Combination classrooms consist of two grade levels in the same classroom. Schools form combination classrooms due to student population. If a school does not have enough students to make a full class in two different grades, the two classes are combined in one room. If a school has a shortage of staff or there are budget cuts, the school may be forced to create combination classrooms. Teaching two grade levels in one classroom can be challenging for the teacher; however, thinking outside of the box will make instructing and managing a combination class a success.
Learn the standards for both grade levels and combine them whenever possible. Prior to the start of the school year, compare the standards between the two grades you will be teaching and create lessons that will allow you to address similar standards in one whole group lesson. For example, a writing standard in fourth grade may expect students to write sentences of varying length, while a fifth grade standard may expect students to write simple, compound and complex sentences. Students can learn all of these skills in one carefully planned lesson.
Differentiate instruction. If you have a student in a younger grade who is performing above grade level, let him join in the older grade's activities. If you have a student in the older grade who could use some extra practice, have her teach a concept to the younger grade. In this way she is getting practice at her level without being embarrassed. Create projects in science or social studies where students across both grades work together based on interests to create enrichment lessons.
Mix students up in your seating chart, so students from both grades are sitting together. Having students from both grades interact with each other on a daily basis will create a community classroom, which will help with management issues. You want to avoid segregating the students based on age because this can create an "us against them" mentality.
Use novel studies to teach reading. Using novels to teach reading instead of textbooks allows you to tailor questions and activities to the ability of your students at both grade levels. You can also create small literature circles based on reading levels that can have members from both grades in them. Within these literature circles each student has a role, and while groups are meeting you can circulate from group to group, checking in and questioning students on their reading.
Create activities that all students can participate in at their level. For example, use a math fact challenge where students progress at their own rate, or assign a research project that can be tailored to each grade's standards. Not every activity is going to work for both grades, but the more of these activities you can incorporate into your daily teaching, the more time you will have to work individually with students.
- "California Educator"; Coping with Combo Classes; Sherry Posnick Goodwin; September 2009
- "How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms"; C.A. Tomlinson; 2001
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