Many districts choose to handle class sizes in a school with combo classes. For the last seven years, I have been teaching a 4th and 5th grade combo class. Sometimes the numbers are close with 15 students in one grade and 16 students in the other grade. However, I have had challenges where I had 10 of one grade and 21 students in the other.
One of the biggest obstacles is setting your physical space and schedule to accommodate two grades in one room. The first thing I focus on is where I will teach and where the students will sit. I have chosen to set my room up with two U-shapes with the desks. This allows me to bring the grade up to the carpet and teach while the other grade works independently at their desks.
Of course, it is not ideal. The independent group has to work quietly while I instruct the group on the carpet. And occasionally, I have eavesdroppers from the independent group. But overall, we make it work.
One of the best tips I can pass to you is to start immediately. I start day one with working with each grade separately so it becomes second nature in our room.
I teach math, language arts, social studies, and science. Although some teachers teach 4th grade curriculum one year and 5th grade curriculum the next (except math), I chose not to do this for two reasons. Each year, some children move in my room in 5th grade and 4th graders may leave. This can cause a student to repeat the curriculum unnecessarily. Second, I have taught both curriculums for several years, so I feel I can handle all the preps for two grades.
The next thing I focus on is the schedule. Since I differentiate all the subjects (except most of the language arts), I have to set a daily schedule where I meet with both grades during the day. I remind my students that the other 4th and 5th grade teachers spend about an hour with their students. I, however, spend about 30 minutes per subject with them.
I am always balancing the separate teaching with the whole class teaching. I try to do as much together as possible since we have so many things that are divided up by grade level. Below is a picture of the daily schedule on the first day of school. At that time students are doing things together.
There are other times that different grades are doing different things so I will label the schedule with the grade. The other thing I do is alternate who does the math lesson first each day. So usually next to math is the grade that is going first for the day.
Another added fun in my combo class is my students have different field trips. Some field trips we do together, like Star of India and Biztown, because they require a whole class of students. Other field trips are done for specific grade like Geology and Mock Trial.
However, you decide to design your physical space or your schedule, you have to take into account what will work for you. All of our classrooms are different and some things work for some and not for others. Hopefully, you got some ideas that could help you if you are teaching a combo class.
Thanks for stopping by!