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Changing the Class Dynamic


Teachers in Loudoun County, Va., decided to stir the status quo by mixing honors, regular, and special education students in the same class.
Three teachers at Blue Ridge Middle School in Purcellville, Va., hope to inspire the “slower-developing students to see new possibilities,” school administrators said in a Washington Post article by Jay Matthews.

"It’s more challenging for the kids,” said Inez Lemmert, a sixth-grade teacher of the class. “They bring themselves up to these new expectations, rather than someone dumbing down all the work for them."

The experiment is taking place in an English- and social studies-infused class, where the teachers parallel studies of literature and history.

This nontraditional concept of fusing the two subjects helps make the lessons seem more practical in the everyday world, suggests Pat Graff, a National Council of Teachers of English expert on combining subjects, in the Post article. It also cuts down on the number of teachers the students have to see each day.


By creating groups which are more reflective of the society in which students live and function, these three teachers are doing an excellent job in extending meaningful and relative social opportunities to their students. Schools should have heterogeneous grouping. Jeannie Oakes, as well as other insightful educators, have given us a number of excellent reasons why we shouldn't track students and have been backing their assertion with the results of sound research since 1985. Within a classroom setting, teachers should engage their students in learning on an individual basis; they cannot depend on the idea that one size will fit all if the students are “grouped” with other like students. That being realized and implemented to the extent that students are seen as individuals, the richness of interaction among a more diverse group is apparent.

At Silver Creek High School in Longmont, Colorado, we've been teaching integrated English/History classes for 9th and 10th graders for the last 6-7 years. We offer an honors option, but honors, regular, and special education kids are all mixed in. We have double the number of students, double the teachers, double the time, and double the space. Students who don't love English are drawn into it by their interest in history, and vice versa. The teaching of traditional 9th grade novels such as Lord of the Flies takes on new energy when put in the context of the fall of Rome and early forms of government. And, finally, since we see the kids for twice the time, we provide a home base for 9th graders who are adjusting to high school. I never want to go back to teaching regular English classes, where the honors/regular division creates classes full of kids who think it is typical to hate reading, and have no peer model present to prove otherwise. Our kids in integrated classes are motivated and excited about learning, and that is contagious.

Bravo Jamie! I applaud you for doing your job well as teacher in a learning community!

This is fantastic, but at the same time I am wondering why is it so "novel" for us to break down these artificial subject barriers? Who has NOT taught literature and realized it is inseparable from history? And who has not taught social studies and found themselves in a meta-situation teaching composition? As a chemistry teacher, I often found myself teaching applied algebra.

I wish all middle and high schools would break down these silly walls. Why not get biology and chemistry content across is a nutrition or food science course? Or teach art and math in an architecture course? No one in the real world does “English” or “history” the way school defines them. Our careers and our lives as citizens require us to work across disciplines. When will schools embrace that?

I think Marjee poses an excellent question. I agree wholeheartedly with the need for breaking down the walls. Integrated classes demand higher level thinking from the very start. Our administration supports our integrated program, and our parents love it. But system-wide, there is suspicion, which at this time seems to center around concern over whether integrated courses will help or hurt the all-important test scores.

I am not certain that students get what they need educationally or social-emotionally in integrated classrooms. Politically, however, I am convinced that these classrooms look good. Several studies I have read point to the result of increasing compassion in students who participate in inclusive settings. Although this is unquestionably a very positive result, are students receiving what they need academically? Is it reasonable to believe highly differentiated curriculum can be implemented with fidelity in inclusion classrooms? The studies I have read leave many important questions still unanswered.

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Recent Comments

  • Kim, Teacher: I am not certain that students get what they need read more
  • Jamie Neufeld: I think Marjee poses an excellent question. I agree wholeheartedly read more
  • Marjee Chmiel: This is fantastic, but at the same time I am read more
  • Rebecca Hayes: Bravo Jamie! I applaud you for doing your job well read more
  • Jamie Neufeld: At Silver Creek High School in Longmont, Colorado, we've been read more




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