This post originally appeared on the blog The Brown Bag Teacher.

Split class? Combination class? Multi-age class? Whatever you call it, this year I welcomed a new challenge! Transitioning from a 1st grade classroom to a K/1 classroom 5 weeks into the school year, it was a busy fall. Throughout the transition, so many teachers have emailed asking for help, ideas, and information about our schedule. So today, let’s explore what a K/1 Combination Class looks like in Room 134.

Is a K/1 Combination Class common in your area?

In my county, combination classes are a numbers game. Initially, I was teaching a traditional 1st grade class. By the second week of school, each Kindergarten and 1st Grade class had 28 or 29 students (24 is cap for our county). With such large classes, each with a few students with high-needs, Central Office funded a new 1st grade teacher the week after Labor Day. Each 1st grade class gave the new 1st grade teacher 4-5 students, and I gave her 15 students. Each Kindergarten teacher gave me (the new K/1 teacher), 3-4 students.

What is your class make-up?

Research says combination classes should be made-up of high, independent students from each grade-level. Ideally, this would happen, but we know in reality, that’s not always the case. Forming my K/1 class after 5 weeks of school, I lost 15 of my 1st graders and welcomed 11 kindergarteners, making a class of 24 students. Just like any other Kinder class, 7 of my 11 kindergarteners entered at an AA or below. Students in my class have special needs, receive ELL services, visit Speech each week, and need enrichment… just like any other class. One of my 1st graders participates in all my kinder groups.

How do you structure your day?
Combination classes? Multi-age classes? Whatever you call them, they're a challenge! See how Catherine Reed structures her K/1 classroom and makes it work!

Who made your schedule?

Our K/1 class started post-Labor Day, so we had already been in school five weeks. When my principal approached me about teaching the K/1 class, I was given the opportunity to create a schedule that would work for my students and me. This was an incredible blessing! When I was crafting the schedule, I kept several things in mind. (1) I had an aide that could help with recess transitions (2) I wanted to honor that each grade-level needed time with their peers (3) Kinder writers are very different than 1st grade writers.

Knowing these three things, I opted to send each grade-level to recess with their own grade-level (Mrs. B, our aide, takes students to and from the playground). While kinder is at recess, I have 14 1st graders in my room for writing and math mini-lessons. While 1st grade is at recess, I have 10 kinders in the classroom for writing and math mini-lessons. During this time, most of my instruction takes places on the carpet in a circle. It’s glorious.

Combination classes? Multi-age classes? Whatever you call them, they're a challenge! See how Catherine Reed structures her K/1 classroom and makes it work!

What does the time breakdown for each subject look like?

When it’s all said and done, we spend 150 minutes a day reading, 90 minutes in math, 20-25 minutes in writing, and 15 minutes in science/social studies. Intervention and enrichment groups are built into our schedule. I pull math and reading groups to ensure students are not pulled for services (ESL, Speech, Gifted and Talents) when they receive core instruction. My Kinder reading groups (that include 2 first grade students) visit Teacher Table 3 times during reading and 2 times during math. When I have a student teacher, those are bumped up to 4 and 3 times!

This seems incredibly insane structured. Is this real life?

As a teacher, one of my favorite parts of the job is the ability to seize the moment and extend lessons as I need. If we are at a great spot in a read aloud? Continue! But… teaching the K/1 and having such a structured day (in terms of recesses and transitions), I have lost a lot of that flexibility. It many ways, it hurts… like it shakes my teacher core (not dramatic at all, I know). But I also know without the recess times structured into our day, I would not get time alone with each grade-level. It’s definitely a double-edged sword.

Some weeks I find myself getting really frustrated about living my life in 15-17 minute increments. Other days, I love that I fit in all my reading and math groups in every day. Through this combination class, I’ve found that the ‘high’ weeks are oh-so-high, and the low weeks are oh-so-low.

Is there enough time to fit everything in?

Inherently there isn’t enough time scheduled for writing and science/social studies, so I have become a master of integration. At least twice a week, my guided reading groups include some type of guided writing. Additionally, students visit Work on Writing 2-3 times a week where they work to apply our Writer’s Workshop skills to their own writing. Mrs. B (our aide) includes writing as a part of her reading and math small groups at least twice a week. Additionally, our 1st grade team has worked to align our reading and writing units. So, when I am teaching Inform/Explain writing in January-February, we are also teaching main idea and details in reading along with our Arctic and Tundra units in science. In the fall when we teach Narrative Writing, in reading we are learning about characters, settings, problems, and solutions. While it required more work to initially map our year out, we love how the subject and content areas flow.

