July 16, 2014

Departmentalizing Advice Needed :)

     Currently, my assignment for next year is to teach 4th grade English Language Arts (reading, writing, and word study). I'm still an ICT room, meaning my homeroom will have me (as the general education teacher) and my co-teacher (as the special ed. teacher). After an allotted time, my co-teacher will go with our homeroom class to the math teacher and I'll get another set of kids from the math teacher. (I'm not sure the make-up of the other class--it's either ELLs {english language learners}or the general ed.)

I'm not sure how I feel about this...I honestly go back and forth about the pros and cons.

I enjoy teaching reading and writing and the actual preparation of the lessons (materials,charts, plan book) seems streamlined. Reflections of the lessons can be immediately adapted for the next group and I can become an expert in one field instead of trying to become an expert in everything.

On the other hand, as one of the ELA teachers, there is substantially more work to be done than the math teachers. From a planning perspective, we are writing our first unit (reading, writing, and word study) from scratch using a mentor text. Once we're done teaching that first unit, we're getting a new program {Core Knowledge}. Unpacking that is going to be interesting! And grading is a whole other story!

I'm curious about how departmentalizing looks in other schools--
     **What does your schedule look like? Do you use a rotation schedule?
     **How do you fit it all in (especially since there really isn't any carry over time)?
     **How do you manage all the grading?
     **What does your homework look like? Do you give daily or weekly homework? How do you check it?
     **How do you fit in stations or center time?

 I really appreciate any advice :) Thanks in advance!


  1. Hi Jen! I have been a departmentalized teacher for 4th and 5th several times and really do enjoy it. Here are the pros: 1/2 the planning, becoming expert in your subject area, being able to impact twice as many kids, and if you have a challenging student, you only have him or her 1/2 the day :) I think that the best advice I have is that you and your partner do not have to be identical in terms of rules, procedures, teaching styles, etc. If feels like you should, but the kids adapt very quickly and respond well to having different teachers. In terms of grading, it is a lot more papers, but not twice as many assignments so it isn't too bad. Take advantage of online resources like Socrative.com (awesome and free!) that can do some of the grading for you and have students self assess/grade when possible. Get in the habit of keeping a gradesheet handy on a clipboard so you can quickly jot down simple, holistic grades for some assignments (just A-F or scale of 1-4) as you walk around the room. Also, use the beginning of the day/homeroom time for simple review work, and see if your partner will display those same questions for the other group during homeroom too. Have students partner up to check homework, and only go over sections whole group where there is disagreement or questions. I have 2 days a week where students participate in stations. Take some pressure off of yourself to grade everything; if it is formative, just use it to guide your lesson planning and coaching of students rather than for a formal grade. The good thing about not having "carry over" time is that your students will really get to all subjects. You can do it and will probably love it :) Good luck to you!!

    1. Thank you so much Daisy! I've heard of Socrative.com but never had the time to actually try it out. I think this year may be the year haha :)

  2. I was departmentalized last year and LOVED it! However, we were in a slightly different situation. We are a small school (12-25 students per class), so we only have one section of each. With that being said - 4th, 5th, and 6th grade were departmentalized. The 4th grade teacher did all the math, 5th did the science and social studies, and then as the 6th grade teacher I did the reading/writing. We each did our own grammar and spelling. Again - I LOVED IT!

    We had 90 minutes with each class each day. During that time I did about 30 minutes of writing and 60 of reading. I'll be honest and say that I'm not the best writing teacher - so it often involved a mini-lesson and then the kiddos wrote. During reading we started with a poem. You can read my entire blog post on that if you are interested - http://www.hojosteachingadventures.com/2013/08/add-more-poetry-into-your-day.html And then we would go into our mini lesson. Finally, the students would read silently for the last 10-30 minutes (depending on the day) while I met with students to work on individual skills.

    I am not a big believer in homework, so I RARELY assigned any. Our school implements an at-home reading incentive program which asks upper elementary kiddos to read 20 minutes, five days a week. I figured if they were doing that (which 90% were) - they were doing their "homework" as far as reading was concerned.

    Fitting everything in - especially at the beginning of the year - took some practice. BUT, it got better. There were few days where I had to carry something over until the next day. And when that happened, it was sort of nice because it meant I already had one day planned out for next week. :) I just learned to roll with it.

    The grading one was a little tricky. I learned that I needed to be incredibly disciplined. I had 52 Interactive Reading Notebooks to grade about four days each week. We do weekly communication folders with parents that go out on Wednesday. I typically worked on these on Tuesdays AND on Tuesdays I had lunchroom duty. So --- Tuesdays were often the kids day "off" from writing their Reading Responses. (Trust me, they loved the day off as much as I did!)

    You can read about my interactive reading notebooks at this blog post --- http://www.hojosteachingadventures.com/2013/09/interactive-reading-notebooks-with.html

    I hope I've helped you and not overwhelmed you more. I actually have a blog post about being departmentalized and how it looked in our school set to go live on July 29 (pending no changes from guest bloggers or anything). Maybe that will help you out as well.

    Good luck with this! Just like any change, it will be hard to start. However, I truly think you'll love it! Please e-mail or stop by my blog with any questions you have. I'll do my best to help you out! =)

    1. Thank you so much HoJo! You gave me so much to think about and your blog posts were so helpful. I'm still working on wrapping my head around the whole thing and your response is so helpful :)

  3. Hi! I teach 5th grade Social Studies and Language Arts in Ohio. My partner teachers Math and Science. We're departmentalized as well, so we have about 55 minutes-give or take a minute or two-to teach each subject. Each of us have a homeroom of 26 to 28 kids, and we basically share them. They come to me for L/A and Social Studies and go to her for Math and Science.
    I'm not going to lie. It's a constant struggle fitting in everything that's supposed to be be covered/mastered before standardized test time, but I find that planning ahead (way ahead) helps as well as being very organized and efficient. The grading isn't too much of a problem for me. I do a lot of whole class, formative assessments, and I, though I assign homework, it doesn't weigh heavily on my students' grades. The in class quizzes are heavily weighted because I really don't give them until I'm certain that the majority of my students have mastered the concepts.
    For homework, I usually assign 20 to 30 minutes of reading (complete reading log--no parent signature needed) and the students have to write one or two paragraphs per week. I usually checked this on Friday. The reading logs got a check +, a check -, or a check based on effort and completion. This upcoming school year, I'm going to have the students read 20 to 30 minutes each night and respond to their reading on kidblog and have them complete one comprehension activity a night based on the same text. I'll just use it as a formative assessment and give it a cursory check to see who needs to be pulled for remediation and who is ready for enrichment activities based on the topic.
    I'm a big fan of literacy stations in my classroom. We can normally fit in 3 to 4 rotations a week. But, I spend the first 4 to 5 weeks of school training the students, so that they fully understand my routines and expectations. That way, I'm able to work with a small group while the rest of the class participating in meaningful learning activities, independently.
    I enjoy the departmentalized atmosphere. I get to know my partners homeroom as well as my own. I just wish I had more instructional time with my students. :)
    Oh, and you'll want to make sure that you touch base with the teachers that you'll be sharing students with, because you want to make sure that you're on the same page in terms of disciple, classroom management, etc. Otherwise, things can get pretty confusing/frustrating, pretty quickly.
    I'm sure you'll do fine. Be patient with yourself and give yourself time to adjust to the change.

    1. Thank you so much Shep! This was a big help :) I really appreciate your response about the stations. That is one of the bottom lines that my principal has so it's nice to hear how it works in other places!