Should Younger Children Move From Class to Class?

By Susan Black

Recently, I visited an elementary school to observe fifth- and sixth-graders move to different classrooms for different subjects. “In a moment, the hallways will be filled with hustle and bustle,” the principal cautioned as a bell rang and students hurriedly stuffed books and papers into backpacks.

“At first it was complete chaos,” she said, explaining that students habitually forgot homework and books, and teachers struggled to settle students down and start lessons on time. “Things are better now, but some children still can’t cope with changing classrooms,” she added.

Several elementary schools have switched from a self-contained system to a rotation system, similar to the department model found in most middle schools and high schools. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, a division of the U.S. Department of Labor, says the number of elementary teachers specializing in one or two subjects is increasing, especially in the upper grades. It’s uncommon, but some schools also use the rotation system in the lower grades, including kindergarten.

Missouri’s New Bloomfield Elementary School, for instance, recently switched to a rotation system for grades four through six to prepare those students for junior high. Principal Stacy Fick says fourth-graders switch classrooms three times, and fifth- and sixth-graders switch classrooms seven times each day.

Springhurst Elementary School, in New York’s Dobbs Ferry district, adopted a class rotation plan for its “school-within-a-school” design. Students in kindergarten through second grade, the lower school, stay with the same teacher all day. Students in the upper school, grades three through five, stay with their homeroom teacher for a 90-minute English-language arts class, travel to other classrooms for math, social studies, and science, and then return to their home base at the end of the day. 

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