What does whole-group look like?

Throughout the day, we do have small moments of whole-group built in. These moments include: reading mini-lessons, number talks, and read aloud before lunch. When I plan whole group lessons, I plan them for my 1st graders with scaffolds that allow my kindergarteners to thrive. Honestly, it’s been wonderful. My 1st graders get the content they need and my kinders rise to the occasion. Granted they are being assessed for mastery, but so many times they do!

What does reading and math look like?

Reading and math were the easiest things to make fit in our K/1 class. I have been using Daily 5 and Guided Math structures for the past two years, so my kinders fit right in. For reading, students are grouped by Guided Reading Level (regardless of grade level). I have 5 guided reading groups that I meet with every day and my aide meets with 3 groups a day (the lowest group she meets with twice each day – Round 2 and Round 4). In math, students are grouped by pre-assessments. I have two kinder math groups and two 1st grade math groups. I have two 1st grade students who participate in a kinder math group and a 1st grade math group. Additionally, my aide sees three math groups each day (two kinder groups and one 1st grade group).

With whom do you plan?

I have curriculum maps and guides from both the Kindergarten and 1st Grade teams. With that said, my planning and PLC time takes place with 1st grade.

How do you handle special grade-level events?

From the very beginning, I have expressed the need to be a team. We don’t say “Kinder friends” and “1st grade friends”. We are a group of friends who learn together. Therefore, when there are special events, we participate together with each grade-level having a special role. I take the time to tweak events so they are just-right for all of our friends. Both grade-levels attend field trips together, both celebrate 50s Day (a Kinder celebration in our school), both will celebrate Kinder Graduation (with 1st grade helping throughout the ceremony). We are a K/1 Team, and we do not leave one another out.

Combination classes? Multi-age classes? Whatever you call them, they're a challenge! See how Catherine Reed structures her K/1 classroom and makes it work!

With what do you struggle?

  • The Structure. I love, love, love structure but some days I feel like my day is so automated that I miss the spontaneity that so often ruled my classroom in past years. We live life in 10, 15, and 20 minute segments, and that can be hard.
  • In some ways, teaching a K/1 is isolating. I don’t feel like I truly belong to either team – Kindergarten or 1st. Since I teach a grade-level during recess, I miss seeing and talking with my teammates. (Please note – I made my schedule, so I did this to myself… but still, it’s hard.)
  • Recess: I miss being outside. I LOVE the time I have with each grade-level, but I miss being outside.
  • While I cannot imagine teaching a combination class without an aide, it has been an adjustment to learn to share the classroom with someone else. Mrs. B has been a tremendous blessing to our classroom, but still it’s been hard.

What do you love about the K/1?

  • Each day, I have 40 minutes with each grade-level and it is amazing. During this time, I have approximately 10-12 students in my classroom and it is an incredible time of learning and growth. I can truly target my instruction, I can conference with half my class in a day, and I am meaningfully connecting with students. I cherish this time with my students and it is what I’ll miss most in future years.

    Combination classes? Multi-age classes? Whatever you call them, they're a challenge! See how Catherine Reed structures her K/1 classroom and makes it work!

  • The relationship between my kindergarteners and 1st graders is truly special. There is a sense that we are a learning community with everyone working to become the best student he or she can become. There is not a sense of competition; rather, we are a team. I love when a kinder friend reads their three-sentence narrative and my 1st graders cheer, or when a 1st grader levels-up on Lexia and immediately wants to tell a kinder friend. By far, this is the most empathic and kind class I’ve had.

Would you do it again?

Absolutely. Honestly, I was very nervous to teach this combination. I’ve always said I am not a kinder teacher #famouslastwords and I couldn’t imagine myself with tiny human beings. Additionally, I was terrified about fitting in everything, how families would react, and how much extra time it would be. Thankfully, with small-group structures already in place, the transition was minimal. My students are thriving, they love their classmates, and they love school. I would absolutely teach a combination class again.

So friends, are you teaching a combination class? Have you ever taught one? How did it work in you classroom? What questions do you have for me?

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Combination classes? Multi-age classes? Whatever you call them, they're a challenge! See how Catherine Reed structures her K/1 classroom and makes it work!Catherine is a primary teacher, passionate about fostering a love for learning within her students. Through intentional small groups, differentiated centers, and a safe environment, Catherine’s Kentucky-based classroom is centered around her motto: “Teach the children. Love the children. Change the world.” Join Catherine and her adventures in the classroom on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and her TpT store.