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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Combined Class

Organizing For Learning
Grades are an administrative device to group children according to their chronological age. In the past, this type of organization was based on the belief that patterns of development were tightly bound to a child's chronological age. We know that each child's pattern of development is unique. All nine-year-olds do not function at the same level and are not ready for the same skills or concepts to be presented to them.
There is little difference between a so-called 'straight grade' and a 'combined class'. All the students in a straight grade do not receive the same program; nor do the students in a combined class. Teachers develop programs according to the needs of the children in the class. Remove the grade label and all classes have the traits, traditions and organization of combined classes.
What is a Combined Class?
A 'combined class' is composed of a group of students from two separate grades who work within one classroom setting. Students are combined into groups according to their individual needs rather than grade levels, when working on specific skills. The curriculum is arranged so that students may study the same or similar materials.
What is the difference between a 'combined class' and a 'split class'?
In a 'split class' part of the class will often do seat work while the other part of the class is receiving direct instruction. In a 'combined class' instructional groups may include a combination of the two classes and will be made up on the basis of individual student needs. Combined classes have operated throughout school systems for many years.
Why do combined classes exist?
Combined classes are a result of imbalances in student numbers at particular grade levels. Staff is based on funding guidelines established by Alberta Education, and student teacher ratios established by our School District.
How are students selected for a 'combined class' placement?
Many factors are taken into consideration when selecting students for a combined class. The decision is often made by a team of teachers and the administration. Selection is bases on such factors as: social skill development, independence in work habits, friendships, leadership skills, self-motivation, learning styles of the learner, teaching style of the teacher, organizational ability, and academic achievement.
Are there any benefits to a 'combined class' placement?
There are many socio-emotional benefits to be gained by having students of various ages together. Peer interactions are often seen to be more positive in 'combined class' setting. There is greater development of social skills and more cooperation. Students develop a feeling of comfort and security, a positive self-concept and satisfaction with their achievements.
Are they any disadvantages to a 'combined class'?
No. In all classrooms teachers provide for the individual needs of students. Teachers constantly use a variety of methods to access the needs of each student and then the focus for skill development is adjusted accordingly.
Will the teacher have as much time for each child in 'combined classes'?
The amount of time for an individual student is determined by the number of students in the class, not by the grade structure. Generally, combined classes are the same size as other classes or smaller.
Will a student miss or repeat curriculum material?
Today the emphasis is on skills, concepts, processes and attitudes rather than memorizing facts. Because of the rapid changes in science and technology in our society, it is more important to learn how to learn, to evaluate and judge, to transfer and apply knowledge, to understand processes and to know how to access information. The curriculum is the means through which these skills are learned. Students at many levels study similar subjects. The topic may be the same, but the depth, focus and evaluation of knowledge are different.

Our experience has been that parents who were anxious about a combined class placement not only have been satisfied with their child's progress, but have become positive supporters of this type of classroom organization.
Teaching in a Combined Class
Combined classes are used when the number of the pupils in two grades is less than 16. One of the characteristics of a combined class is that pupils in different levels learn in the same classroom simultaneously under the direct or indirect guidance by the teacher. As the children have to study autonomously when the other grade is being taught, it is necessary for them to learn how to learn. I think that teachers should teach how to learn on as many different occasions as possible from the early stages of school so that pupils will be disciplined in it.
Another teaching technique in a combined class is where the teacher moves between the two groups enabling the teacher to give constructive suggestions to pupils in both groups.
In a combined class, the teacher will often train one pupil as group leader to help with classroom activities such as reading aloud, individual study, group discussion, and using the blackboard, video or computers.
When the teacher switches to indirect teaching, clear instructions need to be given for the following activity, including the content, materials and a flowchart either on the blackboard or on a handout, so that the pupils will be able to work unguided until the teacher returns.

Application to the ordinary class teaching
Teaching methods for combined classes can also be used in single grade classes.
For the last century the Japanese education system has used the doctrine that every child will understand if teachers teach in such a way. However in an ordinary class not everyone will learn at the same pace. As a result, many pupils are being left behind. With this in mind, recent trends in education have called for teachers to focus on the individual and plan classes for different levels of interest and learning abilities.
Therefore by applying the principle of a combined class (having two different learning groups in one classroom), more help for slower pupils or those getting left behind can be expected. Furthermore, use can be made of individualē—“ ideas on how to proceed in class when making the teaching plan as would be done in a combined class. In other words the teaching methods for combined classes are the basis for those for ordinary classes with pupils of varying abilities, when giving individual instruction or when carrying out problem solving exercises.

The challenge for the teacher training department
To train teachers who understand the principles of teaching combined classes courses on the subject need to be introduced. From next semester I will be incorporating some of my research into combined classes in my lectures and hopefully we will one day be able to start a fully fledged course.

Combined Class
Possible Questions to Initiate a Discussion

The following questions might be used to initiate a discussion about combined classes.

