Elementary schools that still schedule students into self-contained classrooms could be depriving their students of a better education. Teachers in self-contained classrooms are not always the most qualified people to teach all four core subjects (literacy, social studies, math and science). In addition, teachers in self-contained classes are generally not confident in teaching all four subjects. Schools should seek other ways to schedule their teachers that better support both teacher and student achievement.
Before the school starts to develop a different model for its students, the administration should investigate the certification of all teachers. This will allow the administration to stay in compliance with all federal and state laws before giving teaching assignments. In-addition, the administration should talk with teachers to find out which subjects they are qualified to teach or would feel comfortable teaching.
This information will give administration the background information needed to make an informed decision on what subjects to assign to each teacher. This process should also be done when hiring teachers. Knowing what teachers are qualified for and what they are confident in teaching will go a long way to improve student achievement.
Once the administration has done the background work, it is time to choose a model that best fits their school. The focus is to have the most qualified teachers teaching the area of their expertise, and limiting the teacher to teaching two subjects. Because of the new common core standards, teachers must become content experts in their areas to keep up with all the changes required. Two content areas per teachers is the recommendation. Traditional roles as generalists in several subject areas should be thing of the past.
Schools can start at lows as the second-grade level with this model. It’s called platooning or the departmentalized model, and is similar to what is used by middle and high schools. This model requires the students to change classes each hour for a new subject and teacher. Teachers would most likely walk each class to the next teacher, and have a new set of students each hour. Teachers would only teach in the area of their expertise. As a result, students would learn from the most-qualified teachers.
Some schools at the elementary level don’t feel their students are ready for that much movement, so they use a variation in the model. This variation has the teachers becoming content experts in two areas, such as literacy and social studies, and another teacher would be the expert in math and science. Students would spend two hours with the literacy and social studies teacher and two hours with the math and science teacher each day. Both models could have students changing classes, or have the students stay in one class while the teacher changes classes. Schools can decide the logistics independently.
Here is what one of these schedules would look like: The student could start the day with one teacher for reading and writing, and rotate to music, art or and physical education classes. After lunch, the student would attend a math and science class, then return to the original teacher for social studies.
Research has shown that schools which embrace these models have discovered that students learn more, teachers are more excited because they spend more time with the subjects they love, and test scores improve. For these reasons, schools that are looking to improve student achievement should investigate these models.