days they would be working together to create a presentation or poster about an assigned topic. My teaching became much less teacher centered and much more student centered. And, you know what? I started enjoying my job so much more. I remember my professors telling me that the students should be working harder than the teacher. This is a little piece of advice that I always kept in the back of my mind, but I didn’t quite know how to implement. As a history teacher, aren’t I supposed to be the one to impart the knowledge to my students? This assumption, however, does not take into account all of the skills that my students do bring to the table.

Yes, my students are young. Yes, my students can be immature. Yes, my students can be lazy. But, they have knowledge and skills that they need to use. I need to encourage them to use those skills instead of allowing them to fall into the trap of being passive learners. When you are involved in your learning you own it, so to speak.

Making the switch to a classroom that had tables was a blessing. It allowed me insight into the insecurities that I have about myself as a teacher. Beyond that, the switch transformed my teaching and allowed me to gain confidence in my ability to manage a classroom. My experience has not been smooth sailing. There have been good days and bad days, but it was worth it. I like having my students work at tables. No, I LOVE having my students work at tables.

If you have been considering having your high school students work at tables, I encourage you to do so. It might just be the best thing that has happened to your classroom yet!

Happy Teaching!

GRE: How to Study for the Exam and Pass the First Time Around!

Right after finishing my Bachelors of Arts degree in Social Science Education, I knew I wanted to continue to a graduate degree; I just had no idea what I wanted to pursue. There was so much stigma and negativity attached to teaching that by the time I was ready to enter the classroom, I wasn’t even sure if I still wanted to do it. All throughout my student teaching others kept questioning my decision which in turn made me question. Can anyone relate?

Anyway, I did start teaching, but I hesitated for two years before deciding to pursue a graduate degree. I constantly wondered  whether or not I should pursue another interest, you know, in case this teaching thing didn’t work out. After teaching for two years I realized that my true passion was developing curriculum and lesson planning. That was my answer. I decided to apply to a Masters program in Curriculum and Instruction.

In order to be accepted to the program at my chosen university, I had to take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). The mere thought of this test gave me anxiety. In preparing for it I gained a newfound understanding of the anxiety my students feel when it comes to all of the standardized testing the state shoves down their throats (I’m not opposed to standardized tests in general, by the way, I just think that there is way to much of it going on.)

There were certain scores that I had to obtain in order to be accepted to the Curriculum and Instruction program. Once I had this information, I started to research GRE Prep books online. There was one that caught my eye- so I went out and purchased a copy for myself; I spent the entire summer after my second year teaching studying for the GRE. I did not want to fail this test; I couldn’t fail this test. (Did I mention it costs $205 just to register for the exam?)

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I started studying by taking one of the practice tests. My reading score was right where it needed to be, but math, oh my! I had some serious work to do. I devoted the entire summer to studying for the math section of the test. I studied until my practice test score was higher than the minimum score I needed to earn so that I would have some wiggle room and peace of mind. Let’s be real here.

A typical day of studying looked like this:                                                                                         6 am- My husband would leave for work. I would wake up, have coffee, and walk the dog.

7 am- I would review notes from the previous day. If there were any problems that I struggled with, I would revisit them and do practice problems of the same type.

8 am- Study new section, take notes, make flashcards of key terms.

8:30am- Study new flash cards until I had them down pat. After that, I would mix in flash cards from previous sections and study those until I knew them all by heart.

9:30am- Work on practice problems for new section. Complete all problems without consulting notes. Check answers. If any answers were incorrect, I would go through my notes and try to figure out where I went wrong on my own. I find that identifying errors myself (when possible) helps prevent me from making the same errors again. For some reason the information “sticks” better this way. If I couldn’t figure out the err of my ways by consulting my notes, I would reference online lectures from the Khan Academy. Usually, this did the trick.

12 pm- Lunch break

1 pm-3 pm- Between 1 pm and 3 pm I would spend time on the Khan Academy website watching lectures and completing practice problems. I would specifically look for lectures and practice problems on concepts I had already studied to reinforce my own learning and keep everything fresh.

By 3 pm, I was mentally exhausted from the day of intense studying and I would call it quits.

This method of studying worked well for me. I passed the GRE the first time around. I realize that this schedule is probably not realistic for everyone. I had the summer off and I don’t have any children so I could devote all the time in the world to preparation. The key things that you need to include in the study schedule you create for yourself are:

  1. Ample time to study, especially if you need an intense refresher for the material.
  2. A variety of practice tests to track your progress so you can see that you are learning and retaining the information.
  3. A variety of study resources so that you are exposed to different types of problems. I found that different study materials would often present questions in different ways.
  4. Materials, online or in print, that you can use to reinforce your studying. Don’t just study a section and then forget about it thinking that you have it down 100%. You might know it now, for the moment, but as soon as you go on to another concept the previous one might become a little fuzzy (This happened to me all the time. I can’t be the online one, right???).

Check out these links for resources to help you prepare for the GRE.

Register for the GRE

GRE Test Information

GRE Vocabulary

Practice Math Problems

Khan Academy

Happy studying!!

 

Awakened Book Study

At the beginning of June I came across a link to the Awakened Book Study while perusing blogs online. Awakened is a book that gives tips on how to “change your mindset to transform your teaching”. I thought that this was an area that I needed help with, so I went ahead and ordered the book. Oh, what a blessing this book has been. It has given me insight into some of the negative thought patterns that I have. It has opened my eyes to the fact that you do not have to think every thought that pops into your mind. Some thoughts represent a negative emotional state and dwelling on those thoughts can affect your mood for the entire day. This notion is something that I had not considered before.

If you are struggling with a negative mindset or are looking for ways to reignite your passion for teaching, I highly recommend reading Awakened: Change your Mindset to Transform your Teaching. The author, Angela Watson, has also written a companion to Awakened for Christian educators called The Awakened Devotional Study Guide for Christian Educators.The devotional has a section to go along with each chapter in Awakened. It has scripture, application questions, and reflection questions that help you to delve deeper into understanding your own negative thought patterns and how to change them.

If you are interested in reading Awakened you can get more information about the book and where to purchase it here. I hope that you do choose to order the book and read it with an open mind. I’m sure that you won’t regret it. If you are currently reading Awakened, please leave your thoughts on the book in the comments! I would love to connect with you.