Soon, the school bells will start tolling through our quiet neighbourhoods and the little ones, armed with their shiny new lunch boxes, will head off to their first day. Do you know what class your child will be in? Many schools let parents know who their child’s teacher will be at the end of the previous year. More and more schools are letting parents and kids know on the first day back. Either way, whether you know it or not, there is a good chance your student will be in a combined grade or split class this year.
Split classes are on the rise, as schools try to balance budget restrictions, hard-capped classroom sizes and the allocation of teachers. A public school is only permitted the “appropriate” number of teachers for the anticipated student population, regardless of the spread of those students. Schools spend a great deal of effort coming up with a staffing model that lists how many of each type of class will be created, the number of students that will be in those classes and who will be teaching them. Inevitably, the model includes split classes.
Some schools claim they opt for split classes as a matter of philosophy, finding them superior to traditional straight grade teaching, but, in my experience, this isn’t the case. Each school I’ve taught at has tried their best to minimize the amount of combined grade classes and teachers are reluctant to take them on. Usually, teachers who teach a split one year are not forced to teach a combined class the next. I’ve found it rare for a teacher to truly yearn for the split grade experience.
So, does this mean that the villagers should storm the principal’s office armed with pitchforks if they find their kids are placed in a combined grade class?
Split grade classes are not all doom and gloom.
First of all, please know that class placements are considered carefully. Educators take into account what they know about a child’s learning skills, their social maturity, their friendship groups, leadership skills and anything else that may impact their success in a class. Schools place kids in the best possible class based on all the factors. Decisions being made regarding which students go into a split are not taken lightly.
There are some major advantages to a split grade, such as:
Studies have found that students in combined classes do just as well as students in single-grade classes.
Students in split grade classes often have more opportunity for teamwork.
Students in the higher grade of the split often demonstrate improved leadership skills.
Students in the lower grade of the split often work harder to achieve the next level.
No two children develop at the same pace — a split grade offers a greater continuum of skills, so that each student may work at their ideal level.
A split grade classroom is a better reflection of the real world, with more diverse groupings.
Many parents claim greater social development and a wider friendship circle for all kids involved in a split.
True, the teacher will have to teach two curricula simultaneously and students may be at risk of less individual attention. However, every classroom uses a combination of large group, small group and individual teaching to meet the needs of the students. And, some subjects, such as language, physical education and the arts, lend themselves very well to multi-grade teaching. Content subjects, such as science and social studies, can be trickier to tackle. Many schools choose to regroup the kids back into straight grades for these subjects, if possible.
A great split grade teacher needs to have all the characteristics of a great teacher in any type of class — knowledgeable, creative, compassionate, organized. Schools should be selecting the teachers just as carefully as they decide which students belong in which class. Ideally, some of the best teachers will be given these more challenging assignments.
If you are concerned with your child’s ability to manage a split grade class, share your concerns with the teacher. Ask about his or her strategies for reaching a diverse group of learners and for meeting individual needs. And my advice would be to give it a chance. A split grade class is just one more experience along the path of life. You just may be surprised at the positive impact this mix has on your child.
And be sure talk to your child. Ask them how they feel about being in a class with older (or younger) kids. Find out if they are worried or excited about the classroom set up. If they are particularly anxious, help them identify same-grade friends that are in the class with them. Often just knowing they have a support system near by can ease anxiety. Don't hesitate to share your student's fears with the classroom teacher, so they can keep an extra eye on them. Don’t forget to check in again a few days and a few weeks into the school year. You may find their view has totally shifted.
Whether you are a fan of the split class or not, rest assured the school and the teachers do have your child’s best interest at heart. Everyone is working together to make the learning environment the best it can be. After all, we all have the same goal — providing your child with a great school year!
Photo modified from an orignal photo by UNC-CFC-USFK on Flickr.