Getting ready to teach a split grade classroom.

Getting ready to teach a split grade classroom.

Ok, don’t freak out!!Recently I was interviewed on the Bully Brave podcast and they asked me all about teaching from classroom management, to inquiry, to teaching a split.

So what was my advice for teaching a split grade…. Don’t freak out!

It’s true we talk ourselves into this overwhelm that a split grade is an insurmountable task, a punishment that we must subject ourselves to every few years when it is our turn.

But really we avoid it like the plague if we can. But just because you have a split doesn’t mean that it has to be hard….Don’t freak out!

This year I will be in year 7 of a split grade classroom. (!!! Yes year 7 !!!)

If you have also been following along with my journey you would also know that over the last 7 years I have had 3 children. (and this blog and a TPT store {{ insert link here }} lol

I can’t afford to have a split consume my life or add additional work to my life. I will be in a split grade for the foreseeable future at my current school. So I have to adapt to this reality and develop strategies that will help me to cope and manage. Because just like everyone else…I want to be home with my family and be able to turn off ‘teacher me’ once I get home.

So I promise you there is no special cape, I just need systems in place that help me get it all done. You can be a rock star teacher in a split without giving up all of your free time for the year.

How???????

Here are a few systems, rules, and routines that I follow to make this manageable:

Time on Task

Starting day one and for every day after that curriculum has to be the focus. This starts with your schedule. All instructional time is important and should be countable to reportable subjects. This means that prep coverage time needs to be reportable by the other teacher and take a task off of your plate.

Advocate for yourself now. You have the split, in reality, you are doing more work and you need more time to do this. When your students are in un-reportable time this means that you now have to fit it all in in a shorter period of time.

Talk to your principal and prep coverage teachers about this. This also means that you need to choose carefully what extra things you do. Trips, excursions, or other things like freedom Friday need to be done sparingly if they are not directly related to the curriculum.

Flexibility

Teach all of your own core subjects. This sounds counter-intuitive but when you do this you actually have so much more flexibility in what you do.

If you need to instruct your one grade in science while the other group is silent reading or writing then you have the freedom to do this when you teach all of your own core subjects. This includes math, science, social studies, and language.

Try not to give away these core subjects to a coverage teacher even though it is tempting.

Instead see if you can split your class and have one group go to a prep teacher for arts, French, gym, while the other stays back and vice versa.

Look at the Big Picture

Sometimes we think of teaching like unpacking boxes.

Each new unit is a new box that we need to unpack and give to our students. So when we teach a split we now expect that we have double the boxes to unpack. WE DON”T!!!

We have the same number of boxes as every other teacher it is just that there may be more in each box. Look for the big ideas and the differences between the two grades. Both grades will need to write stories so back up and teach the big ideas of how to write a story then alter your expectations for each grade.  Learn more about how I structure my language arts program here and here

Use Guided Instruction and Conferencing

Teach the whole group less and instead focus on individualized instruction through conferencing. This can be done in language and in using guided math. Work with students to improve their writing by having conferences where you provide feedback on what they need to work on. You can read more about how to structure your language program in these blog posts here and here. Additionally, guided math centers can provide a great way to teach specific concepts that need a more individualized approach.

Stay On Top of Assessment

When you assess your students along the way you can better respond to their needs as a class. You can speed up or slow down and repeat as needed.

You can group and regroup students in a way that they can learn from each other. Get to know your students and their progress and struggles and stay on top of recording this in your grade book.

Planning and Timelines

We make our long-range plans but do we stick to them?? This is a struggle for all of us…hello, April/May/June rush time.


You have to be strict and follow your schedule in your long-range plans.

If you get off track using your flexibility to pull time or use cross integration from other subjects is helpful. Follow a detailed long-range plan to help keep you on track so that you can get everything done. After 6 years in junior,

I have been able to structure my plans in a way that means I can easily get everything taught in the time frame, and it is yours for free. {{ yesssss!!! it’s free!!! }}

You don’t need to freak out just because you have been assigned a split. Start with a strong plan to get yourself started on the right foot. To get access to these proven tried and tested long range plans you can get them here www.madlylearning.com/long-range-plans

Teaching Strategies That Go Beyond Think-Pair-Share

Teaching Strategies That Go Beyond Think-Pair-Share

Add these 10 teaching strategies to your teaching toolkit to help you plan amazing inquiry-based learning lessons.

Every teacher needs a teaching tool kit.  A bunch of go to teaching strategies that they can use to carry out their amazing lessons. If you are beginning with inquiry you may need to refill your teacher bag of tricks with some new ideas.

