The Wejr Board

…sharing stories that reflect on the present & future system of education

By

Will My Child Be OK In A Split Class?

Nervous about split classes? It will be ok.
(CC) Image from http://flic.kr/p/4nNBEG

Each year, we set up classes and find that due to the way our enrolment numbers fall into place, we must create some split (or multigrade, combined) classes. Each year, we also have a high number of parents who are concerned about their child’s placement in a split class… particularly the upper grade of a split.

I truly appreciate the concerns that parents have as they often bring up very valid questions such as:

  • Why has my child been placed in a split class?
  • Will my child get challenged if they are the older grade in the split?
  • Will my child get the required support if they are the younger grader in the split (or the other side in which parents believe their child will get challenged more and develop faster if placed in this type of split)?
  • Will students in a straight grade class gain more learning than my child?
  • Will my child get bullied more in a split?
  • Will my child feel they have failed because they are back with the younger grade?
  • Will my child be provided with the same opportunities (field trips, projects, etc) in the split that are provided in the straight grade class?

As splits are inevitable every year (this year 60% of our classes are split classes), I feel it is important to share some key thoughts around this issue to ease some concerns of the parents.

There is much thought (and hours) put into the placement of students in classes.  At Kent, the teachers start this process in the last term of the year as they separate their students into two balanced groups (based on gender, present ability, needs, required support, etc).  Following this, the administration creates the first draft of classes and then presents this to the staff for feedback.  By the end of the year, students are placed in classes on a temporary basis as they will need to be switched based on enrolment in September (students and families are not notified of the placement as it is likely to change).  In the fall, the students and classes are shifted to make room for new students (and gaps left by students who have moved over the summer).  Teachers are again given the classes to provide feedback on class composition.  After all this, the classes are finally posted.  At Kent school, present academic ability is only one factor and students are NOT placed in a split based solely on this (ex. students with higher academic assessments are placed as the younger grade in a split). The Richmond School District writes:

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.

As you can see, placing students in classes to provide them with the best support is not an easy process nor is it an exact science but educators put in many hours to try to put students in the most appropriate learning environment.

The biggest and most valid parent concern is often about having a child’s needs met.  This SHOULD be the number one concern for parents regardless of whether their child is in a split or straight grade class.  The key is to meet with the teacher and discuss your concerns and then stay in contact with your child’s progress throughout the year.  As for not being challenged as an older child in a split, any teacher will tell you that within EVERY class, there is a span of 3+ years of development and teachers put in most of their effort planning and assessing at the students’ current levels.  John Goodlad’s research estimated that the typical straight grade class has a development span of 5 years and a split can have up to 6 years.   Research by John Hattie also states that the effect of multi-grade classrooms is almost zero (0.04).  Effective teachers always have a number of different lessons going on at the same time as they must differentiate to their students’ abilities and interests. As Rob Taylor writes in the BCTF magazine:

“Teaching the splits is different and no easy task, but the wide range of student abilities is really no different from any other classroom. Keep that in mind. Remember that your main focus is teaching students, not grades or outcomes…”

Students need to be supported in ANY class they are in and with this support, they will learn at the same rate regardless of being in a split or straight grade class.  As for research in this area, both the Vancouver School Board and the Richmond School District cite the work of Dr. Joel Gajadharsingh from the Department of Curriculum Studies from the University of Saskatchewan as he

“…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.” (click here to access more work from Dr.Gajadharsingh in the book “The Multi-Grade Classroom: Myth and Reality – A Canadian Study”).

As in a any classroom and/or learning environment, through the efforts of the teacher and the support of the school and parents, the students should get the support and challenge they need to grow as educational learners.

Another thing to think about is that we are in a system that, as Sir Ken Robinson states, separates students based on their date of manufacture and often nothing to do with their strengths and interests.  Some schools and parents are choosing to create more muti-grade classrooms (ex. some public/private schools as well as schools like Montessori and Waldorf – for a list of schools in Atlantic Canada encouraging multi-age classrooms, click here)  based on the idea that students can benefit of being placed based on their strengths and interests as well as potential benefits of peer mentoring, leadership, and the skills of independent learning and responsibility can be furthered developed.

