Reimagining the Classroom at Match Next

 Garrett Schilling works with one of his students.

Garrett Schilling works with one of his students.

Garrett Schilling is a tutor at Match Next this year. He has hipster beard and a brown leather notebook with refillable paper he carries from class to class. Garrett grew up all over the United States, but calls Oklahoma home. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Science from Southwestern Oklahoma State University and after several stints as an outdoor educator, decided he wanted to become a teacher. He applied to the Match Teacher Residency – the first year of Match’s Sposato Graduate School of Education – and asked to be placed at Match Next, because he knew it would require even more one-on-one interaction with students than Match Corps tutors do. 

Match Next is Match Education’s latest K12 innovation: it’s our effort to reimagine how to organize the human resources in a school. Instead of the traditional classroom, with one teacher in a room of 25 students, we’re building a new model. In one grade, three master teachers oversee 30 tutors (all AmeriCorps members), who work with 100 students. In a typical class period, students are organized into groups of three or four, overseen by one tutor. 

To see Match Next in action is to see a totally different kind of classroom, one with a lot more adults than a normal classroom has. Students and tutors sit at desks configured into pods. Every kid has a Chromebook and all of the class materials – lessons, assessments, classwork, homework, etc. – are housed in the cloud, on Google Classroom. Master teachers check in on students individually and spend a few minutes with each pod of kids to see spot-check their progress and check for understanding.  

This year, Garrett has worked one-on-one with 10 fifth graders in English and social studies. He spends hours with his kids each day working through the day’s lessons and independent work. He talks and texts regularly with their parents. As a result of spending so much time in close proximity, Garrett and his kids know all sorts of things about each other: favorite bands, interests, food, weekend plans, siblings, struggles at home.

Garrett spends a lot of time on his right knee during the day, kneeling down next to his students as they get to work. “About 60 percent of my job is poking and prodding and course correction,” he says. The group of four boys he’s working with today have diverse needs – one student is a plodder; another works fast (Garrett describes him as a “grumpy old man in a 10-year old body”); the third boy is capable, but has a hard time staying on task; and the fourth boy, who is new to Match this year, is catching up academically and adjusting to the high expectations of his new school. 

He has a few constant refrains (he must say these things hundreds of times a week): “What are you having a hard time with?” “What is this trying to teach us?” “You can do it, try again.” “I’m not telling you – look it up.” “Ok, that’s pretty good!”  

The big lesson students are working on today is identifying and interpreting poetic devices in songs. Each student was supposed to bring in a song from home to analyze – those who forgot to pick a song are given a copy of “Happy” by Pharrell. As class gets underway, Garrett reminds his students to pull out their poetry glossaries to use as a reference tool. He pushes them to think through the use of things like repetition, metaphor and simile to influence the mood, tone, theme and point of view of the song. 

Garrett has learned a lot about teaching and about how to connect with kids this year. But one of his biggest lessons has to do with how he presents himself. At the beginning of the year, Garrett’s eyebrows were permanently furrowed, his mouth fixed in a perpetual grimace. It was a look of concentration, and he was concentrating a lot! Sposato faculty identified this tendency and gave him feedback. “I think I was scaring the kids,” he says.  Now he smiles more and tries to ensure his “resting face” is a friendly one. It seems to be making a difference in his daily interactions with his students. 

The hardest part of the work for Garrett has been learning to not give kids the answers. His teacher persona is athletic coach – firm, but fair, and caring. “I’ve learned that it’s a long game to get kids to do the work themselves,” Garrett explains. “At the beginning of the year I was doing too much scaffolding - too much work for my students - but now they’re developing enough stamina to do their own work.”  

Next year, as a second year graduate student at Sposato, Garrett will be teaching middle school science at UP-Boston in South Boston. Meanwhile, the work at Match Next will continue. Over the next couple of years, we’ll integrate some of the best practices we’ve learned about technology in the classroom and individualized learning at Next across all our grade levels.