How to Address the Australian Curriculum in Composite Classes?

With our school moving across to the Australian Curriculum next year in terms of formal reporting, the question arose about how to tackle composite classes and the year-level specific content – mainly in the Science and History areas.

There seems to be little in the way of guidelines from the WA Education Department (and a conversation between our Principal and head office didn’t clear up too much apart from some very general, sweeping statements about “making it work”), so it seems it really is up to individual schools to plan effectively. With the old Schedule A policy, schools were required to formally report on each outcome at least once every two years. This meant a rotation of Science topics over a two-year period – 2010 could have been Earth & Beyond and Energy & Change, and 2011 Life & Living and Natural and Processed Materials. The Australian Curriculum requires all four content areas to be reported on each year – effectively one each term instead of one each semester. The first question asked was, “If we have a Year 4/5 class, do we teach all of the Year 4 and all of the Year 5 content?”

A/B Rotation

Suggestion 1 was to work off an A/B rotation – in even years (i.e. 2012, 2014, 2016 etc), all classes work towards the even year-level content (Yr 2, Yr 4, Yr 6), and in odd years the odd year-level content.  On the face of it, this seems a good solution… until you start digging in and providing scenarios.  There is every likelihood that Jimmy, a Year 2 student in a Year 2/3 class, will learn the Year 3 curriculum on 2013, having learned the Year 1 outcomes on 2012.  In 2014, as Jimmy enters Year 3, and is placed in a Year 3/4 class, he now focusses on the Year 4 content… missing the Year 2 content all together.  End of the world? Maybe not, but certainly not the clean solution that some suggest. Another scenario sees young Alice enter a straight Year 1 class in 2014 and learn the Year 2 content.  In a straight Year 2 class in 2015, she learns to Year 1 content she missed the previous year. Come 2016, Alice is placed into a Year 2/3 class as a Year 3… and learns the Year 2 content she covered in Year 1! All of this A/B concept works perfectly if students remain in the same classes, streamed through primary school.  However, the reality is that composite classes are usually formed out of numerical necessity, and throwing another constraint into class structuring would be a logistical nightmare for administration.

History Key Ideas

Having had discussions at a school level, and reading documentation from other states’ education departments (such as South Australia’s), we decided to take the approach in History of creating composite-class guidelines by focussing on the key ideas of the Historical Knowledge and Understandings. Linking key ideas from (for example) Year 4 and Year 5 allows for a guideline for a Year 4/5 teacher to follow.  History outcomes are still broad enough to allow teachers to choose their own topics and directions to take in delivering content, and the document we have produced will hopefully help us to see the connections that are to be made between year level outcomes. This should ensure that the key concepts are still covered, regardless of whether students are in a straight class or a composite class.  All other skills strands and aspects of the History learning area can still be used as a way of differentiating expectations between different students, and links therefore do not need to be made.

Download a PDF of our draft planning document

Our History document is still in draft form at the moment, and composite statements are yet to be fully discussed and ratified by our staff for 2013, but I feel it is a good start for teachers of our composite classes to begin planning around how to best deliver and cater for both year levels. We’re still discussing Science as a staff – the outcome statements appear to be a little more independent of each other as compared to History, and require more thought.

feature image source: dakardus @ deviantART

2 Comments

  1. Glenys Lowden May 29, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Hi Trevor
    I have been interested to read your comments. I work one day per week at a primary school in the Library and also cover an Investigations (humanities, science etc) unit in conjunction with their classroom teacher. The composite classes are made up of F to 2 and 3-5. (currently no year sixes). How did the planning template work for you so far? I also work in High School on the other four days and it is not such an issue where you have distinct year groups. I am interested to know how things have gone in the composite classes particularly in the area of History as this is one I am involved in–at both jobs.
    Cheers
    Glenys

    Reply

    1. Hi Glenys – thanks for popping by!

      This year I made a conscious decision to focus on the Year 7 outcomes in History for both 6s and 7s – namely the Depth Studies. I’m the only Year 7 teacher in the school, and we only focus on History for one semester at this stage, so I know that when I teach my sixes next year, I can focus on the depth studies I didn’t do this year, and I will probably write my own based on the Aztecs or Celts. I’m then addressing some of the Year 6 Historical Knowledge outcomes through my English program – ensuring that my 6s are at least exposed to some of the concepts from that year’s level.

      In terms of Science, our upper primary elected to stream this year – my Year 6 students go to another class for those sessions, and I focus on the Year 7s. To be honest, it probably doesn’t matter too much for areas like Chemical Sciences, where the curriculum doesn’t seem too different, but it was certainly helpful for Physical Sciences, where the 6s focus more on electricity and the 7s simple machines and forces.

      I think at the end of the day, you need to look at what they covered in previous years, what they should be covering and make your own judgement. It’s probably important to do some forward planning though to ensure you don’t leave the students covering the exact same content the following year. So in short, no magic bullet, but I’ve made it work for us!

      Reply

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