Trying a New Classroom Approach

Departmentalizing is old news in some schools and a new classroom approach in others. Our guest blogger shares her story of how her team started departmentalizing classes and the success they had in doing so.

How excited am I to be here!? I am Melanie from Momma with a Teaching Mission. I am a first grade teacher in Maryland. I teach on a departmentalized team. Departmentalized means teaching one subject to the entire grade level, instead of teaching multiple subjects to the same group of 20 kids.

Are you a stressed out elementary school teacher? OF COURSE YOU ARE! Who isn’t in this world!?! With the Common Core or other new curriculum that your district may have adopted, teacher evaluations, test scores, planning, committees, and actually teaching students—-teachers are spread VERY thin. And that’s not even mentioning your own personal life—what personal life, right!?

 

What if I said there is a way you could eliminate some of that stress? Now, we all know there is never a QUICK fix to anything or anything worth doing well. But, I do have my own personal experience I can share about how my team and I made our lives easier this year.

 

This was after a year of HUGE class sizes, mediocre test scores, TREMENDOUS behavior problems, hours upon hours of planning, and seeming like we were just treading water. Not. Getting. Anywhere. Completely stressful, and completely hopeless.

 

We decided to try something new.

 

We had heard of other schools departmentalizing with success at the primary level, so we thought, “Why not!?!” After all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We had nothing to lose!

 

So, during our back-to-school night that we had two nights before school started, we informed parents of our plan. We held a presentation, and there were many unimpressed parents. Their concerns were valid–“My student won’t make a connection with his teacher,” “There will be so many germs a student will encounter traveling from classroom to classroom,” “My student will get freaked out by having five different teachers.” All of those concerns were calmed during the first few weeks of school.

 

We were able to make connections and feel accountable for all 97 of our students. It’s no longer “my class” and “your class” or “my data” and “your data.” We are accountable for the entire grade. We are able to meet with parents as a team to address any concerns or questions. We become an expert at ONE subject, not juggling five different subjects AND differentiating for five different subjects! I do have more papers to grade; however, I have 97 math quizzes to grade instead of 20 math quizzes, 20 reading responses, 20 spelling tests, 20 writing prompts, and 20 science/social studies papers.

 

Currently, I am teaching math. We switch every marking period, so we stay fresh with the subjects. With math, I am able to differentiate for each of my five classes. Within each class, I am able to pull groups based off my data. Our classes are fluid, so if we see that one student is excelling, or maybe needing more help, we are able to move them to the group that is a good fit for them. Yes, that does mean our classes are homogeneously grouped.  Our high-level learners are a larger size, so our lower level learners are able to get that small group instruction where they are excelling!

 

So how is this going to make your life less stressful? Within my experience the students are better behaved! They get to move from class to class every 50 minutes. The transition time is very quick, 3 minutes tops! We don’t have to spend time on brain breaks (unless we want to, but we don’t feel that we NEED to).

 

We have also gained some of our sanity back by not having those behavior problems the entire day. We have found that this has helped not only the students with behavioral issues but also us as their teachers! We are able to share those students, as well as daily conversations about how so-and-so is doing today. We are able to tackle issues that arise as a team, and we are able to talk to each other about our opinions about a student.

 

Did I mention our test scores?! Ok, so we do MAP testing three times a year. We compared our first graders last year from fall to winter to our first graders this year from fall to winter. Our overall first grade grew 10% more in reading and 12% more in math than last years first graders! We have been able to push those high kids, as well as truly reach and help those lower level learners along. I finally feel like I’m making a difference! Can you feel my enthusiasm?!

 

My teacher life this year has been so much less stressful. Now, do I still feel the stress and pressure? Oh of course, I’d be lying if I said no. However, in comparison to last year, I feel like I have a life outside of school.

 

I will say that you have to have everyone on your team fully committed to this idea. With sharing the responsibilities of educating your young ones, it is imperative that you are able to trust and rely on your teammates. If one of your teammates is not on board, it is hard to see the full potential and impact that departmentalizing can make. If you have any questions or would like more information, you can find me at my blog, Momma with a Teaching Mission. I also have many great items for sale in my TpT store you can check it out here.

 

Take care!
Melanie

Momma with a Teaching MissionI am a mother of four amazing kids! I was able to finish my dream of becoming a teacher after having three of my own children. I teach 1st grade in MD. God has abundantly blessed me!!

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