Why do schools in Richmond have combined classes?

What do parents whose children who have been in a combined class have to say?

What do students say about combined classes?

What do teachers say about combined classes?

What are the challenges of a combined class? What are the possibilities?

What are the possible dangers of a combined class? What are the potential advantages?

How do students in combined classes perform?

Is the answer to these questions the same for students of all ages?

How does your school decide which students to assign to each combined class?

Policy and Regulations

There is no policy, either at the provincial or district level, which directly addresses combined classes. However, class size maximums in the Collective Agreement with teachers limit the options available to schools and are often important in the decision to form combined classes. It should also be noted that the prescribed learning outcomes mandated in the curriculum (IRPs) are the same for all students, whatever the configuration of their class. Similarly, all other policies on instruction, assessment and reporting apply in combined classes just as they do for straight grades.


An overview which presents related ideas and issues is provided below. It might be useful either as a preparation for or follow-up to discussion activities.

Two thirds of the elementary classes in Richmond are combined classes (two grade groups in one class, e.g.: grade 4/5, and sometimes three grades), and they are common across the province. In most cases, combined classes are an administrative necessity because they allow the greatest number of students to be educated in the fewest number of classrooms. This organization keeps class sizes at the maximum level allowable and ensures that they are roughly equal in size and balanced with respect to student needs. This is necessary in order to comply with the Collective Agreement with the RTA and to minimize costs.
Sometimes, however, combined classes are established for practical reasons when it would have been possible to organize at least some single-grade classes. A school organization with single-grade classes sometimes provides only one possible placement for a student, which for various reasons (social, academic, contractual) may not be the ideal classroom for that particular child. By using combined classes, two, and sometimes several, choices for placement can be made available. A child can then be placed in the classroom that best serves his/her social and academic needs.

Sometimes, combined classes are created for pedagogical rather than practical reasons. For example, the Montessori program is based on combined classes of three grades. The school-based decision to organize by forming combined classes throughout the school is supported by a sound educational philosophy, backed in part by research, and in part by teacher experience.

Dr. Joel Gajadharsingh from the Department of Curriculum Studies from the University of Saskatchewan completed a Canadian study on the effects of multi-age grouping or combined classes on student learning in 1991. He found, using standardized tests, that students in combined classrooms did as well or better in the following academic areas: Math, Language, Science, Social Studies. Using teacher-made tests or teacher-determined assessment strategies, he verified that B.C. students did as well or better in the above mentioned areas. He also found that students in combined classes performed better than students in single grade classrooms in the following areas: independence, responsibility, study habits, and attitude toward school.

Teachers in combined classes, like those in straight grades, follow the curriculum requirements defined by the Ministry in curriculum guides (Integrated Resource Packages, IRPs).

Students in a combined class look similar to those in a single grade classroom. Detailed studies, like John Goodlad’s in 1987 (The Non-graded Elementary School) have shown that on average a five year span of developmental difference is typically found in a single grade group. Students in two-grade groups together combine to span about six years of difference in the various aspects of their development. Teachers in both combined and straight grades fully acknowledge that a broad span of individual difference is to be expected. Diversity is welcomed and accommodated as teachers aim to satisfy the needs of individual students while delivering the mandated Ministry curriculum. Teachers are trained to provide instruction to diverse classes of students, looking at children as individuals, and providing Individual Educational Plans where warranted for students who are slower or faster to develop. Thus, learning is enhanced for all.

Combined classes offer enhanced opportunities for all students to demonstrate confidence, positive self-concept, and a strong sense of belonging. They can become increasingly thoughtful and helpful as they help other students. They can form broader and more varied friendships as older students provide role models for younger students. Sometimes teacher/student relationship can be enhanced if the same teacher teaches a student for more than one year, leading to increased feelings of security for returning students and a smoother transition in September because the teacher already knows their learning styles and needs well.

Notwithstanding the research and the demonstrable success of combined classes as shown in the many positive examples across the district, many parents are not comfortable with this organization and some teachers are also concerned about it. Parents often say that they think that a child in the “top half of a split” will be held back by the younger children and may not be taught the full curriculum. Some teachers find it difficult to teach in very diverse classes. Teachers of combined classes must work hard to deal effectively with the diversity in their classes and have the added challenge of combining curriculum from two grade levels, but it is also true that all teachers must design instruction to support a very broad range of learning styles and abilities as well as student backgrounds and personal circumstances.
Parent and teacher concerns seem most often to be based on an understanding of the curriculum as content to be conveyed to students, rather than a more holistic view of the curriculum as a set of leaning experiences which is designed to accommodate a diverse group of learners and help them all to be successful. Teaching strategies that address diversity, meet individual needs, and satisfy Ministry requirements with respect to content and processes of learning work well in both combined and single grade classrooms. In fact, they are necessary with any group of students, but they are also complex and require sophisticated understandings of both teaching and learning. The following two examples illustrate the type of instruction that works well with diverse groups of learners, whether in a combined or straight-grade class.

