Class structures vary from year to year influenced by the numbers in year level cohorts and the total number of students across the school. Schools are currently funded on the total number of enrolments and no direct consideration is offered to the numbers in individual year levels in this formulae. Individual schools then create effective learning groups of children often spread across 2-year levels. These are commonly referred to as Composite Classes. There are significant advantages for children learning in multi- age groups.At Henley Beach Primary School we make every effort to cater for the individual needs ofchildren whether in a single year level or multi-age classes.Teaching in composite classes occurs through whole class, group or individual activities. Often the topic is presented to the whole class and following learning tasks are varied according to individual students needs and abilities.
Why do we have them? How do teachers manage them?
Parents frequently ask questions about why schools have classes with composite yearlevels (for example, Year 3/4, Year 6/7 or R/1/2) and also how can teachers manage toteach more than one year level at a time?Although composite classes have been around for a long while, many parents ask about how this structure works to effectively support student learning.One reason for having composite classes is a very practical one. Students simply do not enrol in neat groups of 26 junior primary or 30 primary students in each year level. Neither do parents enrol children in a balanced number of boys and girls! The primary reason for having composite classes, however, is educational. What parents, teachers and researchers know about the way children learn is very supportive of grouping students in multi-age classes.Generally, parents understand and accept that children differ greatly in their rate of development. for example, all children learn to walk and talk at different ages and in different ways. However, when it comes to the learning at school, there is often a parent expectation that all children learn the same things at the same time, same rate and the same age. This is not the case.
All children have their own strengths, interests and dislikes. These influence their learning progress and their ability to pick things up either more quickly or more slowly than others or about the same as a particular group of students. One student may be a whiz at Maths and struggle at PE; another may love reading but have difficulty spelling; while another may research a topic with ease and toil over the presenting of the ideas.
All students have various needs and all require guidance from teachers and from parents. This guidance varies from one task to another but in any situation teacher or parent support helps the student work through problems so they can progress.
Social Development & A Range of Ability
As you might predict, this also varies among children of the same age. In a ‘composite class’ there are up to 30 students with different needs. In a ‘straight class’ there are also 30 students with different needs.
Think of the children you’ve seen playing cricket on Saturdays or netball after school – there is a range of ability in any one team and or age group. Just as the coach works with the teams as a whole and with the individuals, so too, do teachers in the classroom.
A child’s year level at school indicates their age (within a fifteen-month span) and the average length of time each age group has been at school. Composite classes are constructed very carefully and take into account many factors.
The Year 3’s in a 2/3 class, for examples, are not of lower average ability than those in a Year 3/4 class. Special needs are met with modified curriculum and additional support programs.
These minimum requirements for the level, along with each child’s ability and potential, guide and influence a teacher’s expectations of the children in their class. Teacher’s expectations are based on the abilities of their own students and on the average benchmarks per year level in the SA Curriculum Standards and Assessment framework.
Teaching in composite classes occurs with whole class, group or individual activities. Often a topic is presented to the whole class, a general task is set and then the teacher follows up with groups or individuals.
Teachers also offer different ‘entry’ or ‘extension’ points for groups of students. In their teaching, the teacher will allow for eg. ‘the quick to catch on’ students; ‘the poorly organised students’; the students who need things explained in stages. These groups exist in every class – there is really no such thing as an ‘everyone is the same’ class. Teaching in any year level is based on the needs of the student.
Schooling is definitely different now from when parents and grandparents went to school and a lot of things have changed for the better since the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s! Thank goodness our school education is stimulating, comprehensive, technologically advanced and global.