Because sometimes we get stuck in a rut and forget that there is more than the think-pair-share strategy that will help us teach.

Remember back to a time when you were a fresh-faced university student just entering teachers college with hopes, dreams, a mountain of debt and this naive notion that you could change the world one read aloud at a time?

Then you start teacher’s college and you are suddenly hit with ‘NO FREE TIME’ the work overload, and you are hit with all of these ideas for teaching strategies but with no real idea how or why they would be used.

but the only one you do remember is that easy think-pair-share activity.

So you take that and for the last few years have relied on that one strategy more than any others.

or all of that could just be me ?!?!

There are so many great teaching strategies that help support inquiry-based learning in the classroom.

This is what we talked about during EP31 on Teaching with Inquiry Live

Watch It – Listen To It – Read the Transcript here

Here are some strategies that you may want to incorporate into your daily instruction.

Think-Pair-Share

This is a three stage questioning activity.  First, you pose a question to your classYou give them time to process and think in silence.  Then you have them share and work out their ideas with a partner.  Finally, students share their thinking with the whole group

Think-Puzzle-Explore

A great idea from Visible Thinking is think-puzzle-explore.  This is an activity to help students identify background knowledge, begin to question, then make a plan to find answers.  It is perfect to use as a provocation during the engage stage of inquiry.

W5

This is a teaching strategy that I use with my students to help them dig deeper and ask more meaningful questions, arrive at deeper conclusions, make connections with what they are learning.  After students share you ask them to explain their thinking with phrases like ‘why might it be that way’ ‘why do you think that’.  Asking them to share-clarify-share-clarify 3-5 times helps students to come to much more meaningful conclusions and go beyond the surface.

Question Sort Matrix

If you are looking for a ‘now what’ after you have finished your wonder wall.  This strategy will help you and your students to sort through those questions and evaluate which ones are worth exploring.  In a graph you first evaluate the type of question on a horizontal line then you evaluate the questions on how interesting and appropriate they are to dig deeper with.

Connect – Extend – Challenge

When students are in the midst of learning sometimes you need them to focus on what it all means.  Using this teaching strategy will help your students to connect new ideas to old ideas.  Students connect what they are learning to previous learning, identify how their understanding has changed and explore ideas they still have questions about.

2 Stars and a Wish

Providing students with feedback is important but keeping it focused and manageable is important.  Using this teaching strategy has helped me to frame how I provide either oral or written feedback for students.  Presented in a compliment sandwich students can learn what they did well and what one next step they need to focus on next.

I.D.E.A.S

This is a strategy that I talked about in EP26 of Teaching with inquiry live (Watch It – Listen To It – Read The Transcript).  Students need to be explicitly taught how to contribute to a discussion and IDEAS is a strategy that you can use to help them remember the ways they can contribute.

Add these 10 teaching strategies to your teaching toolkit to help you plan amazing inquiry based learning lessons.

Graffiti Write

Sometimes you just don’t want to see another sticky note.  I get it!! So sometimes I use a graffiti write instead.  Students write their ideas all over the paper to answer a question, share their thoughts, or engage in a new concept.  When students are done you have a paper that is full of student ideas going any direction possible.

Jigsaw

This is one of those popular teaching strategies from teachers college.  It is a great way to cover a lot of information in a shorter amount of time.  This is especially important when you want students exposed to lots of different ideas but perhaps they don’t need expert knowledge in all areas.  I often use this strategy when looking at habitats, energy sources, or physical regions.  This activity requires a high degree of accountability on all students.  Sometimes this isn’t always possible and some students need more support.  Hear about how I handle this issue in ep31 of Teaching With Inquiry Live.

Learning Journals

This is a great teaching strategy tool that was popularized by this great resource and amazing teacher Jennifer Runde.  She uses learning journals in her interactive math journal resource on TPT.  This idea of getting students to reflect on their learning is an important task that I include in my student conferences as well as my science and social studies units.  Students identify the learning goal, and what they know about it before learning.  After some new knowledge has been gained students reflect on what they have learned and show that they have learned it through this journal.

Do you want more details on the teaching strategies listed here? These slides and more are in my inquiry teaching library.

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No More Split Grade Planning Stress

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.

split grade | classroom 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?

 

Teaching Science to a Split Grade Class.

Teaching Science to a Split Grade Class.

