Monday, March 1, 2010

Hot topic: split classes

This from a reader:
Despite all the great work going on to increase funding for our schools, as a SSC member of my children's school, we have been told to prepare for the layoff of one teacher. That will mean another split classroom, e.g. 3rd and 4th graders in the same class with one teacher. I would like to hear creative ideas about how others deal with current split classrooms across SFUSD, e.g. using parents, paras, PTA funds, volunteers, community based organizations. My daughter is currently in a 4th/5th grade split and it is not the worst thing in the world, and my mother reminds me that when she grew up, she was in a one-room school with 1st-8th graders and one teacher. When given lemons, I prefer to make lemonade, and I would like to hear some successful "recipes."

15 comments:

  1. This is an old idea, but in my 3/4 classroom, the school invited the most academic 3rd and 4th graders to be in the split class (the parents were consulted). The teacher assigned each 4th grader a 3rd grader to mentor. It was really fun for the 4th graders to feel like they were helping teach the younger kids, and really fun for the 3rd graders to form close relationships with the older kids. The 3rd graders could be challenged to the extent they were ready, and the 4th graders were kept busy acting as mentors. It made for a very lively and engaged classroom.

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  2. Split grade classes are used routinely at a really good private school -- Synergy. I think split classes can be quite wonderful. For example, before the budget cuts, my kids' elementary used a split 4/5 class to keep average class size for fourth and fifth grades down to 26 or 25. The problem is not of grade splitting, but the increase in class size that the teacher layoff is leading to. A split class of 20 or so is wonderful. A split class of 33 plus is much worse. I'm assuming that the poster's school is doing split classes in order to deal with a teacher layoff and that probably means 33 or so kids. Classes that big are going to mean that, no matter how good the teacher, the kids who need extra help are simply going to get lost.

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  3. Split grades are difficult to teach, so it’s important that the teacher be experienced in both grades, and the class should be made up of students that work well independently. Too often teachers with the least seniority are assigned these classes, and likewise the students that are placed in them are not always the best prepared. If your school is going to form split grade classes (and given the numbers, it’s highly likely that most are) be sure to ask a lot of questions about how both the teachers and the students are being chosen.

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  4. To the OP: I'd like to hear your recipe for making lemonade when all the sugar's been taken away. I understand wanting to keep a positive outlook, but this is the situation our schools are in and next they are coming for the lemons. If your school can manage these cuts with only ONE split grade class please share how those numbers were worked out.

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  5. I apologize for asking but what exactly is a split class? Are you saying they put grades 3 and 4 together and then double the size of the class? Then thy only have one teacher? How does he/she teach? Does he talk to one side then talk to the other? This sounds horrible for the teacher. Schizo day.

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  6. Lakeshore had a lot of split-grade classes when my older child was there, 1996-2002. It was a practice favored by the revered longtime principal, Sharon Guillestegui. My son was in both years of a split 2-3 and both years of a split 4-5 -- both taught by fantastic educators (Eve Arbogast and Kathy Longacre).

    The classes were the regular size -- 20 for the 2-3 and 33 for the 4-5 -- with one teacher. It must have been a challenge for the teacher, but I don't think it was against their will. I don't have any great insights about the practice -- it seemed to work out fine. Initially, like 99.99% of parents, my view was that it would be great for the children in the younger grade and that I'd re-evaluate at the end of that year. Then, by the end of the year, it just seemed like a given that of course it would continue to work out.

    One Lakeshore teacher, Malcolm Glover, taught a split 1-2-3 class for many years. Families were fanatically loyal to it -- I know several who had two kids go through his class, and one who had three kids back-to-back, so the family were in his class for nine straight years. They were kind of in their own little world for all those years, but clearly the families were happy.

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  7. A split class should be approximately half one grade and half another grade. The grades should be next to each other e.g., 3/4 or 4/5. Given the budget cuts and the need to create a split class to deal with a teacher layoff, what the school is proposing will probably involve a larger class size. All the more reason that if the school must do this, the most experienced teachers should be matched with the most independent learners. At least the most senior teachers get pink-slipped last.

