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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Use Large Group Instruction

This blog owes a lot of inspiration from this post by George Couros.

Sometimes as a teacher I have to deliver content to a large group.  Today, in AP Physics 2 was a good example.  We are covering magnetic force.  I can predict the force and motions experienced by an object when acted on by a magnetic field.

This is a very complicated topic that students can't experiment with at the atomic level. I can set up a demonstration that shows what happens at a macroscopic level but it doesn't help students understand what is happening at the subatomic level.

The biggest difficulty is not mathematics. It is spacial reasoning and conceptualizing what is happening. It is a process which involves "right-hand rules" which provide simple models for how charges behave in a magnetic field. Here is a sample question students learned today from scratch.

Ok, enough with the physics talk. What is my point?

I feel that as educators, the current wisdom is telling us that we should not have large group instruction in our classroom. I do believe in personalizing instruction, but that doesn't mean we eliminate large group instruction. Honestly, a day like today is where students can get a very personalized form of instruction. When done effectively, large group instruction can reach every student by letting them take on different roles.

I am not a born lecturer. I am a terrible story teller. I thought maybe over time I'd be a teacher who would have all those great stories and share them as a part of my instruction. Well, that's not me. And, that's ok.  

I am a teacher who is fine in front of my classroom, but I understand that when I talk, the majority of students aren't actually learning. I discovered a great tool in Pear Deck that allows me to make my large group instruction interactive. Every 2 slides of content, I try to pose a question to the students. What this does is force learning to occur. It forces conversations to occur. When a question is posed, students are allowed the opportunity to learn by asking a peer a question, looking back at their notes, asking me for help, or taking a lead role and teaching a peer the content by helping them to a solution.

The lesson today allowed us the space for students to struggle with this challenging concept. The fact that my desks are arranged in pods, allows students to easily turn to a partner and ask for assistance or share their reasoning. The problem that arises in pod setting is that students sometimes aren't able to see the screen that is projecting information, the great thing about Pear Deck is the fact that the slideshow is presented directly onto the student's devices.

Another key to effective large group instruction is participation by all students. Pear Deck gives all students an opportunity to participate in every question. I pose questions to every student in the class.

So, I just wanted to make sure that I will no longer feel bad about presenting information via large group instruction when appropriate to the content and I follow a couple of guidelines.

  1. Make sure all student have easy visual access to information presented
  2. Make sure all students can hear my presentation of information
  3. Present information with text and graphics
  4. Create opportunities for interaction often
  5. Allow all students to interact with each question
  6. Allow time and space for students to interact with each other
  7. Adjust instruction in response to in-lecture feedback questions
So, we spent 60 minutes today in large group instruction.  Based on the feedback during instruction, most students got the basics.  But, there was still a large population that didn't.  That's fine.  Part of the process is realizing that we are just in level 1 understanding. 

Some students will be ready for easy success in the guided practice tomorrow.  Others will need more guidance, but they will now be able to rely on their peers for this assistance not just me.

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