Teaching science to a split grade class can be a struggle, especially since science is a very interactive subject. Learn how to do it with these tips! classroom | students

Teaching science to two grades is always a juggling act.  Lots of preparation needs to go into how you are going to teach two separate units to two different grades.  I always teach a 4/5 and generally have the students for two years.  So combining the units and teaching one lesson like I can in math and language does not work well.  So it comes down to focusing on what is important, borrowing strategies from other subjects, organization and teaching independence.  I teach in 20-30 min time blocks to each grade.  Then they will have to learn independently as they do the task.  However over time I have learned that sometimes students miss the point of the lesson this way as I am not there to guide them.  However I have learned that there are some key strategies to make sure that the time students are working independently that they are learning the stuff I want them to learn.

Struggling to plan for a split grade class? Learn how to teach science, a more interactive class, to a split grade class with these tips!
Focus on What is Important

It all starts with the assessment and the cycle of assessment 1) Learning Goals and Success Criteria

First thing I do is share my learning goals and success criteria.  For each lesson for each grade I post it share it, make a big deal about it.  Students should always know what they are doing and why they are doing it.  I also make sure I post it.  I have a science board.  All things Science are on this board if students are not so sure then they can look here.  They also know that if it is posted on this board they will and can be assessed on it.  They must know the topics listed on this board.  I start with the daily goals on the board (smartboard or chart cart)  Once students have learned this we then transfer it onto the science board.
For example.
Today we are learning to identify and describe different types of Energy
 – we will read about different types of energy
– we will conduct experiments to see different types of energy in action
– we will use this experiment to help us describe each type of energy
– we will reflect on what we learned to help us figure it all out.

2) Borrow from Math

So the latest instructional strategy in math is to use a three part lesson plan in math to teach different concepts
  • Getting started
  • Working on It
  • Reflection
I thought if it works in math why not in science.  So I started with this question:”How do I build reflection into science so that I can use it for formative assessment purposes?” My solution…
INTERACTIVE NOTEBOOKS
these are very popular on TPT right now and I thought how do I use these in authentic ways.  I don’t just want cut and paste activities that have no meaning.  I did struggle with why would I spend the time having students assemble these if they could simple answer a few questions in their notebook.  However I like the look of them and feel that students will want to use them and decorate them.  I will structure my notebooks in this way.  On the left students will put their notes and interactive notebook activities on here.  On the Right students will complete their reflection activity.  Many of the interactive notebooks are based on the 3R reflection response that I completed in teachers college.  The 3R’s represent Retell, Relate, Reflect.  The left side represents the Retell portion and the right side represents the reflection section.  The relate portion is weaved into both aspects.  I find that with student reflection and retell I can gauge what students have learned and where we should focus.  I don’t mark these, but I do read them and make note of student needs.  They are great formative assessment.
Struggling to plan for a split grade class? Learn how to teach science, a more interactive class, to a split grade class with these tips!

Organization

Ok this is a goal and always will be.  It is inevitable that as a teacher you must organize and organize well. As a split grade teacher there is no option  you must put on your OCD hat and organize like a crazy person.  (this is why everything in my classroom has labels, students have numbers, books are colour coded, and why I hate paper.    Even your planning needs to be organized.  For this purpose I am constantly making tables and charts to organize my lessons and feel like I live with timers dinging and signaling me to change what I am doing.  I also feel that whenever possible you should utilize student and parent volunteers.  I know I cannot do this on my own but I do have very helpful students (who love to stay inside instead of going out in the snow) or parent volunteers.  I use these volunteers to organize my centers, fill buckets, order papers, photocopy or whatever else I need help with.  I know I cannot do it all so I ask for help from whom ever is available and willing to help.

Teaching Independence

I have blogged before about my tips for teaching a split grade here but in science this is a very important skill.  For a science class in a split grade students are often not completing a quiet activity.  They are engaged in hands on activities or group work.  This means that it is imperative that students learn how to work together and work independently as a group without you.  You have to be okay with a bit of noise and you need multiple teaching spaces.  Independent students does not mean quiet students independent students means engaged students.  Check out my guide to Teaching Independence Free on TPT.

I have finally finished my next combined unit for my 4/5 plans.  In January I go back to work from my maternity leave.  If you follow my 4/5 long range plans you would know that I have planned to teach two science units: Rocks and Minerals and Conservation of Energy.

Struggling to plan for a split grade class? Learn how to teach science, a more interactive class, to a split grade class with these tips!
Struggling to plan for a split grade class? Learn how to teach science, a more interactive class, to a split grade class with these tips!Struggling to plan for a split grade class? Learn how to teach science, a more interactive class, to a split grade class with these tips!

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7 Tips for Teaching a Split Grade Class

7 Tips for Teaching a Split Grade Class

Though it might make you nervous, there are many benefits to teaching a split. Here are a few 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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