I’m very excited to share that I’m going to be teaching a 5/6 split next year. I love splits! While I usually hear about concerns regarding split grades, here are the reasons why I think a split is fantastic:
- Built-in differentiated instruction. When you’re teaching two different grades, you’re also responsible for two different sets of curriculum expectations. You can’t have everyone doing the same thing all the time. As a teacher, I need to differentiate, and ensure that all of my students are taught the content that they need to be successful, in the way that they need it.
- A continuum of learning. To help with teaching different sets of expectations to different students, I find that teachers of splits have to look at how the expectations intersect. They need to create a continuum of learning. Often this continuum is based on “big ideas,” which also coincides with our current school focus on learning goals and success criteria.
- Lots of small group instruction. Since students in a split class are learning different content, they don’t need to all sit and listen to the same lesson. Lots of small group instruction really helps address the varying needs of the varying students. Not only does this small group approach let me look at what each individual student needs to do well, but it also helps me build independence and collaboration in my other students, as they support each other while I’m working with small groups.
- Two times the team! As a teacher, I learn a lot from my peers. This year, I was very fortunate to work with a fantastic partner, Gina, and we collaborated a lot — as you can even hear in our Planning Minutes. Next year, I’m not just working with one team of teachers, but two. Now I get the opportunity to learn from and with even more people. The more that we can share and learn together, the more students benefit.
- Addressing EQAO even earlier. I have always believed that EQAO is not a Grade 3 or a Grade 6 test, but as a Grade 3 or a Grade 6 teacher, you really feel the onus on you to do well. It seems as though much of the preparation for this standardized test comes in these two grades. As a 5/6 teacher, I’ll be able to show that EQAO is not just a single-grade test. I can help my students learn skills for answering multiple choice and short answer questions, find ways to communicate more in math, and build a foundation for the knowledge that they’re going to need as they move up the grades. (Debates around EQAO are for another post entirely, but I thought that this one point was worth addressing here.)
While this is my first time teaching a split in the Junior grades, I have taught splits for years. I taught JK/SK blends and Grade 1/2 splits before, and I loved both experiences. I’m thrilled that the principal and vice principal, Paul and Tammy, gave me this opportunity to teach another split. It’s going to be a great year, and I can’t wait for September to begin!
What are your thoughts on split grades? What questions or concerns do you have about them? I’d love to hear your thinking!
I appreciate your optimism. I teach a grade 5/6/7/8 split (and will again nect year too) and have many of the same feelings. I have to look at the curriculum as a continuum and we learn a lot through our discussions. I love working in small groups as well as having opportunities for whole group learning.
Thanks for your comment, Amy! Oh my goodness – a 5, 6, 7, 8 split! That’s quite the mix. I would love to hear some of your strategies. I think I could learn a lot from you. Hopefully we can connect!
I am teaching 5-8 grade split for the first time. I taught 5th for a year, then 4/5 for 2 years. Any ideas for bridging 4 grades?
Wow! Four grades? This would be quite the opportunity for a multi-grade classroom. Have you read, COMPREHENSION AND COLLABORATION: INQUIRY CIRCLES IN ACTION? I really like how this book looks at teaching a strategy, but then targeting the content based on interest and/or grade. This might work really well for you. I’d also maybe be looking at doing some curriculum mapping: trying to find commonalities for starting points of instruction, and then varying based on the kids, the needs, and the grade. Good luck! What an amazing experience.
Thanks! I will look for the book
Good luck! I hope the book helps!
I love your enthusiasm! I agree with you on every one of your points. As I have explained so many times to parents who are concerned about their students being in a “split” grade, there is a huge range of abilities in ANY classroom. I don’t just teach the middle of the pack, I teach each child what they need to learn next, because learning is a continuum.
I would like to add that I prefer to think of it as a “combined” rather than “split” class. It drives me crazy when a teacher puts all of one grade on one side of the room and the other grade on the other side. Then it truly is a class divided, and they each get a half of a teacher! I like it when a stranger walks into the room and can’t tell what grade any given student is in. I think of it as teaching using a “karate” model. It doesn’t matter how old a student is, or what grade s/he is in, when a student has mastered the requirements for a certain belt, they move onto the next level. Some stay longer on one belt than another, they each move at their own pace. I think we need to see education that way, and we can do that by focusing on the big ideas and using an inquiry model – putting kids in charge of their own learning. And why can’t a Grade 5 student work with a Grade 6 student? Everywhere outside of school we mix age groups together, in families, in neighbourhoods when they play, in guiding and scouting, it is only in school we segregate them by age; it’s always seemed unnatural to me.
