Collaboration, co-teaching and collaborative learning spaces at TPS
At Takapuna Primary School, 75% of our learning spaces are open, flexible and modern accommodating from three to six classes in the same space.
Co-teaching among teachers was shown to offer..."a powerful means of continuous professional learning that can result in expanded instructional knowledge and practice, as well as higher and consistent expectations for students." York-Barr et al (2007)
"Teachers who work together collectively, collaboratively to understand their impact are probably the single most important factor in this business." John Hattie (2013)
At Takapuna Primary school our classes are organised into mixed year levels and I would like to take some time to cover the rationale for this. Firstly, I need to give you some information that will provide some explanation as to why students are not disadvantaged by being in a mixed year level class.
1) Children’s learning
What a child can do, what a child has learnt and what a child knows isn’t determined by how old they are. A child’s age is not the prerequisite for learning. As you have experienced there are significant variations in children’s rates of development. For example, children all learn to walk and talk at different times. This also applies to academic learning and progress with even greater variation. Also, children don’t just learn at school. Family life, activities, people they know and experiences they have all contribute different things to their learning. These factors contribute to the large range of developmental levels in any class whether it is a class of a single year level, or a class of two year levels.
2) The New Zealand Curriculum
The New Zealand Curriculum framework is not age related. It is a developmental curriculum, meaning it is sequenced to logically frame the next step in learning in any given subject area. Students who have shown evidence of mastering a specific skill at a certain level of the curriculum are then taught the next logical step based on what they already know. Nowhere in this learning process does a child progress to the next step in their learning because of their chronological age. Teachers differentiate the curriculum to suit an individual child’s abilities and needs; and teachers will group children regardless of age or year level, into ‘learning’ groups, which have similar abilities and needs. In all groupings the children will enter the curriculum at the appropriate level for them; not because they are a certain age. Some parents have expressed to me that they feel their child will be held back by working with students of a lower year level but because of differentiation this would not happen as they would be working at the appropriate level for their learning regardless of the ages and year level of others in their class.
3) What does the research say
In a national study of New Zealand school children it was found that there are other variables which have a greater influence on a child’s academic attainment than the make up of their class. Variables, such as the cultural and family attitudes towards ‘education’ and ‘schooling’ and ‘the teacher’ themselves have a greater influence on a child’s performance in the classroom. Professor John Hattie’s research (2008 Visible Learning), findings show being in a mixed year level class has no bearing on academic performance.
4) So why do it. Why have mixed year level classes at TPS.
1) Mixed year level classes give us more choice when placing students so that they have the best learning environment available to them. For example, this year we have six year 3 / 4 classes which means six options to cluster a single student together with like minded students, students they work well with and a teacher that suits their needs. If the scenario was straight year 3 and 4 classes next year and your child was a year 4 that option would be reduced to three classes. In my experience clustering students together based on social-behaviour-emotional needs has huge benefits for advancing learning.
2) Mixed year level classes also give us the option of placing students with the same teacher again the following year if they are remaining in the same learning team (whānau team). This can be hugely beneficial for our students as strong learning focused relationships have already been established therefore optimum learning can occur right from day 1 of the year.
3) Mixed year level classes also allow us to balance the numbers in each class. If the scenario was straight year 3 and 4 classes, this year we would have three year 4 classes with 28 students in each and three year 3 classes with 20 students in each. Having six classes of mixed year levels allows us to balance the numbers to 24 students in each class which is a more ideal number.
Acknowledgment and thanks to TM (full name not published) for his/her discussion document ‘Composite Classes 101: A Discussion Document’ which helped present this information to you.