As the new school year begins, many teachers are finding that they are being assigned combined grades classes. Combined classes group children from two or more consecutive grade levels into one classroom.
Schools combine classes for a variety of reasons. In small rural schools, combining grades are necessary because of the low number of students. In larger urban schools, uneven grade enrollments and caps on classroom sizes can only be addressed by combining different grades to balance class sizes. For example, when all the grade 5 and grade 6 classes are filled and there are still, say, 11 students in grade 5 and 13 students in grade 6, then these 24 students are combined into a grade 5/6 split class.
All classrooms include students with a range of skills and abilities. Combined classes are neither better nor worse than single grade classes. It’s simply one of the many ways schools meet students’ academic and social development needs.
Principals and school administrators consider a variety of factors when grouping children into classes including:
- Learning styles
- Social skills
- Academic needs
- And many other factors
All classrooms, whether single grade or combined, include students performing at a range of achievement levels. Every school strives to create a classroom environment that supports the needs of all students.
Although many parents worry that their children’s needs will not be met, research suggests otherwise. Several studies have found that students in combined classes do just as well as students in single grade classes. In fact, some students actually do better in language and reading.
Studies also show that children in combined classes have more opportunities for emotional and social growth. The rich social environment helps students:
- Learn how to work on their own and as part of a team
- Build leadership abilities as they work together and help each other
- Develop decision-making skills, and become more self-motivated and responsible
- Learn in an environment that reflects the real world. The diverse ideas and opinions of classmates help expand students’ perspectives.
Every day, in both single-grade classes and combined grades, teachers work with large groups, small groups, and individual students. But students in combined classrooms also benefit from a broader support structure. Younger children can ask students from the higher grade for help. In turn, older students learn by explaining problems for their younger peers. In fact, your children can help higher achieving and older students reinforce their knowledge and positive social behaviors.
Teachers use many different strategies to teach students in combined grades. They may:
- Introduce a common topic then give each grade a different task or problem.
- Divide students into groups to study different problems and report back to the class. These groups can be flexible, including students with varied interest and skills.
- Bring students together for activities like health, physical education, and the arts.
School boards have developed strategies that help teachers reach a range of learners. For example, teams from every school in the Los Angeles area have been trained in differentiating instruction. This is a strategy that looks at the individual learning needs and progress of each student. The teacher can identify the range of needs in the classroom and plan a program that meets the needs of all the students.