Departmentalized vs. Self-Contained Classrooms Literature Review

Pages: 14 (4097 words)  ·  Style: APA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 15  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Education  ·  Written: November 14, 2018

Professional development presupposes that teachers want to specialize in a single area, and for many elementary school teachers specialization was never front and center in their minds when they began working on acquiring their educational degree. Elementary education has typically always been associated with general studies and self-contained classes—so it can be quite a surprise for teachers at the elementary levels to be told that now they must specialize their content areas when the departmentalized model of classrooms is introduced into their school. Additionally, Gewertz (2014) shows that some younger students do very poorly with transitioning from classroom to classroom throughout the day: they are not encouraged by having to pack up their things every 50 minutes or so and trudge along to another classroom to receive instruction from an unfamiliar face. They tend to act out and become disruptive, which can denigrate the entire experience for the whole group and leave negative impressions about education on the minds of other learners in their environment.

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The study by Chennis (2018) was narrowed to focus on comparing the impact of departmentalization on the reading success of fifth graders using the Virginia Standards Assessment as a measure. The study’s methodology was well-thought out and appropriate for the research purpose. Covariance was analyzed, which was also an appropriate method to examine whether there was any statistical difference between student reading scores in a departmentalize classroom versus a self-contained one. The findings of the study showed that there was no statistically significant difference between the two.

Literature Review on Departmentalized vs. Self-Contained Classrooms Assignment

However, Chennis (2018) noted that the study was limited by its 1% exploring power, which does suggest that conducting a study of this nature in the first place is somewhat superfluous: there is an evident need in statistical for both greater sample size and larger time frames to show how data over a longer duration adds up to tell a story. Convenience sampling likewise does not allow for a robust reliability to be achieved, and Chennis (2018) used such for the study. Instead, what would be more satisfactory would be a randomized controlled-trial design using the same methodology for data collection; however, such a study would be far more comprehensive and therefore more difficult for a single researcher to conduct alone. That type of research would be so extensive that it would require substantial funding to complete and either a grant would have to be sought or an organization involved in researching these types of issues would have to conduct it. That is the only conceivable way that adequate statistical data on the topic will be obtained.

The need for such a comprehensive study is backed up by the study by Crayton (2016), which generated the same inconclusive results. Crayton (2016) used surveys and direct observation of departmentalized and self-contained classrooms to provide data on which classroom model was more effective than the other. Again, the data showed inconclusive results—no statistical significance, and little to go on in the way of quantitative findings to make an assessment one way or another of any value or practical use.

Self-Contained Classrooms


One of the main pros of self-contained classrooms is that they provide stability and consistency, which is needed for younger students (Harris, 1996). Moreover, they help students to develop consistently as a group rather than individually with risk of digression among some students, as is the case with departmentalized classrooms, according to the findings of Harris (1996). The study by Harris (1996) is helpful in showing how for younger students the benefits of a self-contained classroom outweigh the appeal of the departmentalized classroom. While other studies have shown no statistical difference between the two in terms of student achievement, Harris (1996) was able to show that students in her sample at least did perform better as a whole in self-contained classrooms when compared to students in departmentalized classrooms. The main problem that Harris (1996) noted was that students at the elementary and 6th grade level are not mature enough to require frequent changes of setting throughout the day or to handle such with finesse. Some can do it, but as a whole the same cannot be said for everyone. Thus, this study shows that at least in the 1990s self-contained classrooms provided greater stability and consistency for young students, which in turn allowed them to achieve more academically.

Gewertz (2014) describes the positives that self-contained classrooms can give to young students, and they echo the findings of Harris (1996): those positives include stability and consistency but also the possibility of a bond being developed between teacher and student that allows for the production of greater confidence and the fulfillment of learning needs that are particularly strong at such young, developmental stages of life. By continuously rotating kids in and out of a classroom multiple times per day, the young learner acquires no sense of stability or continuity and is allowed no time for connecting to the teacher in a relational way throughout the course of the day as would be the case in a self-contained classroom. This notion is also observed by Hart, Oesterle and Swars (2013) in their study of student and teacher perspectives on specialized learning in mathematics: students felt disoriented about the subject and the purpose for the changes was not made clear to them. They were not enthusiastic about it and they viewed their teachers as coming across as confused as well, as though they were dealing with a great deal of pressure and anxiety to deliver a specific lesson that was never actually made clear in the first place. In self-contained classrooms, there is less pressure and anxiety because teachers are not expected to be masters of content areas but rather to give students the basics and rudimentary knowledge of content areas in a stable environment that facilitates relational development between the student and the teacher in best-case scenarios (Harris, 1996). There is also little proven need for specialization in elementary classes as the students are unlikely to benefit from extensive discussion on many topics as they will lack the maturity and experience to see or feel the significance of in-depth considerations, which a teacher with a specialized focus on a particular content area could give. Such focus would be better served in the junior high or high school years.

Thomas (2016) showed that teachers in self-contained classrooms at the second grade level were happy to have the opportunity to teach one theme across a variety of subjects, which they would not have been able to do in a departmentalized setting. Thomas (2016) also showed that students in self-contained classrooms in the second grade performed and progressed in reading skills acquisition in alignment with educational standards and that there was no statistically significant difference between self-contained classrooms and departmentalized ones in terms of how well students acquired reading skills throughout the year. The findings of Thomas (2016) support the findings of Harris (1996) and the reporting of Gewertz (2014) and they also confirm the analysis of Hart et al. (2013) with regard to the importance of bringing clarity to the minds of young learners.


In giving both sides of the issue, Gewertz (2014) also notes that elementary schools are experimenting with departmentalization because they have Common Core standards to meet and they feel that with departmentalization, teachers who specialize in certain areas will be able to help students meet those standards better than teachers who simply focus on general subjects and are not well-versed in any one subject. While this is the basis of the argument made by school districts, according to the research by Gewertz (2014), the argument does not appear to be valid on the face of it as, a) there is no empirical data to indicate that specialization or departmentalization improves academic learning of students in elementary school; and b) the contrary appears to be the case, as Harris (1996) has shown: students at the young age lose all sense of consistency and stability—some will progress and some will fall behind, but as a group disparities will appear that would not in a self-contained classroom.

Nonetheless, the argument makes sense, for in self-contained classrooms, students will tend to rise or fall as a group—so if the teacher fails to connect with students, the group overall will likely suffer academically. On the other hand if the teacher is able to connect with students in a meaningful way, the entire group will likely profit. In a departmentalized classroom, it is more on the individual student to succeed or not on his or her own. The student is expected to take ownership of his learning and embrace the educative experience by becoming an active learner—a concept that is inherent in the movement from one class to another: the student is actively getting up… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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