Unfortunate social/emotional challenges like bullying and anxiety are present in many straight and split classes and these need to be dealt with immediately so students, families and schools can work together to develop skills to help lessen the impact on students.  In addition, at Kent we now work (thanks to parent feedback) to ensure that grade-peers often remain together for events. If there is a majority of students in a straight grade, then those students in the split need to have opportunities to attend field trips, participate in leadership opportunities, etc with the other class (ex. at Kent, all grade 3’s go to Fort Langley and our staff makes efforts to work together to make this happen).

Students are required to receive instruction based on the BC curriculum in any class they are placed. Therefore, many teachers will use groups and theme-based approaches to teach the concepts of two different curricula to students in a split class. In the areas of numeracy and literacy, teachers will differentiate the instruction to the developmental levels in the class.

The most important thing to remember is that relationships and communication are key.  If your child has an effective relationship with his/her teacher and there is effective (2-way) communication between the school and the home, your child should have a great year at school.

Remember, there are stories of  successes and struggles of students in every type of class.  You will meet parents and students who struggled in split and straight-grade class as well as those who experienced success. Regardless of which class your child is in, as a parent or family member, your concerns need to be heard.  I encourage you to meet with your child’s teacher to voice your concerns; the teacher and school staff can then work with you to move past these and ease any stress you may have over the placement of your child in a split class.

If you have any other ideas or comments on how to ease the concern for families of students in split classes, please leave it below.

More resources:

 

Print Friendly

26 Responses to Will My Child Be OK In A Split Class?

  1. Peter Jory says:

    Chris,
    Thanks for this thoughtful contribution. We are working on a new model in our district where we embrace combined classes, then use collaborative models of support (CMOS) to enhance support and build teacher differentation skills. We have shared your blog entry with principals, many of whom will be having these conversations with their parents (and staff) this month. Well done. PJ

    • Chris Wejr says:

      Thanks Pete – I look forward to hearing more about this. So important to keep parents in the loops with decisions like these. Thanks for adding to the dialogue!

    • peter says:

      “Students are required to receive instruction based on the BC curriculum in any class they are placed. Therefore, many teachers will use groups and theme-based approaches to teach the concepts of two different curricula to students in a split class.”

      So, could you please indicate to me how one would do this for a Grade 4/5 split in Social Studies?

      • Chris Wejr says:

        Hey Peter – in my years as a teacher, it has been rare for me to cover the entire curriculum. I recall having a heated debate with the HS math department when I was a HS math teacher as I felt we needed to develop essential learning outcomes rather than cover the entire curriculum. The curriculum is important; however, we also need to balance depth with coverage and find out how we can best support the students. I have never taught grade 4/5 but I have taught grade 5/6 for two years and what I did during this time was combine learning outcomes. For example, we combined the learning outcomes for science and language arts to develop stories about the human body as well as adaptations in extreme conditions. What many schools have been doing is developing essential learning outcomes as a school team so that there is more focus on particular skills in the subjects. I am not saying that we need not cover certain aspects of the curricula but we are better developing a focus so we can go deeper in certain areas.

        Teaching the entire curriculum is no easy task in a straight grade and can be more of a challenge in a combined class. This is why the creation of classes must be done carefully so class composition is more balanced and takes into consideration the challenges of teaching a combined class.

        My main concern is class composition as this has become more of a challenge in recent years. My hope is that we move away from a focus on curriculum to more of a focus of meeting kids where they are. When we do this, we have less of a concern of matching a curricular outcome with a date of birth and more of a concern with matching a learning outcome with a group of kids. Of course we need learning outcomes but if we have less outcomes with more flexibility, this could benefit teachers and students.

