Madly Learning about All Things Teaching: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and Technology

30/08/2014

7 Tips for Teaching a Split Grade Class

I love teaching a split grade class.  I know this may not be a popular opinion in teaching but there it is.  Reality is many of us teach split grade classrooms and although it has it's challenges it also has some amazing benefits.  A Colleague from my school board wrote this last year about lovin the split.   In it she lists these as the amazing benefits of split grade teaching 


  • Built-in differentiated instruction. 
  • A continuum of learning. 
  • Lots of small group instruction. 
  • Two times the teaching team! 
  • Addressing standardized testing even earlier. 
These are amazing benefits but how can it be done?  How do I teach a split? is a question I often read on Facebook forums.  

My Philosophy for Split Grade Teaching:

Teacher as a Guide: I think it is important to understand as a teacher how you will teach.  The old lecture style of teaching where the teacher is the giver of information is not the most effective way to teach today's students.  Perhaps it was before the internet but not today.  Students have access to more information at their fingertips than ever before and that information is instant.  However the information is not always correct or there is so much how does one person really sift though it to find the answer that they are looking for.  As a teacher there are times for direct instruction and there are times for student inquiry.  

Continuum of Learning: This is the reason a split works so well.  No one is ever doing the same thing. In any classroom today it is very rare that you have all students working on the same criteria. However in a straight grade this is expected.  The ideas that "I sit in a grade 5 classroom so I do grade 5 things" is not true.  In reality it is rare that every student is in the same place at the same time.  Understanding that the curriculum expectations are the stopping point but that the starting point is unknown is paramount to split grade teaching.  In math for example I teach place value at the beginning of the year to my 4/5 split class.  However I also have students on individual education plans at a grade 3 level.  So that is where I start, grade 3, learning.  I introduce the ones column and the tens column have them do activities with these small numbers.  Students proficient with this build confidence and students at this level continue to build knowledge.  As the unit progresses I increase the skill level and expectations of students. Think of it as a train everyone can get on at the beginning and you drop students off at their proficiency stops along the way.  I don't expect everyone to make the whole journey they can get off the train when they need too.  

Combine: If you look at my long range plans you will notice that I combine the majority of subjects.  Additionally although I do not combine the topics of science and social studies I often find common lessons where the lesson is the same but the work is different for the students.  This frees up time and resources.  

Accommodate for Everyone: this practice comes from my years as an ELL teacher.  Everyone needs accommodations because the one size fits all learners does not work.  Teachers can accommodate the process, product, content, and environment.  If every student is working at their own pace then the grade they sit in does not matter.  Now this does not mean that I make 29 different activities.  I just make activities that can be accessed by the widest variety of students and I have different expectations for different students.  While I may expect one group of students to add specific details to an organizer another group of students may be expected to add some basic details.  The organizer is the same but the process and content are different.  Along the same lines I also ask some students to join me to get assistance in a guided group while I also ask for anyone who needs help to come and get it.  Because I have a classroom where students are not stigmatized for needing or asking for help I often get the kids who don't need it but want it coming to join us.  This serves two purposes.  One these students help the struggling students, and they also confuse the students as to the criteria under which I group them.  The easiest way to start this is to get the 'coolest kid' in the classroom and offer to help him first.  Students are social creatures and understanding the social dynamic is important to set the culture of accommodations and assistance being okay.  

Train for Independence: Ideally you have a situation where you can build your class at the end of the year to ensure that the students that are placed in the split grade class are independent workers. That there is a reduction of students on IEPs, and other factors that respect the fact that you are covering two grades while your colleagues are covering one.  I do not have this luxury.  I teach in a dual track English/French Immersion school where the population in the English stream is low.  Therefore the only class that student have for a junior class is mine.  This means that there is no class building and most of my students enter into my room as a junior student unable to work independently.  Therefore I spend a great deal of time practicing.  I read in the literature that accompanies the Whole Brain Teaching Strategies that if students are not doing what you expect then chances are it is because they do not know what you really expect.  They need practice.  So we practice.  They do it properly or they practice.  This is true for lining up, walking around the room, working at their desks, participating in a group discussion, and most importantly transitioning.  We don't just practice in September but we practice all year long.  We review the expectations orally, we demonstrate how to do it and how not to do it, and we rehearse it repetitively until we really understand it.   

