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I'm curious what people have to say about split classes. At my son's school in York Region (we're in Thornhill) all but two of the classes this year are splits. A number of parents are quite disturbed by this situation, as they feel their kids will not get enough attention from the teacher. They are particularly concerned about those students who don't get things on the first pass and who might need to ask questions so that they can get clarification to help them understand what's going on. If the teacher can't/won't take the time to answer those questions or spend some extra time with given students, those students get lost and fall behind. I know it's an old story, but split classes can make things that much worse. I've been fortunate so far in that my son has had no difficulties in the two splits he's been in two years in a row; others have not shared my good luck.

I know that there's no way around the time constraints that splits impose upon teachers, especially given that they have to teach each grade's entire curriculum over the course of the academic year. Some teachers manage this juggling act better than others, and at my son's school, although the teachers have been given instruction in how to teach splits, not all of them have much experience with splits, and even after having received the training, not all of them do a good job teaching splits.

I am also aware of all the supposed reasons for why we have so many splits in York Region, especially in areas with declining enrollment (which includes my part of Thornhill). What is so frustrating for the concerned parents at our school is the fact that neither the Board nor the school administration is willing to acknowledge the legitimacy of those parents' concerns. The gist of their response has been, thank-you for raising the issue but we're not going to even begin to address it, just go away and leave us alone to do our own thing as we please. (Granted, that's the impression I've been getting from what I've heard as I've not been directly involved in approaching either the Board or the school on this issue.)

I know that it takes work to make splits work. What experience have others had with the quality of education that their kids have received in split classes? Other than my own voice, are there words of encouragement that I can take back to my neighbours?

Tags: Split grades/classes

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Hi Gail,

You have touched on an issue that concerns a lot of parents across the province. The hard cap on class sizes has resulted in an increased number of split grades in many schools. Those darned children just don't seem to come demographically allocated into groups of twenty! :-)

The good news is that it is not all bad news. The limited research that has been done on split grades has shown very little difference in academic achievement between those students in split grades vs. those in straight grades, although there is evidence that the workload is heavier for the teacher.

Schools try hard to have a balance of students in each class, whether it is a split or a straight grade. This is one area where research has shown that a good mix is better for all students in the class - academically inclined and older students provide good role models, integrating special education and ESL students encourages acceptance of diversity, etc.

There are pros and cons regarding split grades, and while some parents and staff really like them, others are concerned about whether the curriculum can be covered properly. When my son was put in a split grade 4/5 class, I was very worried about it, and spoke to the teacher. She was able to alleviate my concerns by explaining some of the advantages to having a split grade. One of the biggest is that the teacher starts the year already familiar with half of her students. Those students know the classroom routine, expectations, and teaching style. The teacher has the advantage of knowing where half the class is re. abilities, strengths, weaknesses, behavioural issues, etc. My son's teacher told me that in a regular class, it can sometimes take several weeks to get into actual instruction, because those first weeks are spent assessing and organizing students, reviewing material, and getting them into the routine. In a split class, she can start into the program in half the time, so that covering the required curriculum is easier to do.

Sometimes, problems with split grades develop when they are not structured properly. The idea is that the instruction is to be spread out over the two years, so kids who are in a split grade should remain in the same class with the same teacher for both years. If students change classes or schools, they may miss out on some material.

Another parent had this to say about split grades:
"I think a really important question is whether the classes were implemented in this way by design (some schools in the public system - like the one my kids attended - are designed specifically around multi-age groupings). Many of the problems are when neither teachers, parents, nor students are prepared for a split grade situation and it is often done badly. When it happens by design there can be many advantages.

So, as you can see, there isn't a simple answer to this issue. Further research needs to be done to assess the impact of split grades on students of different abilities and backgrounds, the challenge of teaching the tougher new curriculum in split grades, teacher stress and workload, etc. before we can say definitively that they are good or bad. It may help to talk to your classroom teacher to find out more about their strategies for teaching the split grade.

I hope this helps!
Jacqui
I just came across this article from Todays Parent about split grades. We also talk about how there is research on both sides of the argument in our class size and split grades chapter of the Annual Report on Schools. Hope this helps too!
Hi Gail,
My daughter attends public school in TDSB, She is currently in grade five, in a 4/5 split. She has been in split classes from Jk right through to grade 3. Parents were informed that teachers teaching a split class must teach both curriculums. While in the JK/Sk splits as well as in the !/2 splits she was fortunate enough to have strong teachers and they taught both curriculums. I am however having a problem this year. She is bringing home grade four work that she already did last year. I spoke to the teacher and was told how difficult it is if not impossible to teach a split. I alos spoke to the Principal and was told they have to teach both grades. So you see I am faced with the same problem and I know how difficult it is when the board, the teacher and administration can't see how this affects the children. I know I haven't helped much, but be sure to order a copy of the curriculum so you and the other parents can see what the expectations are and check the report card to make sure the expectations for their grade has been met. I have had a lot of luck with our School Trustee, I suggest the parents go that route!
Good Luck
Yes. More research needs to be done. I'd like to share some feedback I gathered from a survey of fellow educators in Ontario North East. My background teaching split grades is extensive relative to my fifteen years as a teacher. Three years in a five grade split ( 4,5,6,7,8) at two different schools and five years teaching a three grade split ( 6,7,8). Teacher workload is indeed intensified and there is a danger of children missing or repeating curriculum if they move.

