Combo classes = hate 'em

Discussion in 'General Education' started by YoungTeacherGuy, Aug 22, 2017.

  1. YoungTeacherGuy

    YoungTeacherGuy Phenom

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    A little background: the cap in grades K-3 is 24:1.

    Currently, all kindergarten classes at my site are bursting at the seams with 28-29 kiddos. Additionally, all first grade classes are sitting comfortably at 14-15 children. Not for long, though. We've been given direction from the district office that we will create a K/1 combo class. All first grade classes will be at 24 students and the kinder classes will also go back down to 24 students. The remaining students will be placed in the combo class.

    This is not going to go over well with parents. Sigh.
     
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  3. agdamity

    agdamity Fanatic

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    Can you choose who goes in the combo class? Combo classes are never easy, especially once the school year starts, but perhaps you could pull high K and low 1 students and spin it as a way to better meet their child's needs.
     
  4. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

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    I'd be careful about skimming off all the "independent learners". This leaves other classes devoid of model students. Also, another common practice you should avoid is putting "lower ability" students in the upper part of the combo. This makes the class a pariah for the first grade parents. Sometimes other teachers can resent the combo if it has all great kids with no IEPs or other issues.

    My suggestion is to put a healthy mix of both ages and make it a slightly smaller class. Perhaps offer some relief to the combo teacher by having students move to another room for science/social studies lessons.
     
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  5. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    We've occasionally had K/1 combos. As with any split, the parents of the kids on the low end of the split are happier than those on the high end. Admin has usually been able to spin it by having a slightly smaller class size.
     
  6. otterpop

    otterpop Phenom

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    Does it not work, number wise, to have one of the first grade teachers move down to K?

    I'm not sure how many classes of each you have, but if you have four classes of each:
    15*4=60 (first grade)
    28*4=112 (kindergarten)

    Move one from first grade down, and:
    60/3=20 kids per class
    112/5=23 kids per class

    It also worked when I did the math for three classes of each... can you do that?
     
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  7. TrademarkTer

    TrademarkTer Groupie

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    That would NEVER fly in my district in a million years. There would be a line of parents out the door complaining to the board of education. I do feel there has to be a better way.
     
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  8. FourSquare

    FourSquare Fanatic

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    This!
     
  9. YoungTeacherGuy

    YoungTeacherGuy Phenom

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    Here's the directive we were given from the assistant superintendent:

    You currently have 4 kinder classes and 4 first grade classes. In order to balance the classes, the teacher with the least seniority (per the teacher's union agreement) will be automatically moved to the combo class position. Therefore, beginning Monday, you will have 3 first grade classes, 4 kinder classes, and 1 kinder/first grade combo class.

    Last students to enroll are automatically placed in the combo class.


    So basically, last in = first out (for all parties).

    Sad.
     
  10. otterpop

    otterpop Phenom

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    Sorry... that sucks! Especially when it seems like some other solutions could be found. It's rough when mandates come in that you have no control over.

    In situations like this, I think it's helpful to start the announcement with "Due to enrollment numbers, the district has decided..." or something like that. Not that playing the blame game is good, but it does help you deal with some of the flack you'll get from teachers and parents.

    It's weird that you don't have a say in who gets moved, teachers or students. What if a teacher volunteers?

    On the up side... I heard of a district that did a "pre-first grade" class with a group of kinders who were not quite ready to move up to first.

    Hope the transition goes as well as it can for your school.
     
  11. otterpop

    otterpop Phenom

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    Also... as a teacher, I think I'd like to give a combo class a try. I may hate it, but I think it would be an interesting challenge.
     
  12. yellowdaisies

    yellowdaisies Fanatic

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    My school has a K/1 combo this year, too - but because our kinder enrollment was so low! We have 1.5 kinder classes and 2.5 first grades.
     
