Split Grade Classrooms

Posted on June 3, 2013. Filed under: educational, Grade 1 & 2, parents, reflection, teaching and learning | Tags: , , |

“Your child will not learn as much in a split grade classroom”

Many parents hold this opinion and stand firmly behind this idea.  Now, is it true? Do children learn less and get behind if they are in a split grade?  What happens if they are in a split two years in a row; are they destined for failure?

You like the image I just whipped up in Paint when Google search failed me?

The answer is no! As a teacher who has taught split grade and straight grade classrooms, I can ensure you that your child is not worse off because they are in a split.  In some cases, they might be better off! Let me explain:

I will try to combat some of the prevailing assumptions behind split grade classrooms.

1) The teacher will spend less TIME with my kid.

Wrong.  The best indicator of how much time a teacher can spend with a student is not the grade level, but the class size.  Wouldn’t you agree that you would rather have your child in a class of 16 kids ranging in ages from 5-13 than in a straight grade class with 32 students?  In my own class, I structure my day so that there are specific times where I get to dialogue, check up on, and interact one on one with my students.  This is not determined by what task they are working on, or by what grade they are in, it is determined by the way I make-up my day.  Even if a teacher taught a lesson to one grade, allowed them to work, and then taught the lesson to the next grade, and allowed them to work, the teacher would still be constrained to the amount of children in the class; the amount of hands doesn’t change.  The positive aspect is that if your child is in the younger grade, an older child might be able to help answer their question while they are waiting for the teacher to come.  And if your child is in the older grade, they may have just strengthened their own understanding of that concept by teaching it to another child; learning by teaching. (By the way, this way of teaching a split is out-dated, and not a lot of teachers should do this anymore. If they do, send them to me and we will have a talk)

2) They will fall behind

It is true that in a split, the teacher has to cover two curriculums in one year, but it doesn’t destine your child to fall behind.  When I teach a split grade class, I find that it is much easier to cover the Science, Social, and Health curriculums by using an inquiry based learning approach.  Inquiry is where a teacher starts with an outcome (the thing a child needs to know) and then allows freedom in the ways that the child can get to that outcome.  It is learner directed, with a heavy emphasis on research and collaboration.  This type of learning encourages higher level thinking, problem solving, and critical thinking skills.  When the child gets to see the outcome from the younger grade and how it translates into the older grade, they get to hear/see/learn how the other grade’s concepts relate to their own learning.  They are either getting a solid glimpse of what is to come next year, or they get to reflect on how the stuff they learned last year applies to their learning NOW.

3) The older grade won’t be challenged

Unfortunately I have to pass the blame onto teachers for this one.  This myth is rooted in the idea that teachers always teach to the lowest level thinkers/learners in the classroom.  Unfortunately, sometimes this is the case.  Teachers have dropped the ball, and our students who need a challenge and/or enrichment, get left doing crossword puzzles because they are done their work early. This is due to bad teaching, not split grade classrooms.  This very thing can happen in a straight grade OR a split grade classroom.  If your child is not being challenged in the classroom, it is most likely not because they have been spending too much time helping the younger grade, or learning stuff they learned last year.  It is probably a combination of work ethic/behaviour on the part of the child, and/or teaching errors on the part of the educator.

In the last couple years, I have switched my philosophy regarding assignments in the primary classroom.  I used to give an assignment, and when I was evaluating it, I would look at how “hard” they worked, how nice of an assignment it was, and give them a grade accordingly.  There would always be that little child who would score extremely low because they had awful printing, I could barely read what they wrote, and they would only write one lousy sentence.  On the other hand, there would be the goddess of the classroom who wrote more than expected, and whose printing looked like it was Times New Roman itself, (only nicer because of the cutesy little hearts and swirls that scattered the paper).

goddess

The latter would always score the highest mark in the class, and the former would barely get 2 highlighted marks on their stapled 8 1/2 x 11 photocopied rubric attached to the front of their assignment.  The problem was that I was not evaluating either of their best work.  I was basically just grading on the curve, giving the 100% and 0’s where they were due.  I heard an educator once compare this way of marking to flight school; he had us imagine what would happen if pilots were let out of the flight simulator with a 23%, a frown, and a “this isn’t your best work” note scribbled on the top of their evaluation in red pen.  Would you want this pilot flying you to your next sunny vacation? …I don’t think so.  No, pilots don’t move to a real plane until they have mastered the simulator. In the same way, our students shouldn’t get to hand in their assignment, work, or project until it has met the qualifications.

If your child is a smart, capable, determined individual, they, (with their teacher’s guidance and support) should be able to challenge them self and push them self to their potential.  It shouldn’t and doesn’t matter if they have another grade in their classroom.  They have to learn how to expect the best out of themselves, and as the teacher gets to know them more, the teacher should only be accepting their best work.  If the outcome seems easy at first, then the child and the teacher find ways to go deeper.  Good learning is a mile deep, not a mile wide.

The wonderful thing about children is that they are so adaptable.  In grade one, I teach from the carpet… they learn.  In grade two, they have to sit in desks… they learn.  In grade three, they use pencils to write… they learn.  In grade four, they get to start using pens… they learn!  In grade five they have a teacher who uses worksheets… they learn. In grade six, they have a teacher who goes paperless and uses iPads… they learn.  One year the child is in a split class… they learn.  The next year they are in a straight… they learn!!  Children are EXPERTS at adapting to change and coming out ahead.  Please do not limit their life experience by thinking they can only learn in one straight grade class with the teacher who has the same teaching style you had growing up.  Support your child as a problem solver, and help him/her with the skills they are going to need to learn in ANY environment!  Your child will benefit… I promise.

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