        • peter says:

          Thanks. Unfortunately, I had one administrator who told me that I should be teaching BOTH social studies and Sciences curriculum for each grades one year. If anyone looks at what the learning outcomes of the grade 4 and 5 Social Studies and science curriculum, they will quickly understand that it is extremely hard to teach them as a combined subjects. Your idea of integrating the SS curriculum with Language Arts does not solve that problem unless you have very independent students who can manage on their own, but it can work for some students. I had several kids who were not able to manage: severe learning disabilities and inability to focus. It is even more of a challenge when you have kids in French Immersion (which was my situation), where they cannot get help at home. It does not help that the material in French is made for 1st language learners, with idioms that only native children would get, for instance. Librarians (if they are bilingual) have a hard time choosing decent books, even if they could see them before purchasing them. Moreover, the dual track schools don’t allow for putting some kids in a split and others in straight grades as often all classes are splits (if you start with 2 classes of K with 20 students each, that will happen.) To boot, of course, the administrator was an English-speaker with no experience in FI. Needless to say, I had to quit (I had 25 years of experience and never had to do that in my career). So, split classes might work if all of those conditions are removed. No ONE and I mean no one could have taught this split class WELL under those conditions.

  2. misterdavy says:

    Chris, I really enjoyed this article. It is grounded in both practical wisdom and sound pedagogical research. Thanks for sharing!
    I teach a split 5/6 class at a small school, and one unforeseen benefit for our students in our class we have observed is that, when they move on to middle school in Grade 7, they have a close connection to many of their former split-grade classmates in Grade 8, who can mentor them through the anxious first few months of middle school.

  3. Scott Friedman says:

    Chris,

    We too, based on the size of our school have split classes every year. Some years more than others. Previously students were primarily placed with academic ability being a major factor. Upon arriving at the school a few years ago, I began asking questions regarding placement philosophy. To make a long story short, we eventually landed on a system very similar to what you use at Kent. No one singular factor is more important than another. The most important factor is what is best for the “whole” child. As you are well aware, often times are most gifted students are not ready for the social pressures of being in an upper grade class as a lower grade student. This can have an extremely damaging effect as the student progresses through each grade.

    There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that what we are currently doing is the best thing for kids. Due to this, I don’t mind spending the first couple days of school meeting with parents that are upset over their child being placed in a split class.

    Thanks for including links to some of the research. I will be sure and use it in future conversations.

    On a side note I truly hope your year got off to a great start and I look forward to re-connecting after my short time away as a contributor. I was still connected, but just not posting.

  4. Ray Myrtle says:

    Good article about an issue that concerns parents and crops up every year at this time. Another element that I often mentioned to parents of high achieving students who wanted their child to be placed into a ‘higher split’ (eg. placed in 5/6 instead of a 4/5) was the opportunity for leadership.
    My argument goes something like this: Do you think your child will have difficulty with school this year?
    Reply: ‘No.’
    Do you think your child will have much difficulty in school during the next few years?
    Reply: ‘I don’t think so’.
    Well, learning how to work in teams is so important these days. Being in this 4/5 class is going to give your child more opportunities for leadership. These opportunities can provide lessons that will last a lifetime. Let’s work together this year to see how he/she is doing in developing as an effective leader.

  5. Pingback: Some More Thoughts on Combined Classes | Doug Beveridge

  6. Rebecca S. says:

    Over all our years at Kent, the most important thing I have learned about split classes is that they work – as long as the teacher is good at managing them.
    Your article has many good points, Chris, and I admit to needing education myself on this issue over the years!
    Keep on talking to parents and keeping the lines of communication open. I know I’m not the only parent who appreciates the opportunity for discussion.

  7. Jack Showers says:

    Hi,

    I have probably taught more splits than straights in my career. Straight classes maybe provide less of a challenge for the teacher, but in my experience they are no more positive for the students. My evidence is purely my own experience, but I am a firm believer that behaviour is better in a split, more opportunities are available for leadership by the older half of the split, students are more cooperative and helpful and there is more of a sense of team.

    Give me a split any time.

  8. Pingback: Creating conditions for Parent Engagement — Our School.ca

  9. Gallit Zvi says:

    Thank you for this great post! I will be sure to share it with my Student Teachers as the discussion on combined classes always comes up at some point!