  13. MissScrimmage

    MissScrimmage Aficionado

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    Yes! One of the main complaints from parents about combo classes is that the weak older students are put with strong younger students. If their grade 1 student is put in a combo class, they assume it is because their child is weak and needs another year of kinder. It's better to create that class like you would any class - a wide variety of needs, skills and abilities. One year I was going to do a 1-2 combo and when I assured parents that we would create the class with the same considerations and work to meet the needs of all students they were more comfortable with the plan.
     
  14. cupcakequeen

    cupcakequeen Comrade

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    While in college I had an internship at a school that had a truly insane number of combo classes. The had two K/1 combos, two 2/3 combs and inexplicably a 3/4 comb, plus another 4/5 combo. Each grade level had at lease one other regular, non combo class as well. As far as I know they were one of the only schools in that district that did this, and I'm not sure why anyone thought it was a good idea. It may come as no surprise to anyone, but they had horrible test scores and a poor overall reputation. A girl I graduated with got a job there last year and quit after Christmas.
     
  15. MissCeliaB

    MissCeliaB Aficionado

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    Our K kids still nap! I hate that those kids will likely miss on some of the traditional kindergarten memories and routines.
     
  16. FourSquare

    FourSquare Fanatic

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    IS it a directive though? Could you suggest the other way? It just doesn't seem logical.
     
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  17. AmyMyNamey

    AmyMyNamey Comrade

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    No disrespect, friend, but this is prioritizing what the situation may do for you. Think, instead, of what the situation may do to the children.

    Teaching whilst standing on my head may be a challenge, but it is not in the children's best interest, as I would be teaching less effectively than normal.
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2017
  18. YoungTeacherGuy

    YoungTeacherGuy Phenom

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    Good news is that the teacher with the least seniority saw this coming.

    The parents are actually taking the news surprisingly well.

    Now, I need to make certain that the teacher gets all the kinder TEs, consumables, manipulatives, etc by Monday! Also, we need to hire an additional paraprofessional. Sigh.
     
  19. YoungTeacherGuy

    YoungTeacherGuy Phenom

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    I'm only the assistant principal, so I let my principal make the suggestions. They (district office) expect the APs to be seen and not heard.

    I do know, however, that the teacher's union was consulted before this decision was made. I'm fairly certain they made other suggestions.
     
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  20. MissScrimmage

    MissScrimmage Aficionado

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    A lot of schools in my area choose to do combo classes. When the philosophy behind the structure is truly embraced, it can be a great model. When it's done hastily or simply because of numbers, it doesn't always work well. But it's also not the worst model. I would rather teach a combo class of 20 students than a single grade class of 30.

    The directive on how to organize this is interesting - have never heard that one before. But, with the right teacher and leadership it can be a great thing.
     
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  21. YoungTeacherGuy

    YoungTeacherGuy Phenom

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    Miss Scrimmage, can you educate me on combo classes on how they can be a good model? I'm not trying to be rude, snarky, or passive aggressive--I genuinely want to know how your district makes these classes "work".
     
  22. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

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    This means the teacher of the combo will have the most transitory students. I would refuse to teach it. I hate it when all the strong kids and families are stripped out of my class.
     
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  23. YoungTeacherGuy

    YoungTeacherGuy Phenom

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    The agreement that the teacher's union came to with the district (memorandum of understanding) is that the teacher with the least seniority automatically teachers the combo class. This particular person is a 2nd year probationary teacher, so I highly doubt she'd refuse to teach the class. It's pretty much take it or leave it.
     
  24. MissScrimmage

    MissScrimmage Aficionado

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    We call them multilevel classrooms, which could describe any classroom. When the teacher and administrator can see a multilevel classroom as having the same needs as any other classroom, it becomes more manageable. When this approach is chosen, it is with the long term in mind. Creating multi grade classrooms for a single year in response to population do not always work as well.