Forty five percent (of 325 Full Time Teachers) in my board responded to the survey. I don't have space to share all my results but can forward them or post them somewhere on this site (I'm new ) if you wish. Here are some responses to the question, "Is learning enhanced in a split grade classroom?":

It is difficult to cater to 2 curriculums and a split grade creates a wide range of ages and levels to teach to.
It is difficult enough to know, plan for, and implement one grade's curriculum expectations, let alone 4 grades worth at one time. Also, there are always students with learning disabilities working well below grade level and it is difficult to meet their needs while meeting the curriculum expectations of 4 other grades at the same time.

Of course not! The teacher's time is split in two. How can one effectively teach a lesson when they always have another group waiting in the wings for their turn?

It's extremely difficult to teach the curriculum at a variety of different levels. Not so bad for Math and Language (that's basically differentiated instruction) but Science, Social Studies, etc. have completely different units that need to be covered.

It becomes extremely difficult to give each grade adequate support and learning when your time is divided by two grades. It makes covering the curriculum impossible to say the least! Each grade is constantly distracted by the other group and what is going on with them...not conducive to a positive learning environment.

Our region is riddled with students from challenging families. Therefore, their minds are often filled with turmoil at home rather than the desire for knowledge. It becomes difficult to engage them in independent study while addressing the other part of the split grade. In order for the children of our district to receive a rich education, they often require intense support from teachers. That is not often possible when teachers are addressing two sets of curriculum expectations.

The two split grade classes in our school are JK-SK to Grade 4 and Grade 5-8. Considering this make up of the two classes, I have serious doubts that there we could ever talk about real enhancement of student achievement and that is simply because the split grades comprise way too many grades/levels.

When a grade is a 6 way split and you are only given 30 minutes to teach a subject once a week (ex social studies) there is no way any teacher can teach the curriculum

My concerns with split grades do not so much come for split grades, but for multi-grade classrooms. In multi-grade classrooms teachers juggle many years' worth of curriculum and have difficulty managing different levels of student achievement and ability, especially in subjects such as history, geography, science and mathematics. I believe Language is the subject most manageable for multi-grade classrooms if the balanced literacy approach is used. I have found at the 7/8 level it is extremely difficult for teachers to manage split grades, let alone multi-grades, even if they attempt to map out their curriculum. It makes it extremely difficult for a teacher to manage their curriculum, especially if teachers use the "teach one grade level of curriculum approach" one year and the other year the next. If students move, they may be repeating curriculum or missing years of curriculum altogether.
Hi Gail,

My suggestion for any parent would be to talk to their child’s teacher to find out more information about the teacher’s own philosophy and vision of how they facilitate their split-grade class. As a teacher, I know there are educators who are not happy or comfortable with having to teach a split-grade class, but there are also teachers who do not mind it at all and find ways to effectively bring the class together and differentiate to both the grade levels as well as the variety of needs which exist in any class- straight or split. I have taught for 10 years and a split grade 1/2 for most of that time and while I will admit that it can be more work and requires more organization on the part of the teacher, there are many unique opportunities for staff and students in a split grade.

As Jacqui points out, previous research into the topic has proved that academically, students have not been hindered or accelerated by being in a split grade, but many studies also state that in many cases certain types of students are selected to be placed into split classes such as those with independent work skills and strong problem solving abilities.

I agree with Jacqui regarding classes being constructed based on numbers rather than philosophy. Split grades are currently being constructed because of the cap of 20 students in the primary grades rather than a move towards a non-graded or multi-age philosophy. Our current situation has not been created in a way that honours teaching philosophies such as non-graded classrooms or multi-age classes. I am not suggesting that we need to change our whole education system to one where there are many grades or ages in each classroom, but knowledge about the benefits and strengths of teaching children of different ages and abilities in the same class may help teachers reconsider their original philosophies which most likely centered around a single grade class with some variation of abilities within it. I believe it would be more difficult for teachers to see the positive learning situations available in split classes unless teachers frequently engaged in reflective practice in an effort to align their philosophies of education and practice in a split grade class more closely.

In response to Tim, I agree that it is difficult to make sure that the curriculum is taught completely for each grade, and in the situations he discussed, all three grades especially in subjects such as social studies and science. Math and language are definitely easier because the expectations between different grades operate as a continuum which allows for more fluid differentiation and instruction. I wonder if split grades work better with younger grades where there is already a broad range of development that a teacher is already accommodating for and there are fewer expectations.

In the research I have done on teacher’s experiences and attitudes towards teaching split grades, it appears that the more closely a teacher’s philosophy and classroom practice align, the more satisfied they are in teaching a split grade. Perhaps if teachers were more satisfied in teaching split grades and found simpler ways to differentiate their teaching so that it addresses each grade and each student’s needs without feeling overwhelmed, there may be an increase in positive experience for the teachers and the students. The question is, how can we effectively help teachers to see their split grade not as a nuisance, but rather, as an opportunity to adapt their view and philosophy of education for the benefit of the students.

Re splits - I love them.  Very few kids fall into the range of so called average or progress through at the same rates. Some will be slightly or even way ahead while others struggle. The key to a split is making sure your child is on the right end of the split - in the lower grade for the gifted child or for a child who is more advanced and mature who can then benefit from the upper grade and the upper grade for a student who struggles or who may not be as mature and who can benefit from the review of the lower grade. I don't agree with having the same teacher for both years and in fact, am quite opposed to it for a number of reasons - part of education is learning to deal with change and exposure to different teachers with different teaching styles provides a host of benefits not the least of which is learning to adapt - a very necessary life skill. 

My bigger  concern is with the so called "balanced day" .  This is a disaster for most kids and fails to take into account the role recess plays in classroom management. The idea of recess was never as a nutrition break...it was always a break to run off steam. Boys especially tend to be gross motor oriented. Those of us who are well into our twenties remember when exercises such as jumping jacks, running on the spot, toe touching etc were part of O Canada, God Save the Queen and announcements.   By the time we sat down we were so tired we didn't want to move - this held till recess when we got out and ran around - enabling us to sit until lunch.  The balanced day fails to address the biological need to burn calories and offering a nutrition break as opposed to a physical one will only exacerbate classroom management issues. Decreased physical activity in schools is a major problem from what I have observed and I suspect at least a connection between decreasing physical activity ( be that recess or gym)  and childhood obesity as well as the increasing incidence of ADD and ADHD.  Sitting in chairs at desks  for hours on end is not a natural activity for kids and I firmly believe they need the physical activity and breaks that came with recess and lunch and that the classroom management benefit of recess has been disregarded in the development of the balanced day.

It is a problem not just confined to the classrooms or schools. And, while I agree with the premise, that boys need more periods to "burn calories" and to shine in sports (gross motor skills), I think this falls not just on the educational system, but also on parents and society at large. If the spelling system was not such a challenge in English (an unphonemic language that makes reading and learning much more difficult and delayed compare to other languages) and grammar such a challenge in French (which makes writing such a pain), kids would not have to sit in classrooms and learn all those spelling rules (English has 91 compare to half of that for many languages. Of course, it has too many exceptions [about 4000 for 7000 common words]) or all those conjugations! But, the populace does not get that ... still they are paying for it through their nose! When adults will look at how many unnecessary hoops kids have to go through (emphasis on unnecessary), then society will move forward. Check the various pages on http://reforming-english.blogspot.ca/ for the issues and their proposed solutions. I know, I know, change is hard, but kids must deal with the mess that past generations have left. Maybe it is time to revisit the mess? 

I live in a community with small schools. As a result there is little to no development to the design of the splits, they are simply used to meet provincial primary caps. As a result my youngest child, who just entered grade 2 and now in a 2/3 split is struggling because she came from a SK/1 split. She had been 1 of 5 grade ones in a class of 23 and it was simple designed to meet the cap. Despite my complaints to the principal and constant questioning of the teachers ability to meet the grade one curriculum I was assured it was a good thing. Well it was not! My daughter has entered grade two with no class ethics. She can't sit and focus for any period of time and now the school thinks she has ADD. My doctor however thinks she is a product of the environment from the Sk/1 split where of course 15 kids learned through play and I'm certain the 5 grade 1's sat at their desks and worked, right? Not likely. As a result my daughter is behind and it will be a tough year to catch her back up. I think splits stink!

This is the first I have heard of a SK/1 split....given the full day Kindergarten programme has it's own curriculum outline and overview, I am surprised that a split of this kind even existed.  

Splits are not likely going to go away,  so it might be better to look at how we can turn the negative situations out there around so that there is some positive energy and outcomes happening for the students in those classes - acknowledging the workload teachers face with a split grade.

 Parents can do a lot to help their children deal with the challenges of a split grade - and working with the teacher to find out what his/her long range plans are and where your child is "at" currently with the academic work at his/her grade level is a good first step I think.  I'm sure creative solutions can be found to help students who appear to be falling behind. 

 I have taught split grades myself and I have children in the school system - one currently in a Grade 2/3 split.   I haven't found the experience to be all that bad for my son - but then again, I know the curriculum well ( I have to) and have a good sense of where my children are at academically in all areas and what they need to do to progress. I also read with my kids every day , do a little math with them, encourage journal writing and play all sorts of board games / card games that help to consolidate literacy and numeracy skills because I know the extra they do at home helps them at school.   The ratios certainly are better for them at home. 

All curriculum documents are available for the public to read on-line - just go to the Ministry of Education website.  Read these over - particularly the Science and the Social Studies since these are the curriculum documents that vary in content a great deal - unless of course your split is at the divisional level (e.g., Grade 3/4 6/7...) - It would be wise to look over the Language and Mathematics curriculum documents as well, just to get a sense of HOW MUCH is expected to be covered in each grade for each subject area.  

No question there are challenges inherent with split grades  but I have seen schools approach them in terrific ways - with teachers working collaboratively together with administrators and parents so that each "grade" is well-covered and each student has what he or she needs to succeed. 


 The ministry originally said they would not allow SK/1 splits and they said they would under special circumstances but they do not ask boards to report on what those special circumstances are so... they are existing in many boards! I taught one and it was a disaster for gr.1 - 12 Sk's and 8 1's, no ECE, no new Kindergarten materials and I was told I did not have to deliver the ELKP program. The ministry pretend this is not happening and when my teachers union tried to discuss it with the superintendent he shrugged it off, said there were only " a few" SK's in these classes and that parents loved it because they thought it meant they're kids were smarter - yes he actually said that! We should definitely be questioning why more and more splits are existing today - there are school systems that do not have them at all and we shouldn't always accept things because they "are not going away" - a few is one thing but now for example, they are making 3/4's intentionally to pull down their junior averages - my former school were told this year to make two 3/4 splits instead of straight classes for that reason - not a good one!

I agree that splits need to well planned out - and they should not just be used to deal with caps on class sizes ! That being said, the reality is that they are being used for that reason, despite assurances to the contrary.

 So, what to do?  Parents NEED to educate themselves on curriculum expectations and it's easy enough for them to do that. Armed with what they should be able to expect from their schools - they can then ask meaningful questions of their childrens' teacher(s) and administrator(s) should their child/children be placed in a split grade:

"Who will be covering the Social Studies and Science curriculum material with each group ?  " Often I find, these groups are divided - sometimes pairing with another same-grade class so that the homeroom teacher only works with one grade while another teachers works with the other grade.  

Ask to see the timetable.  Inquire about itinerant teachers (e.g., "How often will my child be taught by someone other than their homeroom teacher?)"  - I think this one is important. Parents don't often realize that their child may have many teachers and so it would be helpful for them to know about this.  Not every student handles transitions well and so if there are problems that arise, it may have less to do with curriculum content and more to do with just coping with the differing teaching styles, philosophies or physical changes that may be happening in their school day.  Caught early, students can be helped in a myriad of ways to cope with such transitions, including the use of visual schedules or a buddy system. If parents know ahead of time about these then they can work to help out where they can. 

Grade 3/4 splits and 5/6 splits can be problematic primarily because these are EQAO years and we all know how preparing for this assessment can become the priority.  Students NOT in the testing year may feel that they are not getting as much of the teacher's attention as they need or would like - so - ASK how that kind of a split is going to be handled. How is the teacher going to be supported so that he/she can be there for both groups as the homeroom teacher and how are the students going to be supported in the ways that they need? 

Good points and parents should also be questioning the boards for each school to justify the splits and prove that there is no other way, as opposed to accepting the existence of more and more of them. Don't make it easy for them - if their decisions were made more public and they were called on them some of the splits would most likely be eliminated, the ministry should put into place some restrictions (perhaps a percentage?) of allowable splits and should be more insistent that board's justify going beyond those restrictions. For example as I mentioned before, the ministry will tell the public that ELKP/1 splits may only be allowed in "extreme circumstances" they have not put any measures into place to examine the "circumstances". Boards can do as they please despite the fact that ministry officials "think" that they won't. (They told my provincial teacher's union that a board would "never" take 40 ELKP students and turn them into one class and another K/1 split and that's exactly what was done at my school and the split was the class I taught!)

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