Teaching a split grade class is not an easy feat. There are usually two different curriculums to cover, parental and student expectations, as well as always feeling like you are behind. During my teaching career, I have taught grade 7/8 a few times. My first time teaching a split grade was during my first year of teaching! I have developed a list of strategies for teachers to consider when teaching a split grade class.
Focus on Developing a Positive Classroom Culture First
It takes time and patience to establish a working split grade classroom. Focus your energy on classroom norms and management, then work on covering the curriculum. Until a respectful classroom culture is established, it will be difficult to teach one grade while the other works.
One year I was assigned to teach a 7/8 class almost all of the subjects. The students were upset that, unlike their peers, they were not going to get a lot of rotary subjects and had the same teacher (me) most of the day. The only time they saw another teacher was for French, Health, Music, and 1 period of Phys-Ed. The rest of the subjects were taught by me. I worked extremely hard that year to develop a classroom culture that made them happy, excited, and proud to be Class 7-8. By the end of the year, some of the 7s and 8s were real friends. It took a lot of work to get the class to that point, but it was worth it.
Here are some ideas for creating a positive culture during the first week of school.
Create Explicit Procedures
From the first day of school, teach students what they should do if you are not available to answer questions. Create an anchor chart that outlines this process so students can refer to it all year.
Skip The Separate Lessons Where Possible
Don’t plan two separate lessons where possible. Find where the curriculum matches so that you can combine expectations. Have students do the same lesson and then extend it for the older grade.
This will work in English and Math most of the time, but for Science and History/Geography the curriculums for both grades are vastly different and you will need to get creative.
Utilize Independent Work
Try to combine lessons where possible. If not possible, plan out lessons so that one grade is working on an independent or group assignment, while the other grade is getting a teacher-directed lesson. Utilize technology such as videos, podcasts, non-fiction articles, and Google Classroom, to help teach one grade while you teach the other.
If your class is unable to manage themselves during independent work time, then it is important to focus on developing your classroom management skills, as well as clear routines and procedures.
These blog posts can help provide you with some classroom management ideas.
Don’t Try To Do It All
Don’t try to do everything your non-split grade partners are doing. If they are doing something special, ask if your students can take part. Do not expect your grade level partners to accept all these extra students – offer to help prep the lesson/experience or return the favour in some way.
You can’t do it all – cover the key curriculum expectations. When teaching a split grade you cannot cover every single curriculum expectation. Look ahead to make sure you cover the foundational skills that are needed for the next year. This is especially important in Math as the curriculum builds on the previous year. If you are using the Ontario curriculum, it outlines the big ideas in the Overall Expectations section.
If you need help in this area, read this blog post Setting Boundaries By Saying No.
Ask For Help
Depending on how long you have been teaching, asking for help might seem like a daunting task, but it is important that you try.
Get to know your support staff very well – librarians, special education teachers, ESL teachers, coaches, vice-principals, etc. Ask them to help with some lessons, especially with supervising inquiry.
If the support teacher is coming into work with 1 or 2 students, ask them if they can work with the rest of the split grade class for that period, or if they could take a few additional students who need extra support. This might not always be possible, but if they are reviewing content with 2 students – maybe they can take 2 more?
Ask Your Admin
Ask your principal for help. Some principals miss the classroom and love to be invited in to take part in your lessons. Do you need an extra set of hands running an art lesson or a science lab? Ask your principal.
When I teach Grade 8, I always have my students write a formal 5 paragraph essay to get them ready for Grade 9. When it is time for major editing of Grade 8 final essays, I have asked my various principals to come up to my room and participate in the student-teacher editing conferences.
During these conferences, I have students select one body paragraph they want the teacher to read, edit and provide feedback on. The teacher/principal is not reading the full essay. They are happy to help out and enjoy being in the classroom. I ask them for one period per class that I teach.
Mix, Match and Cut Out
If you have planned or purchased some lessons that you don’t feel will work with your classes, then change them. Do not feel pressure to do it all with a split class. Even if the non-split classes are doing a particular lesson – you do not have to teach it in the same way. When I teach split classes, I look for lessons that are engaging and allow students to be independent at times.
This free Rubik’s Cube lesson is fantastic for encouraging independent work.
Cooperative Education Students
Contact your local high school and see if any Grade 11 or 12 co-operative education students would be a good fit for your class. These students can work with a small group while you are teaching a larger group.
Ask for a student teacher from a teachers’ college. Student teachers are great when you have a split grade because they can work with one grade while you work with the other.
Develop Critical Thinkers
Help your students develop their critical thinking skills so they can research and learn on their own when they have a question.
Have Fast Finisher Activities
If students are stuck or have completed their work, and are unsure of their next steps, this can create a classroom management issue. Have a list of quiet activities that students can complete if you are not available: silent reading, Sudoku, video playlists, art sketchbook drawings, etc.
When you are teaching a split grade class you need to think outside of the box and do what works best for your class. If you are looking for more teaching ideas check out this blog post all about Teacher Professional Development Podcasts.