September 1, 2008

Triage in the Classroom

I've been feeling like a paramedic lately. With the large class sizes that I have, a big part of my job is triage:.
Triage is a process of prioritizing patients based on the severity of their condition so as to treat as many as possible when resources are insufficient for all to be treated immediately.
When arriving at the scene of a disaster, emergency responders need to quickly assess the condition of each victim and make quick decisions on who should be helped and who should be ignored. Ignoring someone in need is an emotionally difficult thing to do. Emergency responders must put emotions aside and rely on logic when making these decisions.

I'm doing the same thing in my classroom. My Computer Animation class has 35 students in it, and our class periods are only 50 minutes long. I simply do not have the time to answer everyone's questions. In this class, there are about four people in the back of the room with very poor reading comprehension and almost no computer experience. They require a great deal of help from me in order to finish the lessons. I'd say that I spend 50% of the class time helping these four students.

That means that the other 31 students only get 50% of the time for questions. This is problematic for two reasons. First, obviously, it's unfair that I'm spending so much time ignoring them. Many of these 31 students have legitimate questions or are struggling in the class and could really use some attention from the teacher.

The second problem is that even the 50% of the time I'm spending with the four students in the back is really not enough. Even with all of this attention, they're doing poorly in the class.

Triage is a regular part of a teacher's job. When there isn't enough time for us to help all of the students who need it, we must prioritize by evaluating who would benefit the most from the teacher's help. How do you make these decisions?
This article was originally written during my first year teaching experience.

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