Seven Tips for Departmentalizing in Upper Elementary

In our school, 4th grade is the first year that our students exchange classes.  Many students are nervous about this new experience.  To help students transition, my colleagues and I work very closely together to establish routines, and make this new experience of exchanging classes a positive experience for our students.

Here are 7 tips for departmentalizing in upper elementary that we have found helpful.

1.  Establish routines with exchanging classes.  Work closely with your co-teachers and establish consistent expectations of  hall behavior, exchanging classes, lining up, etc.  If students know that all teachers have the same expectations, exchanging class will go very smoothly.
2.  Line up to exchange classes.  Although middle school and high school have bells to exchange classes and students simply leave at the bell, our students are taught to line up on our signals.  They line up and stand in the hall to wait to enter the next classroom.  We (teachers) have become very good at watching the clock to exchange class on time, limiting the wait time for students.  By having students line up together, we can teach students a routine, teach them how to exchange quietly and quickly.
3.  Limit materials that students must take from classroom to classroom.  Have as many materials in the classroom as possible so students do not have to remember too many items.  We keep a set of textbooks in our classroom for all students to use so that they do not have to bring textbooks to class.  Materials such as composition notebooks and workbooks stay in the classroom and are passed out as needed.  In our situation, students only need to bring three things: a folder (for homework and loose paper), pencil pouch (containing crayons, scissors, and pencils), and a book to read.  Make it simple for students to remember.
4.  When it is time to exchange, name everything that your students need.  Say something like, "Gather your pencil pouch, folder, and book to read."  Just reminding students can be a huge help. 
5.  Allow one or two weeks for students to get used to the new routine.  It may not be perfect on the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd day of school, but in one or two weeks, exchanging will become routine for you and your students.
6.  Work closely with your co-teachers to help students know their homework assignments.  Part of our daily afternoon routine is to write homework in our homework journals.  My colleagues and I email one another to let each other know homework assignments and tests days so that we can write it on our homework board and help all students write assignments in their homework journals.  By working so closely together, we enable our students to understand our expectations and the importance of studying and preparing for tests, completing homework assignments, etc. 
7.  Be positive.  Let students know from day one, the positives of being departmentalized. Build an excitement for exchanging by telling your students what your students in the past have loved about being departmentalized.   Some things that my students love about being departmentalized include that the day goes by very quickly and  they love having a different teacher for each subject.
While departmentalization in upper elementary may not be the perfect situation for every school, I absolutely can't imagine teaching any other way.  Definitely, the key to our success has been my wonderful co-workers!  They are truly fabulous! 
Have a blessed day!

Seven Benefits of Departmentalizing

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!