Help me teach in a compartmentalized classroom
July 15, 2012 9:13 AM   Subscribe

I just found out that I will only be teaching only math and science to two fourth grade classes that will rotate between my room and my co-teacher's. What tips and tricks should I know?

To explain, I have taught fourth grade for a few years but have always taught all subjects. This year I will have a homeroom class that comes to me in the morning. I will teach them math and science and then they will switch with the class next door. I will then teach those students the same math and science lesson while my homeroom class learns language arts and social studies next door. I am realizing that this means students will have to share desks and move materials from class to class. Any advice on how to handle these and other issues, like transition time, would be much appreciated.
posted by quietta to Education (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I worked in a similar capacity (but I was the other teacher) and at first, found it very challenging. Off the top of my head, a few of these things helped (sorry if some of this seems beyond the pale obvious, but...):

* Have the schedule posted so the kids know exactly what will happen and when
* Ideally, write to the kids over the summer, introduce yourself and tell them about how it will work, some of the things they'll be learning, etc., and send them a list of supplies
* What worked for me was for the kids to have dedicated ELA/Social Studies binders that were KEPT in bins (not in desks) my room, and the other teacher did the same. Made the chances of losing things much smaller.
* Along with that, they should only bring their dedicated homework folder back and forth. If the school can get the kids agenda books, even better. If not, you and the other teacher should use a weekly homework log that's attached to the folder.
* Try to meet with the other teacher daily so you can discuss how the kids are doing and also, if there are some units where you can do cross-curricular work. At this age level, it's great when they're working on the same project/concept in both classes. For example, we had a unit on Colonial History (typical SS) but added components of science, ELA and math to the unit. It worked really well.
* Bear in mind that you and the other teacher may have different classroom styles so at first, it will take the kids a while to adjust to behavioral expectations. So along those lines, make those expectations very firm from Day 1. Write a Class Constitution and continually go over expectations for positive behavior.
* To avoid the dreaded 2 minutes of Transition Goofiness, have some type of "Do Now" on the board so the kids can get to work immediately.
* Discuss the transition with the other teacher, seriously. Will her kids line up in the hall first while yours pass through connecting doors (or whatever)? Try to come up with something that's simple and does NOT have the kids socializing during the transition.

Try to have fun with this. It was most definitely one of my least favorite teaching years, but I did enjoy myself and learned a lot.
posted by kinetic at 9:44 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

My wife is a teacher and I read aloud to her kinetic's list. She had only two comments:

"To avoid the dreaded 2 minutes of Transition Goofiness, have some type of "Do Now" on the board so the kids can get to work immediately."

She said, "We call that an entry activity.

"Discuss the transition with the other teacher, seriously. Will her kids line up in the hall first while yours pass through connecting doors (or whatever)? Try to come up with something that's simple and does NOT have the kids socializing during the transition."

She said, "Most important! We hate chaos and if you have no exact, repeatable and firm transition plan down to the footstep, chaos is what you will have."
posted by bz at 10:00 AM on July 15, 2012

Bathroom breaks/water breaks need to be scheduled. If they happen during the transition time, keeping track of belongings by having those placed into the next spot before going on break is important. Also if you have an extended transition time, class needs to start at exactly the same time and latecomers need to know lateness is unacceptable.

There may be days where, due to testing/assemblies/field trips/etc, you have one class but not the other. Plan for that, you want them back in synch as soon as possible.

Occasionally one class will just nail a lesson way faster than the other class and you need to have back-up activities planned for those times. Don't just move on to the next activity or you will lose synch, which (again) is a headache.
posted by vegartanipla at 10:20 AM on July 15, 2012

Vegartanipia adds another excellent point; in my case, one class was very much ahead of the other, and I needed to have completely different lessons planned for the groups, as it became clear that I wasn't able to work the same plans with both groups. I think my decision to have them work at the pace they could handle worked to their advantage for these particular kids, but it's something to consider: will you want to have backup/extra work to keep them together, or are you good to go with separate lessons daily?
posted by kinetic at 11:18 AM on July 15, 2012

Same homework, two different tests - similar material.

Definitions: Class one defines Acid, class two defines Base - or vertibrate / invertibrate, or whatever words.
Problems: Class one finds the unit price of a case of marbles. Class two finds the unit price of a jar of widgets.
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:37 PM on July 15, 2012

Would it be impossible for you and the other teacher to move instead of the students?
posted by bowmaniac at 12:53 PM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Take advantage of your room being the science and math room. Poster it up, put up some stuff on large numbers, on relevant 4th grade science topics, on things of interest. Play to your homefield advantage. Post exemplary work on the wall so that students can see what exemplary work looks like.

You are teaching the kids how to settle themselves when they move. That is part of the lesson plan. Enguage and settle them, review, teach, and then prepare them for the transition next door. Things that help kids settle: science or math stories in the news (mondays), basic math review challenges such as timed memmorization of their times tables (tuesdays and wednesdas), standing quiz (thursdays), stump the teacher (let them ask you three subject related questions every friday to lead off the class). Give them five minutes for the transition.

Science and math stories on Monday gives you a week to find a story, and provides them a passive partcipatory soft transition into their work week.
Basic math (and science) challenges give them the opportunity to prime their brains with success. They should know the material being covered cold and as such, they should be able to regugitate it from memory. We used to do timed times tables, and when I was older, we identified the elements.
A Standing Quiz means that they know it is coming, and as such they come in, sit down and get to work with it. It doesn't have to be tough, just something to occupy their minds and reinforce the material they've learned that week. 5 minute quizes are for thursdays. Kids are preoccupied on friday.
Stump the teacher: Stump the teacher is generally better for science than math since it is harder to verify that kid's questions are correct and answerable. Think: this is the time to re-orient their thinking for 5 minutes in depth on a specific topic. The challenge is that you generaly have to be able to answer questions a little lateral to the topic and figure out how to bring them back to the topic in short order.

Something else that works:
You could try piitting the two classes against eachother in study skills habits. Assign points for homework assignments passed in, papers turned, people having pencils and notebooks ready to go, and new science news articles submitted. Take a few minutes to review which class is in the lead once a week. At the end of the semester, have a milk and cookies (or whatever is acceptable nowdays) party with the victorious class. With the other, do something slightly less exciting but still doe something. Consider awards for most consecutive days of homework passed in, or most improved homework habits, or similar non-grade based metrics. The goal is to get them to all do the stuff, immaterial of whether they get it right.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:33 PM on July 15, 2012

Response by poster: So many great answers, thank you everyone!
posted by quietta at 2:01 PM on July 16, 2012

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