One + one = Success

Brodie Thomas
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Classroom combination pilot working at St. James

Grade 5 teachers and students at St. James Elementary are tearing down walls in the classroom, and they're doing it in more ways than one.

In fact, they've rolled back the wall between their two classrooms, and are working together as a single class with two teachers.

Grade 5 teachers and students at St. James Elementary are tearing down walls in the classroom, and they're doing it in more ways than one.

In fact, they've rolled back the wall between their two classrooms, and are working together as a single class with two teachers.

The removal of the wall and pairing up of teachers Lloyd Whitehorne and Shonna Ingram has removed other barriers to learning for students in Grade 5. The doubling up of the two classes is a pilot project by the Western District School Board, and by any measure, the project is turning out to be a success.

Mr. Whitehorne came up with the idea last spring. Certain curriculums require the two Grade 5 classes to work together as a single unit, and that meant trooping the children to the cafeteria in order to have a large enough space to accommodate both classes.

"I thought wouldn't it be great if I didn't have to worry about going to the cafeteria - if I just had them all in the same room."

Mr. Whitehorne pitched his idea to school administration in a written proposal, and Principal Denise Francis thought it was a great idea. She took it to the school board and the plan was approved.

"The old saying is many hands make light work," said Mrs. Francis. "Knowing we would have two teachers with creative minds would be good for the students."

Mrs. Ingram was recruited to be the other teacher in the pilot project. She said parents were informed about the pilot in June and some hesitated at first.

"They were not sure what to expect. They were unsure of the class size," said Mrs. Ingram.

While there are 42 students in the same room instead of two classes of 21, having two teachers in the room at most times means students can still get assistance when needed.

"It isn't like she's teaching 42 kids while I go down and have a coffee," said Mr. Whitehorne.

The two classrooms were already divided by a folding wall. Mr. Whitehorne thought that they would roll the wall out when needed, but he and Mrs. Ingram have not had the need to put it back since September.

Teaching duties are split up, with Mr. Whitehorne teaching language arts and Mrs. Ingram teaching math.

They are sharing duties on other courses such as health and science. But the split between the two is not rigid. Both teachers are in the classroom most of the time, and either can be called on to help when a student needs extra help with a subject.

"There might be a student who is having difficulty. Where there's two of us, one of us can pull that student aside and teach concepts," said Mrs. Ingram.

Both teachers say they find the situation easier because they can call on each other when unsure of a certain fact, or if they need a concept explained in a different way.

The arrangement allows the two teachers to practice a certain style of teaching known as differentiating instruction. It is a theory of teaching that allows students to express what they have learned in a way they feel comfortable with.

Mrs. Ingram gave the example of a recent religious class. After the usual classroom instruction, students did their own research on the subject and presented a wide variety of reports.

"They were asked to present it in a way they were comfortable. Some did posters. Some did models. Other did slideshows. Whatever they felt they were comfortable with," she said.

The two classes do occasionally split up for classes such as music or gym. The students, however, seem to prefer being together. All say its great because their friends are in the same room, but they also understand the advantages of having two teachers.

"Last year we just did work on paper but this year we went on a lot of field trips," said Andrew Pike.

Destinee Samms said the other teacher is always available to call on.

"If we're having trouble with something, and the teacher is working with someone else, then the other teacher can come and help us."

Mr. Whitehorne and Mrs. Ingram are hoping to use the two-classroom format next year for the next year's Grade 5 class. But for the students who are currently in the program, going back to the standard one-classroom-one-teacher approach may take some getting used to.

"My daughter is in here, so I get direct feedback," said Mr. Whitehorne. "In July she said, 'School is school, dad.' Now she says, 'Dad, I don't know what's going to happen in Grade 6.' I think the kids are learning a lot, they're having a lot of fun doing it, and we're having a lot of fun too."

reporter@gulfnews.ca

Organizations: Western District School Board

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