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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 6, May/June 2004

Teachers' tips: Managing a split classroom

by Rob Taylor

You’ve been handed a split classroom of two or more grades and feel overwhelmed.

The first thing to do is realize that any classroom can be overwhelming if you let it. There are only so many hours in a day, and you have to survive to return the next day.

The second thing to do is realize that you’ve probably been managing a split or even multigrade classrooms your whole career. There is no such thing as a homogeneous class.

Let’s look at a hypothetical Grade 4/5 classroom.

I’d begin with the IRPs because they are the legislated curriculum that we are required to cover. Download the relevant pages from each grade and subject from the ministry web site because you can then write all over them, cut them up or do whatever is necessary to make them work for you.

Look for similarities in language and intent. For example, in both Grade 4 and 5 of the language arts outcomes is "to read, listen, and view for specific purposes." It doesn’t specify the content; just the process. Work toward dealing with as many common prescribed learning outcomes as you can, using materials that cover the PLO for both grades.

Language arts is the easiest example, and I can already hear you saying, "Ah, but what about math?" Again, look for similarities. Most units have some outcomes that can be taught at the same time to different grades. Do those first, giving each group work from their respective textbook or resource, and when you have exhausted those outcomes, only then do you have them work on different concepts.

A math lesson might start with Grade 4 doing a quick review quiz to test for understanding while the other group you introduce to a new concept. Once Grade 5 is set to a task, spend time with Grade 4 going over the quiz and introducing the next concept. The next day, reverse the order. Students need to be taught to respect one another’s teacher time, not interrupt a lesson, and use one another as expert helpers. Encourage students to use the "three then me" rule. If they don’t understand something or didn’t hear all the directions, they have to ask three other students and then you. That way you can easily tell if there is a general lack of understanding that needs attention.

Expectations for work, work habits, and behaviour are not the same from grade to grade, so if you are teaching a new grade, seek input from colleagues regarding what to look for. The B.C. Performance Standards are also kept close at hand because they do furnish excellent rubrics for marking work.

Teaching the splits is different and no easy task, but the wide range of student abilities is really no different from any other classroom. Keep that in mind. Remember that your main focus is teaching students, not grades or outcomes, and it soon becomes a piece of cake. (And, no, you don’t have to split that with anyone.)

Rob Taylor teaches Grade 4, his third single-grade room in 20 years, Nesika Elementary School, Williams Lake.