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Teaching in the "Middle Zone"

by Steve Cox, April 13, 2005

Mr. Porteous teaching math.Re-enrolments have come in, and in the elementary grades it won’t be long before students are placed in certain classes for next year. Empty spots are quickly filled with new families and soon certain grade options close. It’s important that each child is placed in his/her best possible scenario. A complete teaching team talks about each child and recommends the best spot for each child. They will take into account teaching styles, learning styles, multi-grade benefits, student relationship dynamics, classroom atmosphere and teacher-student dynamics. Next year, it is possible that all of the intermediate students (Gr. 4, 5, 6) will have two classes to choose from.

I always get a few specific teacher requests, but I am surprised that one particular comment seems to pop up every year: “I have concerns with a multi-grade classroom.” If this is lingering in the back of your mind, let me put your mind at ease.

In a single grade classroom, the teacher plans to teach at grade level. This style of teaching is time effective and the teacher is able to present one clear and concise plan for the year in each subject. Unfortunately, any teacher will tell you there are many levels of learners even in a single grade classroom. The teacher still tends to teach to the strand in the middle. Some of the low-achieving students are always struggling, and some of the high-achievers become passive and unchallenged. Teachers have a variety of ways they deal with this, but this in itself can prove to be a real test.

In multi-grade classroom, the division of learners is more obvious, and the teacher preps and marks a variety of groups. Students in either type of classroom tend to fit into natural groupings. Some need a challenge, some need the basics, and some need a chance to develop. In a multi-grade, the material purchased will purposely reflect these types of groupings. For example, when I taught grade one and two together, I ordered three levels of phonics. I had the straight grade one, the easy grade two, and the tougher grade two. No student worked below their grade level, and students that needed a bit of a challenge had the chance to do so. I taught in splits most of my career, so I had my own way of exploiting these opportunities. It ruined me so that even in a straight grade, I kept teaching several group levels.

Of course, the drawback is when several groups are working, there tends to be more activity in the classroom as the teacher works with one group in particular. In this instance, a teacher’s aide (t/a) is provided to help in the classroom in one group or the other. The t/a will also help with the extra teacher prep work that a split generates.

I noticed that students that absolutely loved the multi-grade may have one or more of the following personality traits: they have a “get to it” personality; they enjoy being retaught a previous grade before they see the next progression or conversely they like to see some of next year’s work without having to do it; they enjoy a less tense work atmosphere; they enjoy working ahead; they enjoy getting to know and play with another grade of student; they love to help others with work; they love to work together; they like the inter-grade sport challenges. The list goes on, but you get the point. I believe that the children that went through my split classes had wider learning opportunities than those who sat learning in the middle zone.

You may wish to consider all of these points when you request a certain class, or you may wish to see what we recommend first. We want to see the best for your child and plan for success.

Thank-you for choosing Christian education for your child(ren). The sacrifice you make to send them here will benefit them for eternity.

Steve Cox