Platooning in primary school

“Platooning” teachers – creating math/science and reading/history specialists — is growing in popularity in elementary schools, writes Catherine Gewertz in Education Week.

At Sharpstein Elementary School in Washington state, children in second grade and up switch classrooms and teachers several times a day. 

They spend the morning with one teacher for reading and writing, breaking in the middle for music, library, or physical education classes. After lunch, they head to another room for math and science. Then students return to their original teacher for social studies.

Most schools don’t start using specialist teachers till third grade, but some start as early as kindergarten, writes Gewertz. Often students have one teacher for math and science and a second teacher for literacy and social studies. But some schools rotate students among four teachers. 

That means elementary teachers spend less time each day with more students. 

Ian Yale, the principal of Columbia Elementary School in Burbank, Wash., said departmentalizing gives each subject “protected” time. His 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders “get an hour a day in science with teachers who are experts in that subject.”

The school invests more money in deepening teachers’ content knowledge, but saves on curriculum materials.

 Sharpstein Elementary also uses “looping.” Specialized teachers stay with the same students for two years. That helps teachers and students build relationships. 

Team teaching lets one teacher specialize in math and the other in reading, writes Sacha Luria, who’s also a looper. “By specializing and looping I am developing a strong relationship with each child and their families, as well as giving them a strong academic situation.”

Many elementary teachers aren’t well-prepared to teach math and science, especially if they’re expected to teach “high-level concepts.”

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