Saturday, August 17, 2013

I Survived My New Class and a Couple of Thoughts about Teaching a Combination

Of course I survived! Of course! But it was a pretty wild ride for a few days last week. Mainly, just putting it all together so fast was a challenge. That, and a serious lack of sleep, made me feel like I was chasing a bus... but not quite moving fast enough to catch it. The week seemed long, and I admit that I was counting the hours until the weekend starting at lunchtime on Friday.

After school on Friday, I worked in my room a little, came home, had a delicious and healthy dinner and slept eight hours. This morning I got up and had a nice, long run, some pineapple and a poached egg, and the longest shower ever. I'm feeling pretty recovered and ready for more!

The school schedule will be adjusted sometime soon, but for now, my students are dismissed at two different times, have recess on two different playgrounds, and arrive at two different times. It's been a tad challenging. It's been years since I taught a combination class, and I remembered a few tricks to share with anyone getting ready to start teaching a combination class.

First, name tags... I used striped name tags for my kindergartners and polka dot name tags for my first graders on the first day. Now, after three days with my *PERFECTLY ADORABLE AND DELIGHTFUL* students, I know which children are kinders and which are first graders. But those name tags really helped the first day.

Second, I did use different paper to color code some of the notes that went home with the families. Yes, that seems so minor... but trust me on this, it helps with organization.

And lastly, I am not seating my students by grade. Think about a regular, old class of students who are all in the same grade. I'm thinking about my class two years ago. I had students who were decoding perfectly, able to comprehend up to a second grade level, behaving well, listening and ready to learn, beginning to understand multiplication, and writing complete paragraphs with every word spelled correctly. I also had students who were barely writing their names, didn't know all the letters/sounds, couldn't count 10 objects accurately, rolled on the carpet during read aloud time, and were frequently hitting other students. I also had one who was constantly on the lookout for staples or paper clips or anything he could try to stick into an outlet. And I had a biter.

Huge range of abilities, huh? Well, I think my class this year has a similar range (though so far, no biters, and my new room has very few outlets!) And it shouldn't matter that the students are in different grades. No, they won't be taught based on the same standards, and they won't all be doing the same thing all the time. That's called differentiation, and it's one of my strengths. Since I teach reading, math, and writing using a Workshop Model, it will be fairly simple to differentiate in those subjects.

My real worry with separating students and making it clear who is in which grade... it does nothing for the sense of community in the class. We are all one, amazing class. And yes, some students are a little older and can do a little more. But we are one class. I've had first graders with fewer skills that my kindergartners this year. And I've had a few kindergartners over the years whose abilities surpassed my first graders this year. No matter.

I love my new class, and they're all going to learn. Together.

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