Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Why Teaching in a Departmentalized Classroom Rocks

Hey you all!! I am super excited to be writing my first guest blog post! This is Melanie from Momma with a Teaching Mission. I am a 1st grade teacher. The school I teach in is Pre-k through 5th. We have over 700 students. This year in 1st grade we decided to become departmentalized.
Now being that I have taught in a departmentalized class for 117 days, I can safely say that I truly have loved being departmentalized.

For us, last year was a horrible year in terms of gains and growth with our first grade students. Anymore, students come being so stimulated from constantly playing games or having some sort of stimulation that makes competing with that as their teacher impossible!! Even if we took 5 brain breaks a day, we found it to be unbearable to keep their attention!!

We asked ourselves----So what should we do? How can we change things? We ended up losing 2 of our teammates, to new positions. So with 2 brand new teachers, and me only having 1 year teaching experience under my belt, we decided to completely switch it up. Because the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results :) So why not?

After discussing our ideas with administration, we decided that the five of us would teach five different subjects. Fundations (our phonics program, and pull 2 small groups), Reading (and pull 2 small groups), math, science/social studies, and writing. We each would teach one subject for a marking period. (There are 4 marking periods in a school year). Our schedule worked that the 5 fifty minutes worked out perfectly, having four 50 minute rotations before lunch, then lunch and recess, then the 5th and final rotation after lunch, then to encore (pe/art/music/media).

The 1st marking period we had kids switch with their homeroom class. This got the job done, however it was just crazy to differentiate for them. Then the 2nd marking period started, we grouped the kids more homogeneously, however, it was still pretty heterogeneous with some high/mid and mid/low mixtures of students. So 3rd marking period rolls around. We have a pretty large GATE (gifted and talented enrichment) population in 1st grade and they get pulled for 50 minutes at a time. We also have a lot of kiddos with needs, and no intervention teachers, or assistants. So we thought, why can't we make our schedule so the GATE students are all together, and when they get pulled that teacher that is supposed to have them, then co-teaches with the kiddos that need the most support--making it even smaller groups!! Our administration loved this idea!! And we do too!

We took our 2nd round of map tests in January and saw GIGANTIC gains!! I'm talking the average was 13-15 points. We even had some kids grow 30 points!!!! I am so excited for the 3rd and final round of MAP testing scores in May to see how much more they grow :)

It has been tremendous for our students. The movement from class to class every 50 minutes is fantastic for the kiddos. They get to experience 5 different teaching styles. As teachers, we have 5 pairs of eyes, on each student. We are all accountable for the entire grade. There isn't a competitive nature of my class or your class. We are truly working as a team.   When parents want to meet, there is 5 of us. And all of us have data and something powerful to say about their child.

AND OH MY GOODNESS---Planning purposes--you become an expert at the subject you are teaching!! Currently I am teaching math, so that is my focus!! Now yes, of course I differentiate from each group, but I don't have to hop back from what am I teaching today in reading, math, writing, social studies, and whatever else!!

As far as a behavior incentive for 98 kiddos, I created a wall of fame. If the students do something fantastic they get their name on the wall of fame. If they continue to do something well, or participate when no one else is, or do a random act of kindness, or show integrity---they get to put a star beside their name. If they earn 5 stars in a week, they get to pick a prize outta the prize box. BUT HERE'S THE CATCH!! On Friday, when I leave, I erase the wall of fame, and we start fresh and clean the next week. I find this has really increased their participation, integrity, and kindness, especially since they know they only have 5 days until it gets erased and they have to start over! :)

As a team, we have loved being departmentalized. We are constantly saying, why haven't we done it this way before?!? Even the administration is looking at a new way to think about it within our entire school!! How much of a compliment is that!!!

Hopefully you can tell that being departmentalized has been an incredible experience for me!! Please feel free to swing on over to my blog to read more about my experiences and lessons!! Momma with a teaching mission blog
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  1. I would love to teach in a departmentalized setting! Sounds like fun!

    Swinging for Success

    1. Brandi, it is so much fun!! I love the fact that I am accountable for the entire grade level as well. I love knowing all 96 of those little people!!


  2. Our grade level is considering becoming departmentalized next school year. Is this something that you would still recommend doing? I'm seeing that this blog post is from 2015 so I'm just curious if your thoughts have changed over the years. Thanks!


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