The Thematic Approach : Teachers often use themes to address Science or Social Studies goals with possibilities for integrating work in other content areas like Math, Language Arts and Fine Arts. (e.g., Exploring the Universe). This approach enables the teacher to address processes and skills requiring continuous development. Some in-school coordination is required so that the necessary topics are addressed over the elementary years and popular themes are not repeated unintentionally, although different aspects of a theme may be intentionally addressed in different grades. For example, identification and special features of dinosaurs fascinate Primary learners, whereas Intermediate students might study the impact of climatic change on ecosystems using the same theme. Also, many topics spiral through the curriculum and are taught, or learned, with different degrees of sophistication at different ages - e.g., fractions, probability, community and government - and thus some themes may quite reasonably be explored repeatedly over the years.

Writers’ Workshop: Students draft, revise and publish original pieces of writing under the teacher’s direction. Curricular expectations are met through whole class lessons on writing styles, mechanics, and analyzing shared student writing for strengths. Students’ individual needs are met through regular teacher conferences where progress is assessed and goals are set. Reinforcement in specific skills such as individual elements of punctuation or strategies for organizing thoughts in advance of writing may be provided in small specially formed ad-hoc groups as necessary.

Students generally do well in combined classes. There is no objective evidence that they are less desirable educational settings than single-grade classes. In fact, on the spring 1998 Provincial Learning Assessment Program results for reading and writing, district results equaled the provincial average for reading at the Grade 7 level and slightly exceeded the provincial average for writing at Grade 7 and both reading and writing at Grade 4. At both grade levels the provincial interpretation panel judged the results to exceed expectations. (Only 10% of students were excused from this assessment due to absence from school that day or special leaning challenges, including being in the early stages of learning English as a second language. which made their participation inappropriate - this despite the high levels of ESL in the district.)

Parents often ask how students are assigned to combined classes and what reasoning goes into deciding whether a student should be placed with older or younger students. It is often assumed that the “brighter” students are placed with older children and those who are less able are placed with younger children. This is not an effective way to compose classes and should not occur.

Best practice for composing classes involves consideration of a wide range of relevant characteristics such as abilities and needs, social development, independence, friendships, and gender in order to create balanced classes which are uniformly diverse. It is a good practice for schools to inform parents about this process and also to allow them to contribute information about their children which might have some bearing on the decision (but this does not include requesting a specific teacher). Children should also be allowed to contribute information about their friends so that at least one close relationship can be maintained.
What do you think about combined classes in elementary?
Question:My daughter (2nd grader) was put into a combined class with 3rd graders. Im a little concerned about this. I'm looking for others who have had experience with there kids in this situation. Negitive or positive? Should I try to have her put into another class? Or is it possible she may benefit from it.

I am a teacher (and taught 2nd grade for 5 years) and I do know that usually the kids that are put in the combo classes are children that are regarded as having excellent behavior and can work independently, not to mention being able to work on grade level. So.take it as a compliment. Also, being that she is in the younger of the grades, she can definitely benefit from having 3rd graders in the room. She will be exposed to harder material and will be challenged. She will see some of hte 3rd grade curriculum without actually experiencing it, so that it wil still be new for her next year. You have the option to switch her if you want. However, if there is a really good teacher in the room, then leave her there, especially if she likes a bit of a challenge.
I was in a montessori school and was in combined classes all thru elementary school. I was in pre-k and k, grades 1-3 were together, and grades 4 and 5 were together. I never experienced anything bad because of this. I was advanced and could read material from higher grades this way. Also, when the teacher was doing lessons for the other grades, we have free time to pursue independent studies.
I, too was combined with higher grades in school. It is very helpful and will not bring negatives to your kid. It will only do kid will, I promise.
I was in a 2nd and 3rd grade combo class in elementary school and again when i was in high school I was in a Spanish 3-4 combo class. In my experience the people put into combo classes have excelled. I did great in the classes, I was able to learn so much by listening to the lesson taught to the older grade. With combo classes there will be a lot of independent work. If daughter can handle independent work she should be fine and benfit from the experience!
i'm 23 and when i was in fourth grade i was in a split class... there were only 4 girls (in 4th grade) so the teacher had one girl to each table. the boys at my table picked on me so bad that as a fourth grader i was put in therapy... i blame the teacher mostly because she would give us work and then teach the younger kids and that's when i was picked on.. split classes are NOT a good thing and i feel my education suffered from it not only because i was tormented but because the teacher wasn't available to help with school work.. see if you can get your daughter in a different class she's not gonna be better off because of the older kids in the class... at such a young age she needs a teachers full attention and that's not what she's gonna get when her teacher is teaching 2 classes!
I would think she would benefit from it, learning material quicker and such. But, When she is in 3rd grade, would she be taking the same thing over again? Just make sure that she can keep up and isn't following behind.

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