Text Based Units in a Multi-age Classroom
For most of my teaching life, I have taught in multi-age and composite classrooms. I was once the lone teacher in a little school where I had pre-school to year 5 in the one room! While all teachers have a range of ‘levels’ in their classroom, multi-age/multi-grade teachers, have a special situation to contend with. Not only do they need to meet students where they are up to in building foundational skills, but they need to meet a range of learning outcomes as outlined by the curriculum. When it comes to working with mentor texts, the good news is that there are so many cross-overs between the grades when it comes to content descriptors that relate to the ‘top of the rope’ that finding common ground can be a relatively simple task.
The writers of the AustralianCurriculumm have conveniently created an outline of content that builds on what has come before. So, Year 1 is learning about verbs and Year 2 is learning about verb phrases. It’s not too much of a stretch to throw a couple of extra words into a sentence and extend your students into the Year 2 range.
Let’s have a look at a couple of examples from the curriculum:
We can see the obvious connections between the Year 1 and 2 content in the descriptors above. If we were to teach text structure to our Year 1-2 class, we would be addressing both descriptors. This means that we don’t need to differentiate the content we teach to the students. One lesson, addressing the ‘higher’ level content, will support all students. The differences come in when we assess and grade. Looking at the sections of the achievement standard that address text structure, we can see the difference between the grades.
Year 1 –
They read, view and comprehend texts, monitoring meaning and making connections between the depiction of characters, settings and events, and personal experiences. They identify the text structures of familiar narrative and informative texts,
There is no mention of text structure in Year 1 writing.
Year 2 –
They describe how similar topics and information are presented through the structure of narrative and informative text and identify their language features and visual features.
They create written and/or multimodal texts, including stories, to inform, express an opinion, adapt an idea or narrate for audiences. They use text structures to organise and link ideas for a purpose. They punctuate simple and compound sentences. They use topic-specific vocabulary. They write words using consistently legible unjoined letters. They spell words with regular spelling patterns and use phonic and morphemic knowledge to attempt to spell words with less common patterns.
So, what might teaching look like when we consider the needs of the two grades? It could look like teaching through a narrative (Jetty Jumping) and then also reading non-fiction texts that connect to an aspect of the text (Being scared, jetties etc.). When you click on the sentence about describing how similar topics and information are presented through the structure of narrative and information texts above, it takes you to the content descriptor that I have shared.
The take home message here is to KEEP THINGS SIMPLE. Don’t overcomplicate things, and try to teach the perfect Year 1 lesson and the perfect Year 2 lesson at the same time.
But what about when the connections aren’t as clear as the example above?
The descriptors above both deal with text cohesion; however, they focus on different aspects of it. The choice is to either teach more than one aspect of cohesion or to address them at different times. I would err on the side of the second option to allow the opportunity for students to consolidate their understanding and build fluency before introducing something else.
A quick look at the achievement standards for both Year 5 and Year 6 shows that cohesion doesn’t rate a mention in either. What is mentioned is linking ideas and organising content. So, if you are teaching a Year 5-6 class, know that you can teach these things separately throughout the year as a way to improve student’s general writing, but you don’t have the pressure of having to specifically assess them.
Whichever grades you are teaching and whether the connections between those grades are clear or opaque, nothing is gained by overcomplicating your teaching. By keeping things simple, you will benefit both yourself and your students and see much better results for your efforts.
If you’d like a breakdown of the content descriptors that you might address as you teach text based units, you can access it by popping in your details below.