Thank you so much for your comment, Lorraine! I absolutely agree with you. I also love your use of the word “combined” instead of “split.” It’s actually amazing how much overlap there is between curriculum expectations, and as long as each student understands his/her own learning expectations, mixing students from different grades makes lots of sense. I did this a lot when teaching my 1/2 class. Students could support each other, and each child really is on his/her own “continuum of learning” anyway. Your karate example sums it up best of all.
Thanks for chiming in on the discussion!
I completely agree with your comments here Lorraine! We have made a deliberate decision at our school to call these types of classrooms “combined” and NOT “split” classrooms! I maintain that I teach students, not a grade. The curriculum provides me with the learning expectations and my job is to facilitate the learning of ALL learners. This will be my first year doing a combined 3/4 class and I’m very excited it. I’m hoping I can show some of my skeptical colleagues as well as parents how beneficial this type of learning environment can be for students. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and expressing them so well!
I love your positive outlook, Tanya! I think that attitude matters a lot. I’m sure you’ll be able to convince many people about the benefits of combined classes.
Good luck! Have a wonderful school year!
Aviva – your viewpoint is refreshing to an administrator who always (and I mean always) hears negative feedback from teachers about teaching a split grade class. The only exception is a JK/SK blend, where staff sees how much the students can teach and learn from each other.
Thanks for your comment, Sue! I’ve heard lots of negative feedback about splits before, and these comments always bother me. I absolutely love teaching split grade classes, and I’ve never felt as though any of my students have suffered academically or socially. I think it’s all in how we approach things. As teachers, I think that we need to be cognizant of our comments as well. If parents and students think that we don’t enjoy our teaching assignment, they’ll react accordingly. If we believe that this is not an ideal situation, parents and students will think so as well. We set the tone and have a surprising impact on how others respond — I’d like the impact to be a positive one.
As something to think about, my own parents run a private school for students with special needs, and all of their classes are split classes. Even when numbers would allow for a straight, they usually create splits. Regardless of the needs of the students, they succeed because of differentiated instruction and small group support. Yes, their numbers are lower than ours (about 15 students per class), but their needs are more (every student is on an IEP, and skill levels may vary as many as 6 grade levels per class — i.e., a student reading at a Kindergarten level versus a Grade 7 level) and there are no educational assistants or in-class learning resource support. If splits work so well in this environment, I think that we need to relook at our beliefs about splits too.
I’m curious to hear what others have to say!
I love your philosophy, your dedication to differentiated instruction….your dedcation to your students. Next year, I will be working closely with our grade 5/6 teacher (I am learning support teacher). We will be co-planning,working collaboratively for the students. I would love to communicate directly with you to share some ideas. I see this as a gret opportunity want this to be treamendously successful for the students. Please email me if you are interested. Thank you!
Thanks Nathalie! I emailed you, and I’d love to connect. I’ll be teaching Grade 1 next year, but would still like the chance to share ideas. So many strategies work well in multiple grades.
Hi, My daughter is going to be in a 4/5 split next year. She will be in grade 5. It appears that there are not many grade 5 kids in her class. Her school is made up completely of split classes and only goes to grade 5. There are two Grade 4/5 splits, but it appears the other class is mainly grade 5’s. She has been in splits before, but has always been the lower grade in the split. I haven’t had an issue/concern with the splits before, however she is a very smart kid and it always at the top of her class.
Would you see any concern with her being in a class where there appears to be very few grade 5’s? I am not one of those meddling parents and have not interferred once in my child’s placement at school as I believe they place the kids in their classes for specific reasons. I found your article above, and just hope that my daughter’s new teacher next year, has the same attitude towards her class.
Thanks for the comment, Sara! I don’t see any concerns at all with this type of placement for your daughter. I’ve taught many splits with various numbers in both grades, and they’ve all been a wonderful experience for me and for the students. In fact, even if there were only a couple of students in one grade in a split class, a split would still always be my ideal.
With our new Social Studies curriculum document, there is a huge focus on inquiry learning. With inquiry, teachers can easily adjust text levels and content as they work with the students to learn. This is why a split can be so ideal! Quality instruction in small groups really help students succeed (in my experience), and a split helps increase “student voice” and “small group instruction” in the classroom. A classroom always has students with various learning needs, and as a teacher, it’s our job to meet all of these needs (regardless of curriculum topics). There are many overlaps between the grade expectations as well, and I’m sure that your child’s teacher will use these overlaps to help with full class mini-lessons.
I wish your daughter the very best next year! I’m sure it will be a great learning opportunity for her!
Thank you for re-assuring me 🙂 This article was fantastic!
Thank you so much, Sara! I’m so glad that you found this post helpful.