The Confusion of Choice: Kids can be mean and they can also be sensitive.  I try to avoid the 'stupid kid worksheet'  as much as possible. (I hate typing it like that but in reality that is how it feels to a student who is centered out to be different with different work).  If everyone is doing something different then no one really notices that Jamie has a different test than everyone else.  This is so much easier in a split.  My students sit in mixed grades and abilities groups from day one.  For every test I generally have about three to four different versions based on ability.  They all look the same but the questions are different.  I have yet to have someone notice.  Additionally using reader's workshop, and writer's workshop and daily 5 as a core to my language program has aided in the confusion of choice.  Every student is working on their own task on their own schedule.  They rarely notice that during a conference with a student I set different expectations for different students.  With each student working on their individual Stars Goal   groups are constantly changing and everyone is at a different point in the continuum of learning.  

Spread it Out: Ok so not everything can be taught together.  So I spread out the lesson.   I start every science/social Studies period with a reflection.  Tell me something that you know for sure, know a little, wonder about. (it is helpful at this point to also use strategies such as ask three before me, or student helpers to answer quick questions)  At the end of this quick period I share the learning goal of today's lessons and give students a purpose for learning.  I send one group back to work and then keep one group with me.  Then half way through the period I switch.  Since the focus on these topics of study is inquiry students may be engaged in a variety of self directed tasks this makes this time easier. Additionally something I am very curious in trying is flipping the classroom for these subjects and having students work through and listen to videos about these mini lessons and then all of the learning in class can be student focused and less teacher focused.  I will let you know how that goes.  


Do you have tips to add that may help someone to teach a split? Please leave a comment and share your ideas.  

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28/08/2014

Change is Good...DIY blog design

I like change and feel that this is an important thing for teachers to have.  At this time in teaching things are always changing.  Technology is improving, pedagogy is always evolving and we as teacher need to get on the train and ride.  One thing I love about teaching with such as diverse school board is that I can change my teaching assignment frequently and get a whole new experience.  I feel that about every five years I begin to look for a change.  I have had owls now with the blog and classroom design for three years now and I decided that it was looking tired and needed an overhaul.  It really was inspired by a comment on Facebook in one of the groups that I follow.  Someone asked about themes in the classroom and another person suggested owls.  A third person commented that she didn't understand why owls were so popular right now that they were cute as cartoons but as an animal they were not cute.  I am not sure if I would agree with that but when I started to think about it I questioned the owl as a symbol for my blog and brand.  So I decided to change my theme to birds.



An owl is strong and fierce, but they are also solitary, sneaky, hunters.  This makes them amazing animals however not exactly the traits I associate with myself as a teacher. So I may be going to deep with this but it something I have thought about.  Birds are beautiful communicators, they flock together in teams, and in folklore they are messengers.

It was time for a change, so I have redesigned my blog.

I found this great starter kit on TPT by Lovin Lit.  So helpful and the papers are wonderful.

Using PowerPoint with some inspiration from these blog designers A Bird In Hand Designs and Blogs Fit for a Queen I created my Header.  Opening pictures and cropping them to size on a landscape paper provided me with just the right width for the blog header background.  Next I added some of the frames, Accents from the Lovin Lit Starter kit.  Finally I made my own branch on PowerPoint and found some cute birds from Open Clip Art. Making this a family affair my daughter picked the colours for the birds which can be edited online from the Open Clip Art site.  Finally I grouped all of the parts of the new header in PowerPoint and copied and pasted them into paint.  Once I had re-sized the white page to fit my header I saved it as a picture file ready to upload into my header on the layout tab in blogger.  

Ta Da!!  

This was easy...I know that there are better programs that could have done this but this redeisgn used the programs that I already have installed...plus my free trial to Adobe Illlustrator has expired :( 

Give it a try yourself...Happy Creating while you Embrace Change!!

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21/08/2014

Why I love Long Range Plans (and you can too!!)

Its done!!!  My 4/5 Long range plans are finally completed.  Having such detailed plans this past fall was a life saver.  Being very pregnant with a toddler at home I didn't have lots of time to plan these long range plans were a great tool that sat on my desk as a reference.  It helped to stay focused and on task and make sure that I had taught what I needed to before I left for my leave.  Even my LTO appreciated knowing what I had already covered and what she needed to still teach.  As I watched my colleagues without plans struggle to stay on task I was relieved that I spent the time last summer to have these complete and ready to go.

  As you can see from my Term #1 plans I include details about literacy planning, Read Alouds, big ideas, Writing Forms, and Comprehension Strategies.  As well as the math units for both grades that can easily be taught together.  New I have included more detail for the social studies and science curriculum including Inquiry Questions, Big Ideas, and Culminating Tasks for both of the grades.  However I have removed Physical Education as I will no longer be teaching this subject.  OPHEA is a great resource and made up the bulk of my physical education program.