    For the last few years I have taught combined classes and have loved it! It allowed me to loop kids which worked out wonderfully :)

  10. Ellie Grant says:

    Thank you Chris for your article that honours parental concerns about student placement, behind the scenes school based class planning, and recent, relevant research. As we move forward with a redesigned competency based curriculum I wonder if we could also move forward with our language when we talk about class composition? In “Opening Minds”, Peter Johnstone encourages us to consider the words we choose – we may be sending unconscious messages about our bias and perspective. What if we shifted our thinking about a group of learners from ‘split’ classes to the caring communities we work hard to create in our classrooms and schools. I hope some day we will find language that truly honours each child for who they are, not the date they were born. As an adult I am grateful I am not sorted and classified daily by my birthdate. Thank you for starting this important conversation!

  11. Jim says:

    Hello,

    I’m a teacher with 18 years experience and I find it disappointing that people who don’t work everyday in a classroom often share their ideas, thoughts and cite the latest educational research. You didn’t mention in your blog post that administrators generally like split classes because it is easier for them to accept or place new students. For example if there is a straight grade 3 class and it has the provincial maximum of 24 students, then there is no room for a new student. If the school has a grade 2/3 class and a grade 3/4 class then they have more options in terms of placing a new student. This is an administrative benefit not an educational one. As a teacher it is very challenging to try and teach two math lessons in a grade 2/3 class. In this situation, some students often end up waiting for your help as a teacher. To teach a lesson to the whole class is also difficult because of the wide range of abilities. There seems to be no shortage of people today who know how we should ‘fix’ education. However, many of them have spent little time working in an actual classroom with 20 to 30 students, with learning disabilities, behaviour problems, language difficulties etc. How do teachers feel about split classes and dealing with two different Science curriculums? Some schools do an A/B year in terms of covering curriculum topics, but this also has its drawbacks. As a teacher I once used the term split class in a meeting and was corrected. The individual said I needed to use the term ‘blended class’ which was less negative and more politically correct.

    • Chris Wejr says:

      Hey Jim. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and your insights. You bring up an important point that I had not considered about class placement. I have never thought of this as creating more flexibility as I have never done this but perhaps this does happen in some schools/districts. When I wrote this post, I had been out of the classroom for 3 years so, although I am not currently a classroom teacher, I recently taught grade 5/6 for 2 years. My key point of this post was to say that the grade level had less of an impact of class composition. As a Canadian teacher, the class composition challenges and decreased support has made this very difficult on many students and educators. A teacher said to me this year that his straight grade class was way more challenging than the combined class he had the previous year. When I think back to my time as a combined grade intermediate teacher, having 2 different curricula did make a difference; however, it was the careful placement of students in the classes that also made the multi-grade class less of an issue for me. I also have a good friend that teaches in Surrey and the 3 grade 6 and 7 teachers got together and said they wanted to try going all grade 6/7 classes (instead of grade 6, grade 6/7, grade 7) as then they would be able to loop the students. The teachers and students loved it at this school. This post was written after many conversations with staff and teachers from other schools. Each context is different and I think what my hope was with this point was to ease the concerns of parents on “split” classes and shift the conversation to talk about class composition, communication, and effective practice.

  12. Maureen says:

    I have no doubt that for each example you can cite of a teacher advocating split grades you will find many many more citing the opposite. For the above teacher who said his straight grade was more of a challenge I have no doubt he was referring to a class with a higher number of difficult challenges as opposed to the delivery of double the curriculum. My thirty two years of teaching experience will testify that there are no true advantages to split grades for students and certainly not teachers – the fatigue rate of teaching a split grade certainly does not benefit the students. In my province of Ontario the incredible demands of a huge curriculum, special needs, and a continuous call for deeper understanding of all core subjects are impossible to meet in a straight grade let alone a split. And no, they do not have to be “inevitable”. In Ontario, many split grades are created for monetary reasons based on funding,not on what is best for students. There are places where split grades do not exist. When I was speaking of split grades to an American relative (not that I wish for many aspects of their education system), she asked me what I was talking about – where she came from they simply did not exist! Whether or not we could eliminate all split grades, school boards should be doing everything in their power to keep them to the lowest minimal rate that they can. In today’s classroom of very complex students with many many problems, teachers rarely find that “dream” class anymore, so whatever way splits are made up, the challenges are there and added to that way more curriculum. While a straight grade definitely will have students of multiple levels of ability, add to that a split grade and you double the number of levels. You simply cannot combine everything and neglect some of the curriculum for example in math, for the higher grade level. Math is a nightmare in a split grade. You can sugar coat it all you want, I have personally never met a teacher (remember I’ve taught 32 years) who would rather have a split grade. In fact, I’ve heard many teachers say they would rather have larger numbers in a straight grade than less numbers in a split.

