How do you teach all those grades at the same time? This is probably the most common question that I get about A One-Room Schoolhouse. Teaching multiple grades in one classroom has been a learning curve for me. But, during this year, I have unlocked a few simple tricks that have helped me teach “all those grades at the same time!”
To begin with, I had a plan before this adventure began. You can read all about it here. Oh, and also here. This plan did not work. I should probably hide those blog posts, but I’ll keep it up for a while, to show my own learning.
I told all the parents at our back-to-school night before we began, that it would take about three weeks to get everything running smoothly. I feel like I kept to that timeline and by the end of the third week, we had thrown out the checklist linked in the blog posts above and fully engaged in what I call our colorful stations.
During our morning language arts block, we have two groups of students working simultaneously through the classroom like gears in a machine. Both groups are working on completing their language arts activities, but using two different systems.
Don’t worry, it really is very simple.
Before the two groups break into their separate parts we work together as buddies. A big kid and a little pair up to work on phonics cards, sight word ladders, and reading. Each student does sight words and phonics cards for 2 or 3 minutes each and then reads aloud for ten minutes.
Simple… and then the littles have those activities done for the day!
Now… on to our colorful stations!
Our younger students work through four different colorful stations. We just call them colorful stations because each station has a color.
At one station they listen to an audiobook being read aloud, at another station they complete their handwriting, at the next, they practice their spelling words, and finally, at a fourth station, they work with me on their lesson from The Good in the Beautiful language arts curriculum book.
Each station lasts between 15 to 20 minutes. When I finish with the group that I am working at my table they rotate to the next station. Each student keeps a small index card in a plastic sleeve at their desk that tells them the order of their stations.
At times I can even adjust their colorful stations to help them go in a different order. I do this to help them manage their behavior, if they get too talkative with one of their station mates, or to adjust their rotation based on student absences. This also allows me to keep grouping dynamic as students flow through the curriculum.
Our Schoolhouse students have adapted very well to these colorful stations as it is easy for them to monitor and keep track of where they need to be. They also enjoy the frequent changes and predictable routine.
(Trust me, they love the routine! They got a bit mad at my when I switched up the activities at one of their stations!)
One key to the success of the colorful stations is this: open-ended. The activities at these stations do not have a definite ending. They keep listening to stories, keep practicing their spelling words, or go on to the next handwriting page. This allows me to work with a group for as little or as much as I need to.
Here are a few other tips that have made this system really work well.
#1: Use great YouTube read-aloud channels. There are some horrible read-aloud channels on YouTube. It took to a while to find the ones I really liked. I wanted playlists by subject/holiday. Next, I wanted a no-frills approach (just the story, please). Finally, I wanted lots of content. We started on The Good and the Beautiful channel, but we quickly had all of those done. I have found that I really like Brightly Storytime and Happy Cultivated.
#2: When I have an extra parent helper, I send them to the spelling station. When students feel they have mastered the words that are on their individualized spelling lists, they take a test. If they get them all right, they get some new words. In my mind, these are practiced tests or “soft tests”. We do “real” tests at the end of every unit of language arts books. But this system allows for a dynamic, individualized approach to spelling. Each student can spend as much time as they need on a list (each unit has a list when you are doing The Good and the Beautiful), and those that are ready can move to the “extra” spelling words in the back of their course books!
(I even have one stellar speller that has done all the spelling words in her book and is work on customized spelling words of my choosing!)
#3: My final tip is pretty simple and was inspired by so many littles losing teeth! Really! I was getting a little disappointed in the quality of the handwriting work students were doing, so I thought the handwriting fairy needed to come for a visit. Every day at recess (or when I get to it) the handwriting fairy comes and checks each student’s handwriting page for the day. Based on neatness, completeness, and correctness, the fairy chooses one or two students to win for the day. The win(ners) get a small prize like a fun-size candy bar, bag of pretzels, or fruit leather. You may ask, does it work? Yes! So simple, but the kids beg me to do handwriting fairy! They proudly show me their work. The quality of this station went through the roof when we started this little reward system.
What Are the Older Students Doing?
At the beginning of this endeavor, I also had the older students doing a colorfully prioritized checklist. This also did not work due to too much flexibility and a lack of accountability.
Every Thursday all our older kids turn in their work. I grade their work and make suggestions. This provides accountability that their work is done neatly, completely, and correctly as I require. Then I do a customized weekly checklist for each student in the older levels (levels 3 and above). These are the things each student needs to complete daily.
My expectations are clear and customized for each student. They generally do the following: one or two coursebook lessons, geography and grammar cards, (depending on the level) poetry or ladder memorization, handwriting, typing and independent reading.
I can modify and change these checklists daily as needed based on their progress and need to make corrections. Level three students still meet with me for their lessons daily, but level four and above work more independently through their lessons. They are aided for their readings and dictations by our parent volunteers.
I just throw these checklists in a spiral notebook. Easy peasy, nothing fancy.
I do the same thing for math. In math they need to do their daily math minute review and a certain number of math pages from their course books. This is simple it helps and them manage themselves and creates classroom independence. My expectations are clear, and I can easily double check and make sure that they have completed the required work.
What About Math for the Littles?
Math works much the same way as language arts. Although we do not have a colorful station system, they are still working through different activities. The only reason I do not have stations during math this year is that I don’t have many math levels.
When we come in from morning recess, each student starts on their daily dose from The Good and the Beautiful math curriculum. This gets them right to work. I answer questions from the older students on their daily review and the level ones go to the carpet to meet with me for their lesson.
My kindergartener gets a nice one-on-one lesson with our parent volunteer. (Parent volunteers are always comfortable with kindergarten math, sometimes they are not comfortable with Algebra!)
I only have level two math students on Monday/Tuesday and level three students on Wednesday/Thursday. This last group finishes their daily dose and works on the bonus activity included in their lesson. While these kids do their bonus activity, I teach the level one students their lesson.
After I finish their lesson, it usually takes about ten minutes, they head back to their desks for their independent practice page and bonus activity. As they do this, the level twos/threes (depending on the day) come back for their lesson.
And that is it! When student have finished their work, they raise their hand and have it quickly checked. If it is all correct, they can go back to the free choice area and play games, built with building toys, or do puzzles.
We are usually done teaching all the littles lessons in 30 to 40 minutes. The parent volunteer is circulating around checking work as it is finished. This leaves me the last 20 to 30 minutes to answer questions from our older students.