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Oct. 22, 2010

Better together

by Anya Gosine, Online Managing, Op/Ed and Food Editor
Junior Daniel Muskin-Pierret is a dedicated Latin student. Having taken the course for several years, he has built up a solid knowledge of the language and yearns to learn more. But when Muskin-Pierret strolls into his Latin 3 class each day something is off, for he sits surrounded only by Latin 1 students.

Muskin-Pierret's Latin 3 class is a combined class period in which both Latin 1 and Latin 3 students are taught during the same block, in the same classroom and by the same teacher. Such classes are common at Blair and have been so for years the affected subjects include foreign languages, music electives and academy-specific courses such as accounting and child development. According to resource counselor Marcia Johnson, administration creates these combined classes when not enough students sign up for a certain level of a course; combining the course with another allows the school to continue to offer the class despite insufficient enrollment.

Language classes are among the subjects in which two different levels are often combined. Janet Zhu
Language classes are among the subjects in which two different levels are often combined.
As would be expected, these class situations have proven to be a pain for both teachers and students, for problems are inevitable. Regardless, offering a course in inconvenient circumstances is much better than not offering the course at all. With combined classes, the school can offer more learning opportunities and both teachers and students should learn how to work with the situation so that it is beneficial for all.

Combined classes have numerous factors that can be detrimental to the learning experience. During these periods the classrooms tend to be overcrowded, and with more students comes more classroom distractions. Furthermore, teachers have to plan their lessons carefully so that all groups of students receive proper attention throughout the class. In many cases, certain students will end up simply doing busywork for the majority of a class while others receive instruction that is more comprehensive. But these problems are only obstacles that can be overcome with the right strategizing.

Without a doubt, simultaneously teaching two classes is a challenge. However, it is important that teachers of combined classes develop consistent lesson plans that can be followed each class. Maintaining a structured routine each class allows for students to anticipate the work they should complete and will keep the class running more smoothly. Some teachers have already found alternate ways by which they can keep their classes organized. Latin teacher Robert Johnson, who teaches Muskin-Pierret's class as well as a period of combined Latin 2 and 3, enlisted the help of MCPS substitute teacher Allen Vollman to help him teach his combined classes. With two teachers, both levels of Latin students receive attention.

Of course, not all teachers have a helping hand in their classes. Still, it is important for teachers to go the extra step and make themselves available for extra help and out-of-class review sessions for students. While combined classes require a greater time commitment from teachers and students, it should be worth having the opportunity to excel in a subject area that would have been limited otherwise.

In combined classes, Students can learn from their peers and work with others of different levels to improve their skills. And while many combined foreign language classes require students to be physically separated throughout class, fine arts teacher Daryl Clark, who teaches two periods of combined Basic Music Theory and AP Music Theory, teaches all his students at once because the curriculum of the two courses is very similar. In this case, exposure to higher levels of a subject is beneficial to students of lower levels, who can be motivated to push themselves to higher levels in the class.

The complaints voiced by students and teachers of combined classes are common and usually justified. But the fact of the matter remains that these manipulated classes are made for the benefit of Blazers, allowing them to pursue higher levels in subjects that cannot be offered at many other schools. If teachers and students work together they can take advantage of the unique class situation and create a more dynamic learning environment as a whole.



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  • japanese 4 student (View Email) on October 22, 2010 at 9:54 PM
    Is the author currently in one of these combined classes? This op-ed was particularly generic and bland as far as actual details of class life go... would have liked to see more of that.

    What the article magically didn't address was the presence of other combined classes - possibly because they wouldn't fit her argument. In, for example, upper level Japanese classes, there is no second teacher and as Ms. Zoll works half her day at Paint Branch, time for extra help and enrichment is limited. She does her best, but with a class of students everywhere from those still learning how to write and read the most basic syllabary to those advanced students taking the AP or SAT II, there is little she can do about the resulting redundancy and detrimental effect on all the students. This results in a great number of students skipping levels (the running joke is that Japanese 3 is secretly Honors Japanese 2, and there's plenty of truth in it), upper level students being bored and then not having sufficient time to go over their material, and lower level students being confused and not being able to get the attention they need. Where's the fine line, the magic number of each level in which *everyone* can benefit from the different backgrounds students have coming into the class?

    I digress. But I think there's a much more complicated story that really wasn't addressed by this article at all. Step it up, guys.
  • Student on October 22, 2010 at 10:24 PM
    Daniel is a junior...
  • Editor on October 24, 2010 at 10:18 AM
    Correction:
    First Paragraph, second mention of Mr. Muskin-Pierret, his last name is incorrectly spelled Muskin-Pierre.
    • e on October 24, 2010 at 2:47 PM
      no its not
  • picky about grammar on November 8, 2010 at 8:09 PM
    " the curriculum of the two courses is very similar" should be "the curricula of the two courses are very similar"
    • me too (View Email) on November 10, 2010 at 2:56 PM
      A+ comment
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