    Our multilevel classrooms do not necessarily cover two grades worth of curriculum in a year. Most teachers alternate between science/social studies (so teach the grade 1 one year and then grade 2 the following year) since the teacher has each group for 2 years. In ELA, especially in the early years, there is such a developmental continuum of skills, that every one is working at their own pace any way. (We do not do mandated reading programs/basals/kits, etc.) In math, most teachers do try to cover both sets of math standards, but how great for a strong kinder to get to work on grade 1 math already and a weaker grade 1 to get to review some kinder work. The class is rarely separated into their grade levels. Especially in the K-2, some students do not know who is in which grade in the class, because it is viewed as a single community. Students are encouraged to work at their own pace, like in any other classroom.

    One of the reasons it may work so well here, is that we have a lot of professional autonomy on what and how to teach.

    From our provincial support document on multi level learning:

    "Although research is not available for short-term combined classes, a wealth of information exists regarding multi-age classrooms where students are with the same teacher for two or more years. Major reviews of this research into multi-age learning show several consistent trends. In reviewing 57 Canadian and American studies, Pavan found that in 91 percent of the studies, students in multigrade classrooms performed as well as or better than students in single-grade classrooms academically (22-25). Their greatest gains tended to be in language and reading. Lolli attributes this higher literacy achievement to the integration of curricula and the construction of meaning where language skills and strategies are tools used to learn content. The benefits of an integrated approach to learning are also well supported by brain-based research and Gardner’s multiple intelligences model (Politano and Paquin; Lazear; Jensen, Teaching; Gardner). In affective and social indicators, students in multi-age classrooms strongly outperform students in single-grade classrooms (Miller, “Multiage Grouping”; Pratt; Connell). They score higher in study habits, social interaction, self-motivation, cooperation, and attitudes to school (Gayfer)."
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2017
  25. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    Split classes are very common in my area; due in part to hard caps on class size in grades 1-3. I've taught a split 6 or 7 times. The philosophy has always been similar to what MissScrimmage has posted; the key for me was always to not try to think of teaching 2 classes, but to teach one. We are expected to always differentiate to meet the needs of all of our students, and I have never taught a single grade class in which there wasn't an ability gap of 3 to 4 years; that may expand somewhat in a split, but not a lot. As in any room, the students are met where they are and are provided with the opportunities they need to grow.

    I've had a single grade class for the past couple of years, but have volunteered to teach a split if needed in order to stay in my preferred grade.
     
  26. otterpop

    otterpop Phenom

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    Oh, I get that... it's not an ideal situation at all and should be avoided if possible. But a lot of situations in education are not ideal.

    A teacher might also say, "I'd like to teach struggling readers." It doesn't mean that they want there to be struggling readers... just that they'd be willing to help.
     
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  27. otterpop

    otterpop Phenom

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    I observed in a combo class once of 2nd and 3rd. I really do think it was valuable. The teacher taught the kids for 2 years, 2nd and then 3rd. So she got to know them well. Also, she differentiated a lot - you'd have to - and it really seemed like the 3rd graders were good role models for the younger kids. Maybe it was more beneficial for the younger kids, but I think it's good when various ages can work together.

    This was a smaller, rural school, and class sizes made this arrangement a necessity.

    K/1 would be hard though, since those kinders are learning what school even is still.
     
  28. otterpop

    otterpop Phenom

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    Yeah... that's really rough. :oops:
     
  29. yellowdaisies

    yellowdaisies Fanatic

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    Is this a CA thing? Some of the people on here seem really surprised, but creating combos due to numbers is SO common here, at least in my experience.

    Of course, we also have a billion kids (ok, 32-34) in upper grade classes, so... ;)
     
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  30. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

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    Outstanding discussion, MissScrimage! The only point I would disagree with is the placement of lower ability older students and higher ability younger students into combo. I really like the point that it works best when done for more than one year. I've had many combos, and love having the youngers back the second year as the olders.
     
  31. YoungTeacherGuy

    YoungTeacherGuy Phenom

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    Honestly, from what I've seen here in CA, combo classes are based solely on enrollment.
     
