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No More Split Grade Planning Stress

You just found out you are teaching a split grade class next year.  For most teachers the idea of teaching a split is overwhelming.  You have twice as many curriculum expectations or standards to teach and no more time to teach it within.  Sometimes you are lucky enough to get independent students.  However if you are in a small school like me you just get all the kids in two particular grades.  This will again be my fourth year teaching a split.  I have been given opportunities to organize the classes into straight grades in the past however I have always negotiated that two splits were better than two separate straights.  This has worked out for many different reasons including the benefits for the students and the opportunity to work with a teaching partner.

Reducing stress when you are preparing for a split grade classroom can make some of the challenges of a split class less stressful.   Here is how I reduce my stress when getting ready for September and planning for a split grade classroom.

1) Long Range Planning - This is a vital step in reducing your stress come September.  Developing a plan that outlines what you are going to teach when and managing your pacing and timing to help to keep you on track is also very important.

2) Teach Things Together - This is necessary to save your sanity.  Math and language can easily be taught together.  Looking at the curriculum and mapping out the curriculum to find where the differences between the two curriculums for each grade level.  Many boards have this done for you.  The guides to effective instruction in Ontario have this in the math curriculum for you already.  This makes it easier.  Language is also very similar between grades.  Find the slight differences between the grades and teach them together extending the older grade where necessary.

3) Differentiate - Plan open-ended tasks that can easily be adaptable to various levels.  For math this means increasing or decreasing the difficulty of the numbers in the questions depending on where students are.  This means that everyone gets the exact same page but the numbers that they use to complete the worksheet or assigned problem changes depending on the students needs.  In language that means meet them where they are in their language development and conference with them more than teaching the to support them in moving forward in their writing and reading development.  Lots of conferencing and less time standing in front of them teaching will save you planning time and stress.  Using an inquiry approach in writing and reading allows students to work at their own pace and develop their skills in a more natural way.

4) Flip Flop Instruction -  sometimes when the curriculum does not match so you cannot teach it together.  Subjects such as science and social studies are much harder to combine completely.  In this case, I find that the best strategy is to plan for 20min of teacher supported instruction followed by 20min of student independent work tasks.  With an inquiry approach that is occurring in classrooms these days, this allows for wonderings and conversations circles during your teacher supported time and opportunities to research and search for information while you are working with the other group.  Using techniques such as interactive notebooks for independent work time and research booklets help to support this and provide students with some structure when working independently.  

5) No More Stress - Don't reinvent the wheel.  Let me do the planning for you.  Long range plans for a 4/5 split are available in my TPT store.  Specialized science and social studies units that are specifically designed for split grade teachers helps you to reduce your planning and get a head start on enjoying your summer and free time a bit more.  Whether you teach a 4/5 or another junior split the units in my TPT store will allow you to use a framework to support your planning at least reducing your planing by half.

How do you reduce your planning stress with a new assignment?

Save some time with report cards

If you are like me report cards take forever for write. Time I just don't have. Having two little kids at home I can't just lock myself in a room and write report cards. Trust me I have tried. They both end up in the room colouring on my assessment pages. Last year I returned from maternity leave and quickly had to write report cards. I again did not have the time that I really needed to write these report cards. I needed help. What normally takes me the most time was the learning skills. I typically don't use a comment bank but like to write personalized comments. But after about the 20th report card comment they all sound the same. I came across a program which was Ontario based to help me with this.

Differentiated Instruction- What it means to me

I recently had my student teacher's placement advisor ask me "So about how much of the time is he teaching?" I responded with "Well 100% of the actual teaching time, we use an inquiry model" He looked at me confused prompting me to explain"well with lots of conferencing and a few mini lessons when needed throughout the week to address certain needs this is the direction of education" I was floored when he responded to me:
"Well there is a thing called professional judgement you don't always have to follow the newest thing when they tell you to"

Being the professional that I am I smiled and nodded and glanced at my student teacher knowingly as he was just preparing to demonstrate a textbook teacher's college (read: boring) lesson that unless he was being evaluated he would have planned a more interactive and dynamic lesson.  But we intentionally simplified the lesson to make it fit what was expected from him by the university.

Here are the best things about differentiating instruction...

Are you using Google Classroom...you should

Okay as I sit writing this I am not at work.  I am at home.  It is my daughters birthday and I usually take the day off and spend it with my girls.  She is two and is currently napping.  My students are at school with an occasional substitute teacher and I left some interesting plans for today, but back to that in a bit.  My students have been using google classroom all year to hand in their digital assignments.  In my room, I provide choice.  Choice on how a written assignment is completed.  Some students write in the traditional way with a pencil and paper in a notebook...awesome.  However due to the growing special needs in my classroom many require assistive technology to write me anything.  So in order to allow those students to feel comfortable in using the tech in class without sticking out like a sore thumb I allow all students to use technology

Instagram in the Classroom

I joined Instagram awhile ago but personally, or professionally didn't quite know what to do with it.  I posted a few pictures of my kids but wasn't really sure how to use it.  Fast forward and a few other blogger friends talked me into opening up a Madly Learning Instagram account.  I have found it to be a great way to connect with other bloggers and to see what others are doing in their classrooms.  I also noticed that Instagram was what my 4/5 students were using as their chosen social media platform.  So all of this got me thinking.  How can I leverage student interest in Instagram with my desire to teach 21st century skills, media curriculum expectations, and empower students to share what we are doing in our classroom with the world? This is when I came across Kayla Delzer @topdogteaching.  She has done a TED talk, which speaks to my teacher heart. She so very much captures what I think and feel about technology in education.  Following her on instagram she shares that she has her classroom Instagramming their adventures throughout the day.  Well this inspired me to get my students Instagramming too.

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