Friday, March 06, 2009

Subbing for the Middle Class

So, I subbed for a fourth/fifth grade combination class in my little middle class island community here in the Bay Area and found a number of differences from my old school.

1. One of the kids had an iPhone. A fourth grader. Had an iPhone. Enough said.

2. The kids were all very concerned about the economy. Very concerned. Interestingly, I would imagine their parents are hit harder than those who are already living off unemployment/welfare/SSI.

3. It came up in discussion that a lot of the kids didn't know what "renting" a house was, or what a "landlord" was, but they did know the term "mortgage."

4. There was ethnic diversity, but it was very different. Instead of being black and Latino with a few Vietnamese kids, the kids were white, Middle Eastern, and Chinese. There was one black kid and he was totally the stereotype; single mom, behavior problem, can't sit still, etc. Needless to say, he was my favorite, because I am used to that.

5. Two out of the 22 or so kids were adopted and very open about it - totally comfortable with being adopted.

6. They had a music class.

7. They had a longer lunch and recesses.

One more thing was the way that this school dealt with combination classes. Combination classes are a teacher's nightmare; almost as bad as roving teachers. My old school district actually understood that it was basically impossible to teach and assess two different curricula at the same time, and had the teacher teach just one, usually the higher grade. That has its problems, of course, but is much more manageable for the teacher. Except, of course, you have kids with big chunks of missing information and then when they go to the next grade they are bored out of their minds because they've already done this exact same curriculum.

This district has the teacher teach both curricula, which may be better for the students, but requires a lot of "OK, fourth graders, read quietly while I teach the fifth graders..." as well as double work in lesson planning, assessments, and carrying around two sets of huge heavy teachers' editions. Both ways are pretty bad. Has anyone come up or seen a better way to have combination classes?

1 comment:

LindsayDayton said...

The problem is not the combination class, it's the curriculum and the way we think about these things--bounded, defined, grade-level.

I have always found it ridiculous that such a thing as "grade level" even exists. As if every child in every classroom in America is preprogrammed with what concepts become accessible to them on what day.

My experience has been that in even a single-grade classroom, a teacher should expect an ability range of five years, at minimum. Add gifted or other exceptional students, and that can easily double.

The solution, in my opinion, is to empower the teacher in two ways. First, teachers should have the freedom to determine the curriculum as they see fit, based on assessment and culture of the classroom. Second, the teachers should be sufficiently trained and experienced in differentiated teaching strategies so that each student can get what they need, even if it is different from the kid sitting next to them.