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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Configuration of 3rd grade..should it be departmentalized?

Configuration of 3rd grade..should it be departmentalized?

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I'm an Elem. Principal of a rural school in AR. At this time we are departmentalized in grades 3 and 4 ..teacher team teach..one has Math and Science and the other has Literacy and Social Studies. Our State Math scores have improved but our Literacy scores are seeing very little growth. Much discussion has taken place that perhaps departmentalized is not the correct thing to do. I have a secondary background...so I'm very undecided..need advice.

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Michael Grimmer's picture

Is it possible to have a team of three instead of a stand alone? The team of three should be able to help each other with the subjects. You could break it down by subject if they wanted to.

W.R. Harvin's picture
W.R. Harvin
Elementary Administrator/AISD

To answer Mr Grimmer's question, we had a team of 3. All teachers had experience teaching in other grade levels but not in 3rd grade. One of the teachers had a reading specialist certification obviously taught reading. The other two had both elementary and secondary backgrounds. One teacher had it in social studies so she taught social studies as well as science. The third teacher had a special education background and was marvelous at differentiating instruction in math so she taught the math. It was a bear with scheduling but we made it work. Good luck to you,

Debra Cole's picture

The old adage that "two heads are better than one" comes to mind here. One teacher responsible for only "their class" is an out of date idea. Inexperienced teachers need the time and opportunity to work with experienced staff in an open, reflective collaboration supremely focused on students. Shared responsibility for each and every student - focusing on student work, is best achieved - in my opinion in team teaching configurations - well worth the scheduling hassle. Ironically "departmentalization" at the secondary level often has the opposite effect of isolating not only staff but also learning objectives across the curriculum leading to statements like, "I'm not here to teach reading. I'm the Math teacher:

JSGoodrich's picture
Curriculum resource/staff

Our recent benchmark scores for the district in Literacy and Math show greater progress for Grade 3 students in math in the two of four classes where the teachers 'love' math; in literacy, the scores were slightly lower in one classroom where the math scores were high - but generally the literacy scores were the same in all four classrooms. The difference? The teachers who have better content knowledge of math were more willing to use data all year long from various assessments to address student needs; perhaps a team leader and/or math coach for the grade could support the other classroom teachers even more than they probably do to use the data to reteach in small groups. Also, integrating the curriculum is a proven approach for meaningful teaching and learning - this won't happen as readily in departmentalized instruction

William L. Malan's picture

I am doing research on self-contained v departmentalized instruction for a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership. This is my specific question:
Does Self-Contained instruction produce higher student achievement in Reading than Departmentalized instruction in third grade?

I am an Elementary Reading teacher at a rural school.Last year we had 5 third grade classes. Four were departmentalized and one self contained. I will be teaching them next year as 4th grade is departmentalized. Self-contained data at our school suggests higher Reading scores.
Any further on the topic suggestions.

JSGoodrich's picture
Curriculum resource/staff

State standardized test scores have just come out for our district; in our district, Grades K-4 are self-contained. The scores run the range of 100% proficient to 17% proficient in reading....the reading program is standardized (Mondo). Clearly the difference in scores isn't related to the configuration in this case but to what? Teacher quality? Student readiness? Administrative support? I think you might look into teacher preparedness/skill moreso than the structure of the learning environment - or - does a younger student need the closer connections that self contained classrooms create regardless of teacher expertise?

Bean's picture

I would not want my child(or have a teacher in my building) to have a teacher who is not passionate about what they are teaching. Education is a vicious circle and everything keeps going round and round. Now we are on the old 60's and 70's trip of learning centers revamped as literacy centers. This to will pass and we will be on the whole language boat again. It is all because teachers are not the decision makers in districts. Teachers have no say and all of the teachers' rights have been taken away. Teachers are not supported by administrators with discipline issues and are told to handle it or get out of the profession. Charter schools are not the answer because they do not play by the same rules as the rest of us. If behavior becomes an issue, they kick the kid out and send them back to their zone school. What a crock.

Barbara's picture
5th grade math teacher

I am totally for departmentalization in 5th grade. Not every elementary teacher loves math enough to dig deep enough to unravel the mysteries of all the standard algorithms and explain "why" they work to students. It can be more "monkey see; monkey do" or this is the way I learned it, so this is how I teach it. Students will not understand math well enough in that environment to be successful (without struggle) in the years of math and science to come.
Here's a link to research about math in the elementary world from the Wall Street Journal. I found it very interesting as I am a 5th grade math teacher, and my students typically hit the wall they talk about with me! It used to make me feel bad, like I was too tough. No, I am doing what I should be doing, and I always question math. "Why?" Why do we have to do this that way? Why does that "mental math" or "trick" work? How would a student defend this strategy or answer in math terms?
I hope this is helpful and helps another 5th grade math teacher feel better. I am a great math teacher carrying a great load. (Might make some want to run; I thought about it; Might also explain why no one in my building wants my job)


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