Teaching a combo class isn’t easy. Managing the curriculum alone can be challenging. I have been teaching a fourth and fifth grade combo class for the last seven years and most days I do it well, but some days I don’t.
The teacher who taught the combo class before me would differentiate math only. All other subject areas she would teach whole class. She would teach 4th grade social studies curriculum one year and then 5th grade curriculum the next year. This, of course, is problematic because some students might leave the school or come into the class at the wrong time and the curriculum would be repeated. Nothing worse than a child who has two years in a row of the same science lessons.
I decided that I would differentiate math, social studies, and science for each grade. I only do language arts with both classes. And even then I do different novel readings that go with our social studies curriculum.
For math I use NYEngage. So I have two full sets of binders with lessons, problem sets, homework, exit tickets, and assessments for each grade. I also have both social studies and science curriculums. Sometimes I grab the wrong binder (wrong grade), copy the wrong number of sheets I need, and just get confused who has a test Friday. But I ask the students to give me grace since I am prepping twice as many preps than other teachers.
Some field trips are separated, like a trip to the courts or going to a Rancho to learn about the history of California. But then others I will do with all the students. It depends on the activity and availability. Luckily my principal will give me a substitute to say back and teach the grade not going. Other times, I have had to deploy one group of kids to other teachers for a few hours. Usually, three to four students would work independently in the back of another teacher’s classroom. I can only do this when there are enough teachers willing to help me out.
Language Arts is the only subject area I can do with everyone at the same time. All the students are reading different reading books and the writing curriculum is very similar for both 4th and 5th grade. Below is a picture of my students doing a gallery walk of the Thanksgiving stories they all wrote.
When I do activities, like the volume (5th grade) and area (4th grade), I will conduct them together and differentiate them too. In this center, students had to calculate what they thought the volume of M & M’s were in the jar, while others had to calculate the area of the brownies.
Finally, I create my own curriculum for my classroom. I have created math activities for the entire year for holidays and different math concepts. While I teach math to one grade the other grade works on math activities I have created. And vice versa.
I am grateful that I am very familiar with both 4th and 5th grade curriculums and that I am very organized. It is not easy teaching two grades at the same time, but I do the best I can and most days I am successful.