Literature Review Chapter: Elementary Classroom Delivery Model

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[. . .] Children in the elementary age developmental region are just starting to learn about themselves and the world around them. In a departmentalized setting, children, especially the very young, would be more confused and less likely to absorb the required knowledge. With the same classmates and teacher(s) around them all of the time they are free to learn (McGrath & Rust, 2002).

Self-contained classrooms also allow the individual teachers to understand their individual students learning styles better (McGrath & Rust, 2002). A teacher in a departmentalized setting sees so many students throughout the day that they cannot get to know everyone. It is also difficult for a teacher in a departmentalized structure to cater to individual learning styles. It is difficult enough for them to get the lesson out in the 45 or 50 minutes they are allotted for the class period. Self-contained classes do allow teachers to understand what each child needs, and try to work with that child in specific ways to help them learn more efficiently. The teacher is also allowed to make changes to the schedule as they are needed (McGrath & Rust, 2002). The departmentalized teacher has the students for such a short period of time that all of that class time is needed for instruction. Teachers can allow the students to have breaks as they are warranted, and they can be more creative with their allotted classroom time. Students have the advantage of being able to shift to an outside classroom or go on a field trip.

One argument that researchers have made with regard to using this class structure model in secondary schools is that the instruction is student-centered, not subject centered (Hackman, 2004). The preferred method of instruction in most high schools follows a behaviorist approach which focuses on the content being taught rather than the students in the classroom (Hackman, 2004). This approach does get the message across, but it is not an efficient way to instruct. Many students are left with incomplete knowledge of a subject because they are not allowed to learn at an individualized pace. To counter the gap in student learning a "different view of learning has emerged - constructivism - that emphasizes the student's role in the learning process" (Hackman, 2004).

This type of learning is best suited for a self-contained classroom setting because it "is based on the premise that individuals must be socially engaged in learning - actively creating knowledge from their existing knowledge base, beliefs, and personal experiences. Constructivists advocate learners' participation in context-bound, real-world problem solving and call upon students to engage in metacognition" (Hackman, 2004). It is possible that a departmentalized setting could be used for this type of learning if the modules were longer. However, most secondary schools are trying to increase the number of classes that a student attends each day not lessen them. Some schools will employ as many as nine classes during a single school day. With that type of class schedule, the student does not have time to think creatively or use their personal "knowledge base, beliefs, and personal experiences" (Hackman, 2004) as an addendum to the learning process.

Of course the problem that many teachers have with this type of learning model is that since it is easier to use in self-contained classrooms, it does not fit well into the secondary scheme. Teachers who are subject matter experts may like the idea of helping every student reach their true potential, but it is not a practical idea. "[T]he interdisciplinary teaming approach commonly used in middle schools" (Hackman, 2004) could also benefit from this form of instruction.

Transition to the secondary environment is one of the primary reasons that many education researchers advocate for departmentalized classrooms in the elementary school environment (McGrath & Rust, 2002). But, "[h]ow middle school teachers build relationships, design instruction, and establish the classroom environment directly relates to young adolescents' adjustment to middle school" (Parker & Neuharth-Pritchett, 2009). Since these students were in self-contained classrooms the answer to a smooth transition is either for the students to stay in a self-contained structure, or for them to move to a departmentalized setting earlier. The method of instruction that allows students to achieve higher standards in academic testing should be the preferred model.

Effect on Student Achievement

The goal of any instructor is to assist students in learning to their full potential. Thus, they will be able to achieve a higher standard in life. It is assumed that self-contained classrooms are the preferred model when speaking about achievement, but that is not always the case. In a study conducted by McGrath and Rust (2002) with regard to this question, they found that "results indicated that the self-contained group gained significantly more on Total Battery, Language, and Science subtests compared to the departmentalized group." In certain specified areas, and as a whole, the students in this study performed better when they were instructed using the self-contained model. The teachers were able to give the students more individualized attention and their test scores demonstrated the efficacy of this teaching model. "However, no differences were evident in Reading, Mathematics, and Social Studies" (McGrath & Rust, 2002). This finding is also significant. It means that the researchers found either gains or no difference in learning ability between the two different classroom models. Thus, the self-contained model was the preferred method overall.

Research has also been conducted with students who have recently transitioned from a self-contained classroom structure into one that is either completely departmentalized or uses the instructional team approach which is a hybrid of the other two models. These "young adolescents describe their middle school classrooms as having less autonomy, fewer opportunities for input, and fewer cooperative group interactions than found in their elementary classrooms" (Parker & Neuharth-Pritchett, 2009). The students experienced it difficult to express themselves and this hampered their ability to learn.

Many middle schools have thus adopted a transitional model that supposedly allows students to more successfully make the move to the higher grades. By using "instructional teams of 2-4 teachers, as opposed to departmentalized structures, [and decreasing] the number of students assigned to a teacher, makes it easier for teachers and students to get to know each other well" (Parker & Neuharth-Pritchett, 2009). McGrath & Rust (2002) determined that a student who gets to know his or her teacher better, is more comfortable in the learning environment, and is thus a more successful learner.

The debate is that "the self-contained organizational structure allows for more instructional time due to lack of class transition, arguing that student achievement was found to be significantly higher in some subject areas for students in self-contained settings than for those in departmentalized settings (Chan, Terry & Bessette, 2009), but "for the mathematics subtest of the achievement data, there were no significant differences in student achievement gain scores between departmentalized and self-contained classes" (Quander, 2009). It matters significantly in some subject areas how the students are taught, but it does not seem to matter in other. This would seem to be a significant argument in favor of using self-contained classrooms throughout a students learning career.

References

Chan, T.C., Terry, D., & Bessette, H. (2009). Fourth and fifth grade departmentalization: A transition to middle school. Journal for the Liberal Arts and Sciences, 13(2). 5-13.

Greenfield, T.A., & Klemm, E.B. (2001). When "good" school restructuring efforts still fail. American Secondary Education, 30(1). 2-11.

Hackman, D.G. (2004). Constructivism and block scheduling: Making the connection. Phi Delta Kappan, 85(9). 697-713.

Harlin, R.P. (2009). Research into practice: Innovations and international perspectives. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 23(3). 393-401.

McGrath, C.J., & Rust, J.O. (2002). Academic achievement and between-class transition time for self-contained and departmental upper-elementary classes. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 29(1). 40-52.

Newman, B.M., Newman, P.R., Griffen, S., O'Connor, K., & Spas, J. (2007). The relationship of social support to depressive symptoms during the transition to high school. Adolescence, 42(167). 441-450.

Parker, A.K. (2009). Elementary organizational structures and young adolescents' self-concept and classroom environment perceptions across the transition to middle school. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 23(3). 325-341.

Parker, A.K., & Neuharth-Pritchett, S. (2009). Calming rough waters: Teacher strategies for… [END OF PREVIEW]

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