Thursday, 21 May 2009

5 Key Items Every Classroom Needs #3: A Sorting Hat or Jars

Every classroom needs an item that helps selecting students - whether for teams, a raffle prize or a volunteer. Hogwarts has the Sorting Hat, but I have Mrs. Elswood's Cucumbers. This jar amused me the entire time it sat in my kitchen. Eventually, when the sale-date was gone, I emptied the final cucumbers and washed it out. Monday, it went to school and since then it has become legendary.

I use a lot of groupwork and co-operative learning. To do this well I firmly believe in mixing students; it teaches them to communicate with new people and breaks down prejudices they hold against each other. However, I teach in schools where students don't trust each other so the resistance to being put in groups was enormous. Until... I began putting their names into Mrs Elswood and selecting groups randomly. Although they don't love the choices, they understand and don't believe that I am personally out to ruin their lives. I explain why it's important to work with diverse groups of people and I change up the groups often so no-one is permanently stuck.

Sometimes this leads to difficult groupings -all the bright ones together, or all the noisy ones, and occassional whole groups of boys or girls. This can be disheartening and I've thought about fiddling things. But I slowly realised that the groupings are also for me to manage. Just as pupils must learn to get along with each other, I have learned how to deal with difficult groupings. Mrs Elswood teaches us all how to work smarter in groups of people we are unsure about.

Any 'sorting' item is good for this process. I've seen people use a 'Sorting Hat' like the one in Harry Potter. MrsMc uses The Fairness Bin and keeps the names in there at all times to pull out volunteers. A TeachFirst colleague of mine keeps the names written on lolly sticks in a cup (one for each class) and uses them for the same principle. But I am wedded to Mrs. Elswood.