Thursday, 5 November 2015

The Multi-grade Classroom Series: English (3rd-6th)

Today I am beginning a series of posts on how I organise my teaching in a multi-grade classroom.

This year I am teaching the 4th and 5th class in my school (31 students in total). It is my second time teaching full time in a multi-grade classroom.

When I was in college, I remember feeling 'I could never do that!' and having never experienced being in a multi-grade class, I had no idea how teachers in these class situations could cope with the workload.

To my surprise, I found that I adapted quite easily to the situation. Considering S.E.S.E., the Arts subjects, P.E. and S.P.H.E. can be taught as a class (using some differentiation in the response activities/projects), this means that Irish, English and Maths are the only subjects which may cause some difficulty when teaching in a multi-grade classroom.

As many of you may be teaching in a multi-grade classroom for the first time this year, over the next few weeks I hope to share some strategies and methodologies I use to teach core subjects in my classroom. This week, I will be focusing on how I teach English.

Monday: Comprehension Lesson (Option 1)

I begin the lesson by assigning one class some independent work. These activities vary each week and include:

  1. Without reading the text, write a paragraph predicting what you think the story will be about and name any other texts/movies/etc. it may remind you of.
  2. Write a summary of the story you read in last week's lesson.
  3. Write a character description about a character in last week's story using these posters for ideas
  4. Write about the setting of last week's story (here are some setting related adjectives).
  5. Read the story silently and complete one of the above activities using this story. 
  6. Work on your monthly creative writing project. 
I then work with the other class, having them make predictions about the story they are going to read (orally), as well as discussing what they know already about the topic. We will then read the story together. Once we have discussed the story during and after reading, I will assign and explain a written activity to them, similar to those I have mentioned above.

I will then return to the class who have been working on the written activity, have them share their work with the class, discuss it, and then read and discuss their own story with them.

Monday: Comprehension Lesson (Option 2)

I will occasionally (especially at the start of the year) focus on developing one specific comprehension skill at a time as a class. I will teach the skill (e.g. summarizing) using a PowerPoint and allow practice of the concept through whiteboard activities. 

I will then give each class their text to read silently. Once they have read the text, they can then fill in the template I have given them (see left for an online example).

Once they have completed this activity, they self assess their work using the WILF set of expectations I have laid out for them and read it to their partner for the purpose of peer assessment. 

Monday: Comprehension Lesson (Option 3)

Once skills like summarising, making links, choosing important passages, asking and answering questions about texts, etc. have been taught to both classes through lesson options 1 and 2, the class can be broken up into groups for cooperative group work during comprehension lessons.

In this type of lesson, I have both classes read their texts silently/in pairs/as a group.The group completes a Book Detectives activity as each member takes on a certain role in the group work (I use the roles of Summariser, Passage Picker, Word Finder, Illustrator, Question Master and Link Maker). Each group member is given a template to fill out (similar to the one I have shown on the right).

In a follow up lesson, I have them participate in a sharing session to share what they have written with their group and allow other group members to give their opinions (Summariser/Illustrator/Link Maker), answer the questions the Question Master has picked or see if they know the meaning of the Word Finder's chosen words.

Tuesday: Vocabulary

I write a set of 4/5 words from the text we have been working on for the week on the board for one class. They must complete a written activity where they will first guess what the word means, then look the words up in the dictionary and write down the meaning and finally, put the word into a sentence.

While they do this, I will give the other class their words of the week. They have to read the words for me as I point to them. They then quiz each other on the words on their whiteboards and finally, I will pull lollipop names out of a jar and ask them individually to name each word. They may then complete the same dictionary work the other half of the class began the lesson working upon.

When the first half of the class have finished their written work, I will practice reading their words with them. We may also play 'guess the word from the meaning' games if time allows.

Both classes learn these words during the week and will have to put them into a sentence in their test on Friday.

Tuesday: Oral Language

Oral language activities and games in my classroom are always completed together;
as a class.

Wednesday: Grammar

Grammar lessons begin with a whole class lesson to introduce the concept being taught, while written activities are differentiated so that they are suitable for each class (these written activities often come from their class textbooks).

Thursday: Creative Writing 

Preparations for creative writing are completed as a class e.g. reading samples, highlighting and discussing features of the genre, brainstorming etc. When they begin their first draft however, the WILF list of expectations is adapted to suit the class level (e.g. 5th class may be asked to show paragraphs in their writing, whereas 4th may not be). Templates for written work may also be differentiated. 

Friday: Poetry

In our school, each class level has been allocated three poems to learn off by heart during the course of the year. For this reason, I only have to teach separate poetry lessons for three months in the year. I do this by having one class working on their response to text activity while I teach and discuss the other class' poem with them.

During the other months of the year, I choose poems that can be taught to both classes. We read them as a class and I then differentiate my oral questions. Response to poetry activities will often involve drama activities, writing a similar poem or drawing activities, as these are suitable for both class levels. If I do give the children written questions, this will be the only differentiated response activity during a poetry lesson.

Three Days a Week: Reading and Literacy Station Teaching

The only way I can listen to the reading of all the children in the class is during the half hour I have allocated three days a week to literacy stations. The children enjoy participating in these activities and they are grouped based on their ability levels. I have 5 different stations:

1. An oral language station
2. A grammar station (see here for the board game we use)
3. A creative writing station (see here for sample activities)
4. A vocabulary station (similar activity to the 'Who Am I' game)
5. A handwriting/touch typing station

Teaching in a multi-grade class involves a great deal more creativity and planning than a single stream class but it definitely gets easier with time. While there will inevitably be mornings where you spend the entire morning on an English lesson that you might plan for a 40 minute slot - try not to lose heart! Make it easier for yourself by finding common links in each curriculum and use group work and station teaching rather than teaching double English lessons everyday of the week!

Let me know below if you have any other tips for teaching English in a multi-grade classroom! 

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