Multi-Age, Split, Combination
(Whatever You Call It) Teaching
So you've just found out you have been assigned to teach a combination classroom. I can imagine you are slightly panicked, wondering how you are ever going to do this. How can I do two grades (or more) at once and meet all the needs of the kids? How can I teach two curriculums at the same time... a lot of what ifs and hows!?!
Let me assure you... YOU CAN DO IT! Multi-age teaching is not to be seen as a burden but taken on as a challenge. A challenge that you can succeed in and come to love. I've always believed in the philosophy that if I have to do something that I am not familiar with, I'm going to take it on as a challenge, go full force, and make it work!
My career as a multi-age, split, combination classroom teacher started with my very first assignment... student teaching. I student taught in a 1/2 multi-age classroom. This classroom had 42 kids in a co-teaching experience. Two teachers, an aide, and myself, were all involved.
That experience landed me my first job in a 1/2 split classroom. From there I have gone on to teach in split classrooms for seven years! 1/2, 2/3 and 3/4 combinations. So far only three years of my career have been in a single grade classroom.
Believe me, my first year in my own 1/2 classroom was not easy, not because I had two classrooms but because it was my first year teaching. I did not have anyone to guide me through how to deal with two grade levels.
When I found out I was going to do another 1/2 split at another school in my district, I thought I have to make this better. I have to find a way that this is going to work for both me and my students. And that is what I did. I set out to perfect how I can be a successful multi-age teacher. Over the next four years I continued to have splits and I loved each year.
How I Make it Work
The reality is, a split classroom is no different than a straight grade. You are going to have students of all different levels regardless of two grades or not.
The age old fall back is to put high/independent workers into a multi-age classroom. For a few years I did have these kids. My last several years I actually requested students of all background and abilities. Seeing that I run my classroom no different than a straight grade, high/independent kids were not necessary.
My last two years in a 3/4 split I had students reading levels ranging from 1st to 6th grade. I had an 80 point spread on my MAP scores. However, when I look at the three years I was 4th grade, I had just about the same amount of spread of abilities. I think when you take on split teaching, you need to step back and not look at your students being in two grade levels but rather the range in individual abilities. Regardless of teaching situation you most likely are going to have a wide range, that is just the reality of today's teaching.
I was lucky that we had curriculum requirements but was free to structure my classroom the way it would work for me. I highly suggest you sit down with your administrator to figure out what is expected of you. What subjects can you combine, what is separate? The more you can combine, the better.
I follow a Balanced Literacy format. My reading and writing mini-lessons are done whole group. Your individualization/grade level standards will be met during writing conferences and guided reading time. I also used the Daily 5 format. I found that the structure of Daily 5 helped with giving me the time to individual conference and meet with groups.
Even with my Guided Reading, students were in heterogeneous groups. I had both grade mixed into reading groups based off their F&P reading level.
Math was the tough one. My first year teaching I nearly went insane jumping back and forth between the two grades. Coming back my second year I vowed not to make myself insane again. This is how I developed the Guided Math format. I found that meeting in small groups for math allowed me to meet the curriculum requirements of two grades but also kept me sane. Even when I moved to a straight grade, I still kept the Guided Math format.
To learn more on how to handle math in a multi-age classroom check out my posts on
How To Start...
I think the hardest two subjects to figure out are social studies and science. The first several years of split teaching these two curriculums were the same. I was lucky enough that I was able to send one grade level to the other straight grade classrooms for science. That took one curriculum set off my hands.
Eventually, thanks to the district, was able to teach science whole group. Split classes had separate science units that could be taught whole class.
Whatever your split is... I wish you luck and assure you that you can make it a successful experience for both you and your students. Remember that small group/individual conferencing is the key to making this successful (as it would be in a straight classroom). Talk with your teammates and administrator to see how they can support you. One last thing... remember to keep a positive, I can do this attitude!