    I have posted this on other threads and never gotten much feedback, but I constantly wonder how teachers with large classrooms deal with the middle-of-the-pack kids. Independent learners manage, and kids who need a lot of attention seem to get it. But where do the average kids who don't make trouble fit in? Parochial schools with big classes can select kids who are going to do OK in that environment, but public schools have to take all comers. Does anyone think private or parochial schools with carefully selected and/or smaller classes would be the ideal place for average kids to get the most out of school? Does anyone think that public school classrooms are the best place for average kids to get the most out of school, perhaps because the teachers are so much more skilled or some other reason? (I'm talking real-world teacher skills, not a distinction based on the fact that public school teachers are required by law to be credentialed but teachers at most private schools are required only by school policy to be credentialed). If you feel strongly one way or the other it would be an interesting to hear your thinking.

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  8. I was put in split classes in 1st grade - a 1st-2nd split, and 4th grade - a 4th-5th split. Both times I was selected because I was seen as "independent" and both times I had dreadful experiences, probably because the majority of the students were in the upper grades and I was isolated socially. It was a much different time and place, but my experience tells me they are not so great if not very carefully thought out.

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  9. doesn't SF community ES use split classes as a matter of choice? there must be some arguments in favor of it...? perhaps someone from that school, parents and teachers, could speak to the practice -- maybe start a conversation about best practices, since it seems like many schools will have to implement splits next year.

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  10. OK, I have never posted before but I just have to comment on this.
    We are talking about 2 different things here. One, multi-age classrooms (I taught one, out of choice for 6 years) and two, split grade classes, these are made temporarily out of need just to make the #'s work.
    I am sure split classes can be made to work as well as multi-age classrooms, but often they are not.
    Multi-age classrooms are amazing. They are set up for the long term and involve 50% of each of 2 grades and should be SELECTED AT RANDOM. Any child can and should do well in this classroom. I can't even go into all the specifics or this post would be a book, but some advantages: you get the kids and parents for 2 years so the bond and the investment is that much greater. The new kids get to have wonderful role models and the older 2nd years get to become those role models (better behavior.) They also get to "teach" things to the younger students (you learn and retain info much better once you have explained it to someone else.) And most of all a teacher has to teach to the child rather than a grade. All classes are made up of a huge range of learners that often span more than a year difference in age, but a teacher often teaches to the middle. Having a larger age split makes it more obvious that you have individuals
    My 2 cents worth.

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  11. To 9:48 am -- actually I think middle of the pack kids do OK in large classes. It is the kids who need extra help who end up losing out in larger classes. Our kid needs lots of extra help and the transition from 20 kids in third grade to 33 kids in fourth grade has been really tough for him. By contrast, the parents of the middle of the pack kids in the class say their kids are doing fine.

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  12. "doesn't SF community ES use split classes as a matter of choice? there must be some arguments in favor of it...?"

    SF Community uses it in K-1, at least, maybe other grades, as does the 1/2 class per grade of West Portal Cantonese Immersion.

    Given SF Community's demographics, they have strong test scores, but there's a lot of other unique things about SF Community, so it'd hard to generalize from their experience.

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  13. My son's teacher sent me this link yesterday ... split classes can actually be great for kids.

    http://www.kidsource.com/kidsource/content4/mixed.age.group.pn.html

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  14. I think it is important to separate out the issues that people are raising. Yes, split classes are an established pedagogical method that can be effective when properly planned and supported. What we are talking about is greatly increasing the number of classes where a single teacher not only has to deal with a class size increase from approx. 25 to approx. 35 but also has to be responsible for curriculum content for two different grade levels. I would say that trying to find a positive spin to this situation would be trying to put lipstick on a pig – but I would probably be slammed as a closet Sarah Palin supporter.

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  15. Uh ... Sarah Palin was the pig ... so I think you've got it backwards.

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