Departmentalizing, changing classes, specializing...whatever your terminology, departmentalizing can seem like a daunting task to an elementary teacher who has never tried it. For my fourth grade team, changing classes has become part of our fourth grade daily routine, and to be honest, we can't imagine it any other way. Although for many schools, departmentalizing does not begin until middle school, most of my 24 years of teaching upper elementary have been spent in some type departmentalized setting. Since my move to fourth grade about ten years ago, my fourth grade colleagues and I have enjoyed this, and I have specialized in language arts.
For my co-teachers and I, departmentalizing has several benefits not only for our students, but for ourselves as well.
1. The first benefit is rather an obvious one. Students are better prepared for exchanging classes in middle school. By exchanging classes in elementary, students have experience before entering middle school.
2. Teachers are able to teach to their strengths and become "experts" in their field. Students benefit from teachers' knowledge and expertise. I know that I certainly feel that I have become a much better language arts teacher because all of my time and energy is focused on this one area.
3. Students are exposed to the instructional style of more than one teacher. For many students, this can be a benefit.
4. Our students each year rave about how quickly the days go by because of exchanging classes. Perhaps it is because students are more focused in each class, the day is set at a faster pace, or that students have had a minute or two to walk and exchange classes. Whatever the reason, students enjoy each day's pace.
5. Teachers have the opportunity to get to know all of the students in the grade. For some, this may not seem like a benefit, but I find that it truly is an advantage. I love getting to know all of the kiddos, plus because all of my co-workers have all of the students, we are constantly talking and discussing ways to help meet the needs of individual students. Anytime there is a problem or a need, I know that I can go to my fourth grade colleagues for help, suggestions, or advice. We are constantly working together to help meet the needs of our students. HUGE advantage!!
6. Students have an opportunity to release energy. Just by getting up and moving from classroom to classroom helps students release energy. They then come to each class more focused and ready to work.
7. Because students are in a class for only one class period, time for discipline problems and behavioral issues is greatly decreased. Also, because students are up and moving between classes, extra energy can be released which also helps to diminish behavior problems.
Although departmentalizing may not be for every teacher at every school, my colleagues and I feel that it has certainly benefited our students. Each year, our students tell us that they love exchanging classes. They look forward to that time each day, and on the very rare occasion that we don't exchange classes, students usually express their disappointment. I think that is a testament to departmentalizing working for us.
Have a blessed day!