    • Chris Wejr says:

      Hey Maureen. This post was never meant to be supportive of teaching 2 separate curricula vs teaching one curriculum. There is no doubt that teaching a split can be a challenge and I have been there. My point is that we need to be careful on how classes are set up so that we take the combined class into consideration when attempting to balance class composition.
      We actually tried having smaller numbers, less splits, with less support… and the teachers said they would never want that again. To the staff, class composition was the number one concern so we worked to tweak the numbers so we had one less division (2-3 more in each class and more splits) with more support (LA, resource, sp ed).
      I do disagree with you regarding the nightmare that math can be in a split grade. I actually enjoyed LA and math in combined classes as I was able to group kids based on their abilities – I found this was easier than science and social studies. I also tapped into the leadership of the grade 6 students to help with the grade 5s. This was just my experience, though and I am sure it differs from yours.
      To me, it is more about class composition than about the split. You are so right that if we have the same class composition of students and one is a split, that adds a huge workload. Having said this, I believe we need to be working to provide more support in the class (EAs, LA, sp ed) rather than working to have smaller classes with straight grades. In a system in which our budgets are continually shrinking and we need to provide more with less… it is important we keep the focus on working to find means for more in class support and this is much more cost effective than trying to keep straight grade classes.
      The inevitability of splits is due to budgets in the current age/grade-based system we find ourselves. It would be a HUGE cost to add 2-3 divisions in an elementary school ($200-300K) to have less splits (this still would not have only straight grades in the schools I have worked). If there is more funding, I would personally much rather see it spent in providing more in class support to help with class composition challenges that impact students and staff.
      In addition, as we move away from a focus on curricula with many outcomes, my hope is that combined classes become less of an issue as there becomes less pressure on teachers to teach a curriculum and more support for teachers to teach students.

  13. peter says:

    peter :

    EDITED for spelling and content, because people will judge.

    Thanks. Unfortunately, I had one administrator who told me that I should be teaching BOTH social studies and Science curricula for each grade one year. If anyone looks at what the learning outcomes of the grade 4 and 5 Social Studies and science curriculum, they will quickly understand that it is extremely hard to teach them as combined subjects (2 SS and 2 Sc. lessons). Your idea of integrating the SS curriculum with Language Arts does not solve that problem entirely unless you have very independent students who can manage on their own, but it can work for some students. I had several kids who were not able to manage: 2 with a severe learning disability label and many with the inability to focus. It is even more of a challenge when you have kids in French Immersion (which was my situation), where they cannot get help at home. Of course, I had to teach BOTH LA programs as well (French and English). In FI, it does not help that the material in French is made for 1st language learners, with idioms that only native children would get, for instance, which might explain the students tuning out. I had all kinds of group work and computer aided added to the planning to try to cope with the situation. Librarians (if they are bilingual) have a hard time choosing decent books, even if they could see them before purchasing them. Moreover, the dual track schools don’t allow for putting some kids in a split and others in straight grades as often all classes are splits (if you start with 2 classes of K with 20 students each, that will happen.) To boot, of course, the administrator was an English-speaker with no experience in FI. Needless to say, I had to quit. (I had 25 years of experience that year with some experience with split classes and never had to do that in my career). So, split classes can work if all of those conditions are removed. No ONE and I mean no one could have taught this split class WELL under those conditions. Some or most AOs will say that anything is possible because that is how the system works or is. As most people above you have no experience and interest in the FI program, FI teachers, students, and their parents are sitting ducks.

