Thursday, March 7, 2013

Composite Classes: Strategies To Achieve Learning Outcomes

Classroom with students and teachers - NARA - ...
Classroom with students & teachers (Wikipedia)
by Richard D Boyce

Composite classes in primary school usually are a combination of two adjoining year levels where there are not enough students in each year level to form two separate classes.

In secondary school, it usually occurs in less popular subjects in the last two years, e.g. Physics, Higher Level Maths and Music.

Here, the two year levels form a single class taught by the one teacher.

This article offers the teacher strategies to help create the best learning outcomes for the students in these classes.

Here are the strategies I suggest that a teacher might use. Most that I suggest are appropriate for both primary and secondary classes. The last two are more appropriate for secondary classes. These strategies are not exhaustive.

  1. When you take over your new class, you need to find out where they all are academically. You could do this through their school reports or, better still, use a pre-test before you teach any new work.

  2. When teaching a new unit, the first part ought to be treated as an introduction for the younger students but as a revision for the older students.

  3. Emphasise the basic building blocks of the unit to allow the younger students to develop an understanding of them while the older students use them as a jumping off point for further study.

  4. The teacher then continues the development of the unit while the younger ones do activities to consolidate their new learning.

  5. The senior students in upper primary and secondary classes could be taught to mentor the younger students in small groups or on an individual basis.

  6. Another alternative is to create a buddy system to facilitate support of younger students.

  7. Use a variety of teaching pedagogues especially group/cooperative learning ones.

  8. Have a seating arrangement that reflects your teaching approaches. This might be one side of the room for each year level; mentoring groups; ability groups; or interest groups if there is a choice of topics, as there might be in a secondary class.

  9. Have a set of class rules that fit into your operating styles.

  10. Remember to set assessment tasks that reflect your teaching strategies/pedagogues.

  11. Give practice assessment that both year levels use together which increase in difficulty with each question or different parts of each question or that require a different level of response from each year level.

  12. Use work sheets that develop a topic from the start to the finish of the unit to allow the younger students to start and progress as far as possible yet allow the older students to revise the basics while extending them further into the topic.

  13. Have firm guidelines regarding homework, especially in senior primary and secondary classes.

  14. Teach your students how to learn, study and to accept personal responsibility for their learning. They need to become more self-motivated and self-reliant than they would be in a one level class.

  15. Encourage your students to seek help and to give help as a matter of normal routine in your class room. Teach them to accept help positively from their class mate and their teacher.

  16. When you have a mentoring program, teach your mentors first. You may need to test their understanding before you instruct them on how you want them to work with the groups.

  17. Your mentors must be a flexible group because some students have different interests and abilities. It is important to use their diverse talents to help all the students as well as to help develop your mentors.

  18. In secondary classes where two year levels are combined, rewrite your work program so that all the topics normally taught either in the first or second year are taught each year (see Item 3 above).

  19. Another way to proceed is to teach the whole topic to all students but have the students do activities to consolidate their learning at a level appropriate to their development at that time.

  20. Encourage your older secondary students to form study groups in and out of class to help their study of the subject but also prepare them for tertiary study.

*Many of the ideas expressed here could be used effectively with single year classes that have students with a wide variety of ability.

Our author has worked in primary and secondary schools where composite classes are used. In recent years, as a primary relief teacher, he has experienced working in these classes and using some of these strategies left by the class teacher for him to use.

In his earlier role as secondary Head of Mathematics, he had to oversee the planning of the work programs for these classes as well as help the teachers involved provide the best learning outcomes. Our author has written many eBooks designed to help the classroom teacher with the many classroom challenges presented each day. You'll find them at

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