Siphosethu Primary in Ntuzuma, KZN. It’s 10 o’clock and 109 energetic Grade 5 learners are crammed into one small classroom, chatting noisily as they wait for their teacher. Everything they need for the upcoming lesson is already on their desks. Mrs Dlamini appears in the doorway and immediately the atmosphere changes. “3 … 2 … 1… Stop!” As one unit every learner taps the desk, folds his/her arms and turns to face the teacher. There is silence. The air is heavy with eager anticipation. What follows is like a carefully choreographed dance:
They greet each other with a song, check homework and stationery, and quickly complete the Do Now. In under ten minutes all 109 learners are settled, prepared, energised and focused, and they have already completed and marked their first written task. The rest of the lesson continues in the same vein; learners listen attentively to their teacher, follow instructions as carefully as possible and enjoy participating actively in oral and written activities. With such a large number of learners it isn’t plain sailing, but Mrs Dlamini has a toolbox full of tools she can use to fix problems and make adjustments as the need arises. By the end of the lesson she is still smiling, and so are her learners.
“Teach Like a Champion is helping a lot,” she says. “I feel confident that I can manage my class. There is a big difference between the classes that use the techniques and those that don’t.”
So what is her secret for managing large classes?
Create a culture of 100% compliance. If learners think they can ‘hide’ behind their classmates they won’t co-operate. They need to know that each individual is seen, known and held accountable.
Have strong routines. It is possible to maintain order and save time when everyone knows what to do and how to do it without being told.
Make compliance visible. It is easier to manage behaviour when you can see it.
Make compliance fun. Avoid power struggles by making discipline enjoyable (STAR, Clean Start/Finish, Show Me, Joy Factor, Strong Voice, Precise Praise).
Divide the class into groups. It helps to focus on a smaller number of learners at a time, and learners are less able to ‘hide’. Group leaders can shoulder some of the responsibility.
Keep learners busy. When they know how to behave well they can participate more fully. Give them every possible opportunity to talk, write, use objects and practise the skills they are learning (All Write, Show Me, Turn and Talk, Name the Steps, Do Now, Exit Ticket, Cold-Call, Popcorn Reading).
Plan carefully and be prepared. Know exactly WHAT learners will do and HOW they will do it (Double Plan).
Be realistic. To avoid frustration have realistic expectations, and be flexible.
Finally, know that some days will be better than others. Every lesson will be a new opportunity to succeed, so take a deep breath and go for it.