Workshop Materials: Multi-Graded English Language Arts

Many Saskatchewan classrooms are multi-graded, which can be both an opportunity and a challenge for teachers. During this one day workshop, facilitators guide participants through ways to organize a multi-graded classroom for English Language Arts instruction while still addressing all the outcomes and indicators in each curriculum. Supports for you from the workshop include:

Analyzing Curriculum

Individually or with others, a powerful exercise is to analyze curriculum including both outcomes and indicators for the grade(s) that are included in your multi-graded setting. Created by Kirsten Dyck, a classroom teacher from Prairie Spirit School Division, curricular through lines for English Language Arts allow us to view multiple grades at one glance.

As well, viewing the contexts for learning is also useful.

One way to do this analysis is to highlight those things that are common to both grades that you teach in YELLOW, and highlight those things that are different between the two curricula in PINK. At a glance, you can then determine how much commonality exists between the grades that you are teaching. At the July, 2016 workshop, participants identified many 'AHAs' and implications for their planning and teaching as a result of this analysis.

Extending Differentiation

One way to approach planning in a multi-graded classroom is to use the concepts of differentiation: content, process, product and environment. While differentiation often has us examine how we make our instruction different, in a multi-graded classroom we want to be conscious of what we might be able to make common in our instruction so that we have the flexibility to focus on individual learning needs. A simple planning template allows teachers to identify what is the same and what is common among the grades they teach. As well, there are a number of assessment rubrics created by Saskatchewan teachers that are useful in considering the level of expectation for different skills such as reading, writing, viewing, speaking, listening and representing. 

Common Content

Sometimes, we may have a resource or theme that we would like students to explore all together as one large group. In this case, the steps for planning might:

  1. Determine the resource you are having the students use - a novel, video, poem, short story, etc.
  2. Relate that resource to the context that you are working in. This may mean that you create a common theme within one of the English Language Arts contexts.
  3. Examine the outcomes and indicators for both grades. What might you be able to connect for each grade? This may have some similarity, and may have specific skills and understandings that are different.
  4. Determine the product for each grade. This may be a different product, depending on the outcomes and indicators that you have selected. For instance, one grade may create a letter from a character and one may create a biography of a character. Appropriate assessment criteria would be identified by each grade group. 
  5. Once the assessment task has been outlined, determine what specific teaching strategies are needed to provide students with the skills they need, and how to structure the classroom to allow for this instruction to occur. It may be in the form of stations, flexible groupings, etc. 

Example: Reading Touching Spirit Bear

In this example, while all students are reading the same novel, the instruction and assignments are different for Grade 7 and Grade 8 students.

Common Process

Sometimes, we may have a skill or understanding that we find that all students in both grades need to be taught. In this case, the steps for planning might:

  1. Determine the common need that is shared by both grade groups. For instance, you may find that both grades need to strengthen their understanding of and ability to use comprehension strategies.
  2. Examine the outcomes and indicators for both grades. What might you be able to connect for each grade? Identify what is the same and what is different in the expectations for each grade.
  3. With curricular expectations in mind, determine what product or task students will complete in order to build their skills.  
  4. Identify the instruction that is needed to build student ability to use comprehension strategies.
  5. Determine what content each grade will interact with, depending on which theme they are learning about in their grade.

Example: Selecting and Using Comprehension Strategies

In this example, students in Grades 7 and 8 may be interacting with different content, but the instruction and performance assignments are common to both grades.

Common Product

Sometimes, we may have an assessment task or product that we would like all students to create as one large group. In this case, the steps for planning might:

  1. Determine the common need that is shared by both grade groups. For instance, you may find that both grades need to strengthen their ability to write a reader response. Based on this need, identify what product or task might be appropriate for all students to complete.
  2. Examine the outcomes and indicators for both grades. What might you be able to connect for each grade? Identify what is the same and what is different in the expectations for each grade.
  3. With curricular expectations in mind, develop your assessment criteria. 
  4. Identify the instruction that is needed to build student ability to write reader responses, including the co-construction of criteria for what a quality reader response is.
  5. Determine what each grade will read separately, depending on which theme they are learning about in their grade.

Example: Writing a Reader Response

In this example, while the theme and context is different for Grades 7 and 8, the reader response assignment and assessment criteria are common to both grades.

Classroom Structures and Environment

One consideration for a multi-graded classroom is how to manage structures to allow you to address the specific needs of individuals, small groups, or grade-level groupings. These structures include, but are not limited to

  • Reader's Workshop
  • Gradual Release of Responsibility
  • Literacy Centres
  • Guided Reading

There are a number of print and video resources available to help make sense of these structures. With each structure, it is important to consider how they might change if used in a multi-graded classroom.