Managing a Combo with Benchmark Advance

In September, I got to meet with Melissa Bush, a 4/5 combo teacher, to come up with a master schedule in hopes of making her Benchmark block more manageable. We cleared off my dining room table and set out sticky notes in order to make a visual plan. We had sticky notes to label: 4th grade, 5th grade, the different time slots, the guided reading block, and some of the independent center activities.

Now, every combo class is going to look different. For Melissa’s (very specific) plan to work, she has her kids working independently for long stretches of time, she has the ability to use Google Classroom to push out lessons that she films herself teaching, and she has access to my Close Reading Companions. While this plan certainly won’t work for everyone, we figured we would share our planning strategy and the ideas we came up with to see if other teachers could get some inspiration for their own combo situations.

We decided that while one grade level was with Melissa, the other would be completing a Benchmark lesson independently. This was either in the form of an intentionally selected Close Reading Companion or a pre-filmed Google Classroom lesson. In the image above, Melissa planned to teach her 4th graders the Key Events/Summarize lesson from 8:10-8:30, while her 5th graders completed the Compare/Contrast Close Reading Companion on their own. Using the companion page works out well because the lesson/close reading objective is already included on each companion page, so students know exactly what they’re looking for as they read. There are usually a handful of close reading lessons that can be done by the students on their own if they just follow along with the companion page (for example, the context clues charts/lessons are usually pretty manageable).

From 8:30-8:50, the 4th graders continued on the Key Events/Summarize Close Reading Companion that they started with Melissa in their whole group lesson. During this time, half of the 5th graders joined Melissa for guided reading, while the other half began independent center work (as indicated by the blue sticky note). Melissa had to be strategic about her groupings of students, since this plan does require some kids to be working on their own for a pretty long period of time. Melissa does not have an aide.

From 8:50-9:20, the 4th graders worked on their Analyze Characters Close Reading Companion, while Melissa taught her 5th graders the Key Events/Summarize lesson whole group.

From 9:20-9:50, the 5th graders continued on the Key Events/Summarize Close Reading Companion that they started with Melissa in their whole group lesson. During this time, half of the 4th graders joined Melissa for guided reading, while the other half began independent center work (as indicated by the blue sticky note).

At 9:50, both grades were combined and taught a whole group writing lesson.

Once a week, Melissa makes sure to pre-film herself teaching one of the Benchmark lessons, so that it can be assigned on Google Classroom to the grade level completing a lesson without her. This is helpful since the kids are working independently for a good chunk of time. This way, there can be “two” of her teaching simultaneously.

Melissa also decided to change the focus of her guided/small group time mid-week. On Mondays and Tuesdays, her focus is on guided writing with her small group. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, her focus is on guided reading.

These are some of Melissa’s reflections on the plan we came up with together after implementing it for Unit 2:
“As far as prep time, it was great! The kids were able to get all of the activities done and many had extra time. The one draw back was I really didn’t have the opportunity to circle back with the students on the activities that they did independently.” So I think really being intentional about making sure that the skill takes place both in an independent station and then in a teacher station is critical. I did enjoy the small groups for writing and reading.”

To see a copy of her digitized Unit 3 plans, you can make a copy of them here.

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