  14. gerry mckee says:

    I agree with Peter, Maureen and Jim. Far more teachers I talk with about their split classes will agree that they cannot cover the curriculum in a split class. My observations after working in them is that students in grades 1, 2 and 3 are missing out on much-needed instructional time in reading and math and therefore many students are not meeting the expected learning outcome level for their grades. In higher grades where the curriculum requirements are melded the students seem to miss out on essential information which can affect their degree of understanding text assignments in later grades. This is especially true for students who are still learning the language of instruction.
    The most detrimental of all split classes, in my years of experience, have been the combining of All-day K with Grade 1; a most reprehensible method of organization relative to pedagogy. Add to this mix what is far too common in my district: teachers with no training for the grades taught, no experience in those grades and no real support.

  15. Sandy The says:

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for taking the time post this information about split classes. As a parent of a 7 year old daughter I was very concerned about the effectiveness of a 1/2 split class since she was assigned to a 1/2 split class the prior year, which was abbreviated. Last year the split class was necessary due to low enrollment in grade 1 and excess enrollment 2. This year there are (3) 1/2 and (1) 2/3 split classes at my daughters school. Needless to say this added to my concern, especially in an abbreviated school year, about the need and of course effectiveness of a split class. I did email the Principal to share my concern, however due to beginning of the year activities he elected to defer to the teacher. Anyhow, I was compelled to educate myself about this class structure and was fortunate to find your blog. The information you provided and comments shared by other educators helped me better understand the split class concept. This combined with the very high reputation of the teacher leading my daughter’s class has more than alleviated my concerns.

    Thanks again for sharing this info; I will be sure to share this link with other parents who have expressed concern at my daughter’s school.

    Have a great school year!

  16. Mark Brown says:

    A really well articulated piece, Chris. Thanks. May I share your Blog post with the parents of my Gr.6/7 class, on my blog? which is:

    http://markbrownmonterey.weebly.com

    markbrown
    in victoria

  17. Sarena says:

    Hi Chris, in your article “Will My Child Be OK In A Split Class?” you mentioned “…at Kent we now work (thanks to parent feedback) to ensure that grade-peers often remain together for events. If there is a majority of students in a straight grade, then those students in the split need to have opportunities to attend field trips, participate in leadership opportunities, etc with the other class (ex. at Kent, all grade 3′s go to Fort Langley and our staff makes efforts to work together to make this happen).”
    My question is what type of feedback did you get from parents, or what prompted the effort to include the children from the split class with the straight grade when possible? My child is in Grade 2. There are 24 second graders and 6 (including my child) that were put in with 14 Grade 1 students. As of now there are no efforts to include the 6 with the other 24 and in fact, it feels as if they are quite segregated.
    I am trying to prepare for a meeting with the teachers and principal so as to help them see the importance of the inclusion of the grade-peers. I do see the benefits of a split class, however am also noticing the difference in maturity/development between 1st and 2nd graders and am concerned about the lack of social time (class trips, lunch time, etc) that my child is getting with the children that she had started to form friendships and bonds with.
    Any input or perspective would be greatly appreciated.

    • Chris Wejr says:

      Hey Sarena. Great question. In a Facebook post on our page about the efforts being put into student placement, we had a great conversation with parents on some of their concerns with combined classes. One of the key pieces that I had not considered was that if there was a field trip (for ex.) for the grade 5 class, that the students in the grade 4/5 would have the opportunity to go on the trip. We were able to make this happen through support of staff and parents (for supervision) to ensure that the students in combined classes had the chance to go on the “grade 5 (other grades) field trips). We also made the effort to ensure that students had equal access to leadership opportunities (grade 6s that wanted to monitor at lunch, etc).
      There is some uneasiness for parents of students in combined classes and I feel that the opportunity to go on the “typical grade level” field trips, etc was one that I wanted to ensure happened. This might seem small to an adult but when I interviewed grade 6 students about their favourite moments, it was often the “grade 1 field trip”… so we wanted to make sure kids didn’t miss out on this chance. Sometimes the parents chose not to send their kids on the trips but it was an option that was appreciated. Let me know if you have further questions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>