Organization of the Elementary Classroom Delivery Model and Its Effect on Student Achievement 'Literature Review' chapter

Excerpt from 'Literature Review' chapter :

Elementary Classroom Delivery Model and its

Effect on Student Achievement

Departmentalized Classrooms


Typically, a school is organized with either a departmentalized or a self-contained structure. (Self-contained classrooms will be discussed in the next section). A departmentalized class structure allows the student to learn from subject area experts who have specific knowledge in one subject area. The student is able study a subject in a more in depth manner, and learn new facets of that single subject. This specific design type is generally used in middle and high schools rather than middle schools. Students in these higher grades are generally given more leeway as to the specificity of subject matter as they prepare for a more imminent adulthood (Greenfield & Klemm, 2001).

"Departmentalized instruction is characterized by teachers with subject-matter rather than whole child orientation" (Parker, 2009). This may sound like a negative comment, and it can be construed as such. But, teachers in secondary schools must be available to the student as an expert in the subject they teach. This means that they are more focused on the subject, but it does not mean that there is not adequate focus on the student necessarily (Parker, 2009). Students who attend a school that uses a departmentalized structure, whether in elementary or secondary school, has shown a "significant difference for independence, with the departmentalized students' ratings increasing while the self-contained students' ratings declined" (Harlin, 2009). As the student leaves childhood and enters adolescence they are leaving a dependent psychosocial mode and entering a stages in which dependence on self rather than others is an important concept to internalize. It has been shown in many studies that self-concept, self-esteem, and independence measures are all significantly affected by a student's entering a departmentalized classroom structure (Harlin, 2009; Parker, 2009; Parker & Neuharth-Pritchett, 2009). In a majority of cases the student's perception and implementation of these important personality traits is significantly heightened (Parker, 2009).

Effect on Student Achievement

Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that a student will achieve more academically in a self-contained classroom than in a departmentalized one. This has not been found to be the case. McGrath and Rust (2002) found that there was no difference in instruction time between self-contained and departmentalized classrooms, and Quander (2009) found that "[f]or the mathematics subtest of the achievement data, there were no significant differences in student achievement gain scores between departmentalized and self-contained classes." Of course, equal level of achievement in one subject area does not matter significantly, but it does prove that the lesson learning gap is not entirely accurate.

Studies did show an achievement bias when students transitioned from elementary school to high school. Research conducted on the transition question has found that;

"research has associated the following negative outcomes with the transition from junior high to high school: poorer attendance; declines in grade point average; discipline problems associated with experiencing change to a new school building, moving from self-contained to departmentalized classes, or encountering a different educational philosophy; and decreased participation in extracurricular activities" (Newman, et al., 2007).

This phenomena has also been noted in the transition from elementary to middle school (Chan, Terry & Bessette, 2009). The problem seems to be two-fold. Students are moving from a known environment, where they have likely been surrounded by the same classmates for several years, into an environment in which interaction with teachers is at a minimum and independence is prized, and they are moving to a new learning environment also (Greenfield & Klemm, 2001). Others believe that schools must expect a decline from students when they are making this transition (Chan, Terry & Bessette, 2009), and that the school districts should make moves to mitigate the change.

One suggestion from the research is that elementary schools should begin helping students make the transition while they are in relatively safe environs. Chan, Terry and Bissette (2009) found that "departmentalized fourth and fifth grade students…better adapted to the middle school setting than their peers who attended fourth and fifth grades in self-contained classrooms, based upon faculty reports, as well as scores from the state criterion-referenced competency test." Many schools have some program where they allow students more class choice as they move through the elementary school grades, and other schools will have separate classes for subjects such as art, music and reading. Since the students remain with the same classmates, they feel more supported and they are able to maintain their class standing (Newman, et al., 2007). Newman, et al., also discovered that "some disruptions in school achievement, behavior, and self-concept are associated with school transitions whenever they occur; and the more school transitions a student encounters, the more likely it is that students will show evidence of the negative consequences noted above." This study and others like it (Chan, Terry & Bessette, 2009; Harlin, 2009) relate the relative drops in scores on self-confidence measures to be almost exclusively a result of the transition between school settings and not the difference between class structures. Since evidence is also available showing that the same decline among students transitioning between middle school and high school (Newman, et al., 2007), it is difficult to conclude that scores related to confidence, worth, and others are the result of a change of classroom types.

Another reason to doubt academic declines simply due to change in classroom type is that teachers find it difficult to stay current on a multitude of subjects. McGrath and Rust (2002) learned that "only 4 of 260 teachers [studied] considered themselves well prepared in all subject areas…[there is] greater emphasis on curriculum matters in departmentalized elementary schools." Some elementary schools have switched to a quasi-departmental concept because teachers are more comfortable with the transition. Many times, the students will have one primary teacher, and others will enter and leave the class when it time for their subject to be taught. So, depending on the expertise of the primary teacher, the students may have separate math, science, history, etc. teachers much as they would different art and music specific instructors. This more closely resembles the instructional team concept that is used in many middle schools (McGrath & Rust, 2009). This type of teaching also offers the teachers more support because they are work as a team and do not feel that they must handle student difficulties alone (Parker & Neuharth-Pritchett, 2009).

The comfort and actual ability of the teacher in the different subject areas has significant bearing on whether students can achieve proficiency in the subjects also. Teachers who are uncomfortable, for whatever reason, teaching specific students will show a bias against those subjects. This may help improve student transitions between different grade levels that require a change in school level.

Other researchers believe that the change should be in the other direction though. A switch from self-contained classrooms to a more departmentalized structure may have benefits, but there studies that detract from this notion. Garfield and Klemm (2001) conducted research in which they concluded;

"educational goals have shifted: schools now include a greater diversity of students and aim to educate all of them to much higher standards of learning in a world with rapidly changing educational demands. To do this effectively requires shifts in both school structure and function. Schools must become smaller, less hierarchical, more personalized, and less departmentalized. Teachers must teach for understanding rather than simply for breadth; for this they must be better trained not only in their subject areas but also in child development, student learning styles, diverse strategies for teaching and assessment, and collaborating with each other."

The contention is that education needs to be more geared toward a student-centered approach. If research has determined that student's are more comfortable with a certain type of classroom environment, and they achieve better without any lapses, then that should be the norm throughout the students career.

However, the opposing argument, also found in the research, is that students will not achieve in goals related to independence and self-confidence in the self-contained model (Chan, Terry & Bessette, 2009). Since it important for elementary and secondary schools to foster both purely educational and psychosocial outcomes, it is difficult for educators to decide which is the better course.

Self-Contained Classrooms


Elementary classrooms are the classic self-contained structures. The children of a particular class have one teacher who is with them throughout the day. The only reason they may leave that instructor is to take peripheral classes such as art, music and physical education. As Parker (2009) says, "self-contained organizational structures are those regular education classes in which the students have one teacher responsible for the majority of their instruction." This structure is very common in the elementary grades for all classrooms, but it is not used extensively in secondary schools except for specialty classes such as with special education and gifted learners.

The primary argument for self-contained classes, and the reason that this structure is in use with elementary age students, is that it is a child-centered approach (McGrath & Rust, 2002).…

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