Want a copy of my Long Range Plans?
All I ask in return for this free resource is please 

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Complete Long Range Plans


Interested in the units listed here?.....Stay Tuned....I will soon be sharing my tried and tested first language unit from my long range plans. It is almost compiled and completed !!!

Don't forget to leave a comment of submit feedback on TPT!!!

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15/08/2014

Design a Room for Language Instruction

What can we do with 100 minutes during our language block.  With so much to do and so many expectations to cover how can we fit it all in?  Magic? yes perhaps sometimes.  However I also believe that solid planning is the key to success.  (and perhaps a timer to keep you on track...) 

Planning your language block starts with your room layout

1.Have A Meeting Place: have a place in your room where all of your students can gather together to learn.  I use a carpet.  This is an expectation that all my students regardless of how cool they think they are sit together on the carpet for instruction.  I like having zones in the room.  Desks are for working and a carpet is for instruction.  

2.  Have a Anchor Spot: Find a place in the classroom that can be seen easily.  I am fortunate enough to have a wall covered with bulletin board space. I use this as my language board.  I post my learning goals, success criteria, anchor charts, student goals, bump it up wall, etc.  Students have one place to look for language and we review this frequently.  







3. Classroom Library: Students need books to read and a selection of different types of books too.  I have collected many books over the years and bought some as well to keep the students excited about reading.  I also have recommended books out on display.  I strongly feel that any reading is reading and encourage not only novels, but also support graphic novels, magazines, e reading, fiction and non fiction.  In fact some of the most popular books in my room last year was my collection of classic Tin Tin books.  Keep your books together, well labeled and sorted.  

4. The Stuff
  • Ikea Cardboard book boxes
  • 3 books per student in book box
  • Writing Notebook
  • Readers Notebook
5. Guided Reading / Conference Spot: It is important to have a space to meet with students.  I have a horseshoe table that works great for this purpose.  Although any table that seats 6 people would work.  

How do you set up your room for Langauge?

Leave me a comment below!!



12/06/2014

What these Grads taught me.

Well it is that time of year again when the small group of students that I teach set to graduate. My first set of students from this school are set to graduate soon from grade five and go on to their next school. Even though I am on maternity leave I feel that it is important for me to say good bye to these kids. I will miss them for many reasons and of course there are some things I will not miss. 

Here are some of the things I learned from this group of students. 

1.  Consistency is Key- planning routines, setting up routines, practicing them, and reinforcing them is so important. When students know what you want and can predict your responses and actions it makes life easier for you and them. 

2. Homework Sucks - I don't like it any more then they did. My homework was generally self directed learning. It was encouraged and rewarded. However it was not assigned, marked, or corrected. 

3. Projects are awesome -  this group was like a dog with a bone. They loved projects and in response I have begun to explore inquiry and project based qlearning. I only hope to get more effective at this type of teaching. 

5. Technology Rocks - we blogged, connected, explored, and communicated. Having a class website was invaluable as a tool to communicate and share ideas. When used as a one way street to share information with parents it works. Boundaries are VERY important so as not to be connected all the time and teachers should be very careful about the tone and type of content shared. Stay away from opinion, negativity, or directing action. 

6. Making Connections -  get to know the students personally and take an interest in who they are.  It helps to understand what makes them tick. 

7.  Work with the Power- in every group of students there is a power structure and a social dynamic. Know who the leaders are and use them to help. Turn negative leaders into positive allies. Understand who has no power and work to balance the scales. 

8.  Let them save face - try to never address a child for their negative behaviour in front of their peers. Always try to talk one on one and remove the offending child from the group. Yes of course that's hard. However have a space like a time out spot In Your room where they can go. If you can't address the behaviour you want stopped find the nearest well behaving children and reward them. 

9. Boys are different- in a class full of boys you see very quickly how you must Change your teaching practices to meet the needs of boys. Flexibility, differentiation, and allowing them to move is very important. 

10. Have high expectations - want a good class well then expect a good class and don't allow an alternative. If you want  them to raise their hands then never answer a child who calls out and do not talk over them. Command and demand their attention but do t expect what they can't do. A ten year old can't sit for an hour and listen to you lecture so dont do it. If you respect their limitations and expect the best you will be happy with the results. 

Good bye to my first class from this school may I have taught you as much as you taught me. 
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