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 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 I'm very undecided..need advice.

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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)


lotavm's picture

I teach social studies and science on a third grade team. We split three ways. This is our first year doing this. I am usually a teacher that loves to try the latest trends in teaching but I have to say that I feel that this has been harder on our third graders than I anticipated. The transitions are challenging and they are wanting some time with the teachers. They are STARVED for attention. We are able to focus on the material but it is definitely at the expense of the child. This has been a very sad thing for me to see. I have an hour and a half with 60 8 year olds that walk into my class and I am literally having to push them out my door when it is time to rotate because they are BEGGING to stay because they want more time. I have left several days with tears in my eyes for these children that are being shuffled from class to class like little middle school or high school students.

Susan's picture

I would love to hear more about how your year went. I am in the same situation and also feel that my students need more attention. Transitioning three times a day through 51 children leaves little time for teacher student relationships. Maturity seems as issue as well as my third graders come to me without needed materials and supplies. They forget notebooks and homework in their homeroom class. Sending them back to get it disrupts the learning of students in the class they must return to. How do I meet their emotional needs so that the content has meaning for them? I would love to hear thoughts on this.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

Susan, you've responded to an older conversation thread and those folks originally participating may no longer be following. You've asked a great question though, so I'll point some of our more-engaged Edutopians here to see if they can help answer.

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct Faculty Antioch University New England, former Elementary Principal

Susan, It seems there are two separate issues you would like help with. The logistical materials issue and the social emotional needs.

The first thing that comes to mind is to implement a binder system. My son's middle school uses one master binder with a few binders for specific classrooms. They spend a considerable amount of time at the beginning of 6th grade setting up the binder system with students and teaching the students how to stay organized. You would want your school to begin this process in the grade level that you first departmentalize. The master binder goes with them everywhere and has a planner notebook section, pockets and dividers for each subject and homework. Then in classes that have a lot of materials the students have binders in those rooms. For example reading and science has binders to keep materials that are not necessary for homework, but are needed in the classroom. This prevents the master binder from becoming too large which is REALY important for these little third graders. The extra time put into this method has really helped these middle school students become organized- but it needs to be implemented by all teachers and ideally in several grades to realize the highest results in student organization.

As far as the social emotional needs, this one is much more of a challenge. Third and fourth grade students are still at that age where the day-long teacher relationship is so important to their social development. Do your home rooms involve any sort of morning meeting or soical circle time? I would suggest implementing a Responsive Classroom(RC) or Developmental Designs(DD) type of social curriculum. RC is more targeted to elementary and DD to middle school, but perhaps a modified approach using one of those could provide enough of the necessary support your younger students need. I would strongly suggest all the teachers in your grade level implement the first six weeks model from RC. It could help establish a stronger community of learners. Many educators balk at the idea of spending 6 weeks establishing the learning community. But educators who implement this method find that they actually get through more curriculum in the long run as many issues are dealt with or headed off using the first six weeks model. I hope this helps- let us know what other questions or concerns you have. Good Luck.


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