Q:  How will a combined grade classroom affect my child’s learning?

A:  It should be noted that single grade, whole group instruction is an approach that came out of the progression of education movement in the 20th century.  Before the large scale, process-driven organization of education, classrooms, learning, and instruction were always multi-‘grade’.

A combined grade classroom brings both demands and opportunities. 

Its demands include requiring a teacher who is well organized, fluent in their curricular content, is well prepared, and has a strong working relationship with students.  While these demands must be well met in a combined grade classroom, classrooms of equivalent or a larger number of students have similar demands.

The opportunities for students in a combined grade classroom include:

  • A combined grade classroom provides students with a larger learning community than would otherwise exist. This enables more friendships, the mentoring of younger students by older students, and a richer spread of personalities within the classroom.
  • A combined class facilitates increased instructional differentiation as students are grouped easily with instruction based on their achievement and not their grade level.
  • A combined grade classroom also allows the looping of instruction by the same teacher over a two year period, allowing a teacher’s knowledge of a student’s strengths and needs to inform the relationship and instruction over a longer, continuous period.
  • Student ownership of learning is a natural outcome of a combined grade classroom as the relationship between the teacher and individual students or working groups of students is much closer than a classroom where whole group instruction predominates. This setting requires students to learn to work independently or cooperatively with other students on specific assignments.  This ownership and independence is a key outcome of a combined grade classroom and classical education in general.
  • Mentoring younger students in a combined grade classroom promotes responsibility, communication, and generosity as a student is charged with the support of other classmates.

Combined grade classroom pedagogy:

Differentiation of learning is quickly becoming the key instructional strategy as modern education learns that whole group instruction often leaves two-thirds of the classroom either struggling or unchallenged.  Combined grade classrooms make differentiation an instructional environment where all students are able to be engaged at their current level of achievement.  In a combined grade classroom teachers must identify learning groups and plot a trajectory of learning objectives for each.  In a combined grade classroom these objectives may involve resources of a particular grade level, a textbook, reading lists, etc.  In this setting, a student’s learning is much less likely to be constrained by the typical grade-level span of achievement if they need instruction at a level outside this range—either above or below it.  Differentiation in this setting has a teacher teaching in a small group the majority of the time, following a typical subject-based schedule of periods.  During a typical period, students will naturally participate in different modes of learning including receiving teacher lead instruction, working collaboratively with another or other students, or working independently.

St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic School