What you need to know about combined classes

Combined classes, split grade classes, integrated classes – there are many names but they are all variations on the same theme – diversity in the classroom.

Classrooms are by their very nature places of diversity.  Students learn in different ways, at different speeds and at different levels.  Every teacher knows this.  But sometimes – and it seems to me to be increasing – schools increase the diversity in a class by mixing two – or more – grade levels (combined class or split class) and by including students with specific learning needs.

Before I write more you need to know that I once taught a class that included students from Grades 5, 6 and 7 – and I loved it!  More about why later.

If your child has been placed in one of these classes – DON’T PANIC!  Everything will be fine  as long as you follow some simple rules.

First, why do schools have combined classes?  There are two reasons.

  1.  Organization.  There are not enough students of a certain grade to create a class (or extra class) for that grade alone.  There are not enough teachers to teach extra classes with only a few students – basic economics.  So schools put two or more grades together to create one class.
  2. Philosophy. Some teachers believe that, because children learn in different ways a Grade 4 student might be ready to learn at a Grade 5 level or that a Grade 5 student might benefit from being with Grade 4 students.

There is nothing wrong with either of these reasons for creating combined classes.  Often the number of students in combined classes is lower than in regular classes.

The problem – and the opportunity – is that students in combined classes need to be taught in a different way.  Teachers have to cover two curricula and while this is possible it means that students have to be placed into relevant groups so that the work can be done.  A teacher might be teaching one group Grade 5 math while another group is is completing a writing assignment or teaching the whole class how to structure an essay but expecting different levels of understanding from different groups.

Notice  I said ‘groups’ not grade levels.  A child could be in an advanced group for math and a regular group for writing – depending on the child’s skill level.  This is what I love about combined classes – students can work at their own level and either catch up on work they have missed or move ahead when they are ready.

But these classes need a teacher who is happy working with groups and who understands children’s needs. They need a teacher with good classroom management skills and the ability to resect each student for his or her abilities.  Combined classes only work when teachers are able to do this.

Now we come to what you need to do to ensure your child benefits from such a class.

First – be happy that your child is in a combined class.  He or she will have more opportunities for learning.

Next – find out how the teacher is going to manage the classroom.  Is he or she happy with group work?  What types of groups will be made, how often will each group get direct teaching?  These are questions you may be able to ask at the Meet the Teacher session.

Then – ask the school why children are in mixed classes.  If it is purely because of organization you need to take special care to ensure your child gets a good education.  If it is based on school philosophy the chances are that the whole school is behind this way of doing things and that teachers will be mutually supportive.  You can rest easy if that is the case.

So, lots to think about and I haven’t even discussed integration of students with special needs.  That will have to wait for another post.

Questions or concerns?  Let me know and i will do what I can to answer them.

Don’t forget the free download –

5 Homework Rules

where you will learn how to end the homework hassle (more info on this topic next month)

And go to www.drpatriciaporter.com to register for the free MasterMind and learn more about combined classes.


Patricia Porter

Dr. Patricia Porter is a Learning Skill Assessment Specialist & Speaker. Discover your Child's Learning Needs to Unlock their Full Potential.