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  32. Backroads

    Backroads Aficionado

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    Huh. My niece attends a combo class of K-3 in one room, but it's a rural school... very different.
     
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  33. DAH

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    [QUOTE="YoungTeacherGuy, [/QUOTE]

    The combo class was the class composition style of early America. Thank God we're not there anymore, but just imagine having K-8 in one room!
    A teacher with superior ORGANIZATIONAL SKILLS can do this. And we're only talking about two levels.
     
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  34. MathGuy82

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    In my opinion, it would be too much to do any kind of combo class. I understand people try to condense because of increased enrollment but students and teachers will suffer. I mean it would be like me teaching algebra 1 and algebra 2 in one class. That means dividing the class and having to do two different lectures/instructions while monitoring and making sure no one gets confused. At times they would be working on somewhat similar topics but half the class is going to be ahead and the other is still learning. The only way that would work is if combo classes were independent study time or lab time, like maybe when kindergarten/1st grade do independent activities where the teacher monitors and only answers questions while they do worksheets/read/color ect... Otherwise, I think at least at times, there definitely needs to be separate classrooms for each subject/grade. Maybe like divide the first two-three hours of the day where 1st grade is in one class and kindergarten is in another class. Then when study time or independent activities occur, then you could move them all in the same class. Teaching though new material, needs to be independent.
     
  35. MathGuy82

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    The combo class was the class composition style of early America. Thank God we're not there anymore, but just imagine having K-8 in one room!
    A teacher with superior ORGANIZATIONAL SKILLS can do this. And we're only talking about two levels.
    [/QUOTE]
    I agree! Now days with standards, observations, being told what and how to teach, it would not work today. I couldn't imagine doing a K-8 or 9-12 in one class with all different subjects and being the one responsible for everyone's learning.
     
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  36. Always__Learning

    Always__Learning Comrade

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    MathGuy, in Canada it is actually quite common to have a Algebra 1/2 class together. The expectation is that you do not run it as 2 seperate classes but that you teach using differentiation in a manner that meets all the standards for both classes and have students work at an entry point to the material that is accessible to them and meets the standards of the course they are enrolled in.
     
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  37. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    When my son was in grade 11, his French class was a grade 11/12 split. Not ideal perhaps, but the teacher made it work well. Due to parent complaints, however, the split option wasn't offered when he was in Grade 12 and the school couldn't offer a straight-grade class as only 5 students wanted to take the class. In order to get the Grade 12 French credit, which was very important to him, he had to travel to another high school in the middle of the day to take it there. (And, the child of the parent who complained, decided to drop French a couple of weeks into the semester).
     
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  38. MathGuy82

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    Interesting, Always____Learning! Do you have to do two different lectures, or do you divide the marker board up saying this is algebra 1 and this is algebra 2? Anyway, that's good it works! I think it would be hard unless they had an online program or it was more self taught.
     
  39. Always__Learning

    Always__Learning Comrade

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    Typically teachers use a variety of strategies. It can be challenging but it is the expectation that as educators we make it work. I would say typically we do not teach it as 2 different lectures but would instead just provide variations that meet each courses' needs. If you look at the discussion I've been participating in about reading and math you'll get a better sense of how using things like vertical non-permanent surfaces, less questions in class, spiraled curriculum, etc are the structure we use to make it viable.

    In rural Canadian schools, I would say at least 25% of high school courses are run as split classes.
     
  40. otterpop

    otterpop Phenom

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    I've never heard of split high school classes like that here in the US, but have known of several classes that have been taught remotely or via computer when the school did not have a high enough number of students to hire a teacher for the course.

    I knew someone who took HS Spanish back in the early 2000s with a teacher on video chat. They had a very limited number of students, and the school would sit them in a classroom with a webcam and computer screen while the teacher taught the class remotely.
     
  41. Always__Learning

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    Otterpop, we also have courses like you are describing. Many rural high schools in Canada have 200-300 kids so there just isn't the money to run everything as a separate course.
     

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