We started day one, minute one, with all forty students together. When the students received their classroom assignments they were assigned to one teacher. We wanted to be sure that everyone understood that they in fact have two teachers, that we are all "one class", and that we will work together all day, everyday, all year long. We made sure to share our behavior expectations upfront with the students so that they knew what would be appropriate classroom behavior in their new environment. The reactions from the students when learning we would all be together all year long were that of a positive nature. There were more students to learn from, more friendships to be made, and two classrooms to move in and out of, not to mention two teachers! Now that we have finished our sixth week of school, forty students is the new normal, and when we do break them into twenty it feels small!
Another reason I feel that our class of 40 students is successful has to do with Morning Meeting. Our Morning Meeting is based on Roxann Kriete's book, The Morning Meeting Book which is one of the elements to The Responsive Classroom Approach. Morning Meeting also began on day one and has really helped the children get to know each others' names (which could have been a daunting task given how large we are), it has allowed the students to become more comfortable in speaking in front of a large group, and it has allowed the students to have a sense of belonging within our large class. Morning Meeting consists of four parts which are not necessarily done each and every day. The parts include greeting, sharing, group activity, and morning message. We generally start every meeting with a greeting which includes a quick whip around where they answer a simple question. Some questions have included what they had for dinner the night before, how they are going to show responsibility over the weekend, or naming a math equation double-fact. Our group activities are the basis for keeping our forty students feel connected with each other. These activities range from a quick ten minute puzzle, share, or task to a longer 25 minute team challenge (which I will discuss in more detail further on.) Finally, our morning message prepares the students for the day, informing them of the events they will be a part of and what will be expected on them throughout the day.
We felt that in order to help our forty students work together, having them partake in regular team challenges would give them the experience they need in order to learn how to work with others. Teams are changed on a monthly basis, allowing them just enough time to really get to know one another and how they can successfully work with each others' strengths but also short enough to give the students opportunities to work with many other children in the class. We strive to complete at least two team challenges a week which range from about twenty to thirty minutes. After completing the challenge we come back to our Morning Meeting circle where we discuss the successes and challenges each team encountered. So far team challenges seem to be a favorite of many!
"Research indicates that educators who establish firm boundaries, foster warm personal relationships in the classroom, and enable students to have an impact on their environment strengthen students' attachment to their school, their interest in learning, their ability to refrain from self-destructive behaviors, and their positive behaviors." (The Morning Meeting Book, p. 13 / Elias et al. 1997, 44) I feel that in our classroom of forty students and two teachers, we have been able to accomplish just this!