Addressing the Classroom Composition Debate
by Jenny Williams, SCSBC Director of Educational Support Services ◊
Class size and composition has been a hotly contested topic. There are no easy answers when it comes to the realities of balancing budgets with teacher and student needs. One of the definitions used by the Ministry of Education for “class composition” is the number of students in a class who are entitled to an Individual Education Plan.1 It is interesting when we compare this definition of composition in a classroom to those in other areas. For instance, in writing and art, composition means arranging elements in a piece of work. In music, composition refers to creating an original piece. In these fields, composition has a positive connotation of putting together pieces to create a creative whole.2
When it comes to class composition there has been a tendency to focus on the student’s deficits and difficulties rather than their strengths and abilities. How should we look at the question of class composition in Christian schools? We embrace all students as members of a divine creation in God’s image and we uphold the concept of inclusive education, where all students are valued members and contributors in a classroom. Effective teachers create learning opportunities for all students based on each student’s strengths and taking into account strategies that work well for each student and the class as a whole.
What is an effective way for teachers to identify and harness student strengths? SCSBC is seeking to adapt a version of Brownlie and King’s “Class Review”3 to assist teachers with creating digital student and class profiles. These have a positive focus on the strengths and interests of the students as well as strategies that work for the students and any challenges are referred to as “stretches”. This term “stretches” gives the connotation of being changeable and temporary, rather than being seen as permanent global weaknesses. It normalizes the fact that all students have both strengths and stretches and focuses teachers on developing student potential and looking for growth in all their students. Several teachers and special education coordinators from Abbotsford Christian School participated in a pilot project in June 2016, to examine the effectiveness and some of the benefits of using this class review template for creating student and class learning profiles. After receiving the report of their class profile, some of the teachers commented:
- It was a valuable time to reflect on each student and their God-given gifts and abilities.
- The class snapshot showed which strategies and supports the students in my class need.
- It helped me notice where there were groups of students linked together with a common interest, strength or stretch.
- I have a wonderful reference for communicating with and reporting to parents.
We are seeking ways that the class profiles may provide helpful information for teachers about what works for students. Moreover, we are examining how they could be used to help schools make decisions about allocating resources to classes and teachers, allocating students to classes and communicating valuable information for teachers from one year to the next. We trust that this approach will help both students and adults to understand that we all have “stretches”, that we can all benefit from the strengths of others, and that we can work together to bring out the best in each other.
- Overview of Classroom Size and Composition in B.C. Public Schools in 2015-16, December 2015. http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/reports/pdfs/class_size/2015/public.pdf
- Moore, Shelley. One Without the Other: Stories of Unity Through Diversity and Inclusion. Portage and Main Press, 2016.
- Brownlie, Faye & King, Judith. Learning in Safe Schools: Creating Classrooms Where all Students Belong. Pembroke Publishers, 2011. (Chapter 10)