A little while ago I blogged about the idea of having the students in the Year 10 mathematics class I’m teaching generate a “hassle map”. Essentially a list of the things that annoy them about the class with the aim of doing something about it. This week I implemented the idea. The following describes the week, talks about the responses from the students, and lays out some initial thoughts about what will happen next.

More than happy to hear suggestions from people.

Introducing the idea

This last week was the first of 6 weeks in which I’m meant to be doing all the teaching for this class (it’s part of an internship and the last requirement for my Graduate Diploma in Learning and Teaching). I’d planned to do the hassle map process this week as I thought we’d be able to cover the necessary material with some time to spare.

So in the first lesson I mentioned the activity to the students, to make them aware it was coming. Their immediate reaction was “we’re changing the seating plan”. At least that was the reaction from a fairly vocal minority who actively dislike the seating plan put in place by my mentor teacher. Every lesson after that the question was, “Are we changing the seating plan today?”. By the third lesson we were just about there. I’d planned that we might get to it, if we completed the set tasks (yes I am very much aware of the problems with this whole notion that a group of almost thirty 15 year olds is doing mathematics all at the same pace and in an order set by me…but that’s the current context) and I told them so. The unexpected consequence of this was that one of the least engaged students – who was also a student keen on changing the seating plan – actively engaged in the lesson. Answering questions, demonstrating understanding. Sadly we ran out of time, but we’re ready to go first thing in the next lesson.

The rules

I did set some rules for the students’ hassles. They were

  • Must be related to this class.
  • Must abide by school rules.
  • Must complete curriculum in set time.
    I personally had some reservations about this one, but it is a requirement.
  • Must support learning for all.
  • Must be doable.

At this stage the students we’re given 3 post-its each and asked to write down their hassles.

The response

With 27 students in the class, there were 38 returned hassles. I’ve grouped these into categories based on common themes. Two of the categories account for 63% of the responses.

The biggest category is the “X should sit by themselves” which includes 14 hassles that suggest that a certain, single student should be sat by themselves because the student disrupts.

The next biggest is the “No seating plan” category with 10 hassles. Essentially wanting the seating plan done away with and students being allowed to sit where they want.

The next biggest category with 4 hassles is the “Not to get in trouble for things we didn’t do” category.

THere are then three categories with 2 hassles each, they are:

  1. A call for more “fun activities” in class.
  2. A call to use laptops more often.
    There’s a class set of laptops in the room the class takes place in.
  3. And finally, the “no TV (flatscreen)” category.
    I need clarification on this one as I’m uncertain. It appears that they would prefer to do without the interactive white board.

There are then four categories with 1 hassle each. Three of these are environmental: “change the chair because it sucks”, “No aircons”, and “Dim the lights”. The last is a suggestion to have revision notes of important concepts covered in class.


By examining the handwriting, it appears that some of the students worked out very quickly that they could write the same hassle down three times, rather than three different hassles.

The identification of a specific student reveals an interesting dynamic in the classroom. One that is normally not visible due to the lack of student feedback generated by the normal classroom methods.

Underlying both of the top categories is the desire to change the seating plan to avoid disruptions to the class and improve learning for all. At least that is what stated in the hassles.

Possible responses

Given the strong desire to improve the seating plan, I’m leaning towards saying we’ll do that. Mainly because all of the submissions say that doing so will increase learning and decrease disruptions. However, I think the plan will be to connect the changes in the seating plan to disruptions and learning. i.e. if certain groups want to sit together that is fine, but if this increases disruption to the class or decreases their learning, then we revert.

The challenge will be to come up with a seating plan that suits everyone. I should put this back onto the students, and if I had the energy and time, should link this to mathematics somehow. The trouble is that time is getting away from me. Some more thoughts here are needed.