What is Class Building?
Many parents are unaware that most schools practice the art of “class building.” At the end of each school year, teachers and administrators all over the country meet in their respective schools to build classes for the next year. This practice is designed to “balance” classes.
How is Class Building Done?
In a few of the schools I worked at, we created a special card for each student. The card itself was pink or blue (to represent the gender of the student). A red dot indicated a student with a severe behavior problem. Students were rated on their proficiency level in math and language arts (above, on, or below grade level). ELD students were identified, as were gifted (GATE) students and students with IEPs or learning difficulties. In one school, we listed parent involvement level as being high, medium, or low. We sat down together to build classes that would spread out the different types of students and make sure that all of the next year’s teachers received an equal number of “easy” and “challenging” students.
Another part of this process was considering the conflicts between students and separating these students in an effort to minimize problems in the next year’s class. After working with a group of students for an entire year, teachers were well versed in which students worked well together, which students were “instigators” or set other students off, and which students could work well with everyone in the class. These were key conversations when considering the next year’s class makeup.
The advantage of this class building “system” was readily apparent. Teachers felt like their opinions of their students were valued and the next year’s teachers felt that the class they were receiving was “fair” when compared to the other classes in their grade level. No teachers felt like they were getting the short end of the stick or the hardest group of students. In an ideal situation, classes would be made up of a variety of students including strong academic and behavioral models. Balanced classes would make for an idea learning environment.
But class building isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Why?
- Kids Change – a student who is labeled as academically or behavioral deficient may have a difficult time changing his/her teacher’s preconceptions. Perhaps a student earned a red dot during a particularly difficult year. Maybe the student suffered a divorce or death in his/her family and reacted accordingly. Perhaps a student went through a period of growth where he/she became more or less mature. Maybe a student attended tutoring in the summer and improved dramatically in his/her academics. If teachers label students in certain ways and build classes based on these labels, it may be difficult for a child to overcome their “red dot” or “slow learner” status.
- Teacher Consideration – when building classes without considering the next year’s teacher, a perfectly balanced group of students may encounter some major difficulties. Some students may be “behavior problems” when paired with one teacher, but may be perfectly fine with another. A student may perform best with an extremely
structured teacher, or may suffer under this type of direction. Some students work best with teachers who go out of their way to modify and accommodate to fit student needs while other students can work under any teaching style.
- Kids Move In and Out – regardless of how a class is built, it is highly unlikely to stay that way. When kids move in and out of schools, the dynamic of classrooms changes. Attrition will likely influence all of the students in a class, so a perfectly balanced class will not remain that way.
- You Never Know! – some groups of kids may look great in on paper, but until you have them day in and day out, you never know how they will “mesh” together. And sometimes it seems like a whole grade level is “difficult.” When you hear a lot of teachers saying, “Something must have been in the water that year,” you know that it could be a tough year, regardless of how the kids are split up.
- Some Schools Don’t Have the Luxury – there are many small schools that have only 1 or 2 classes per grade level. There is very little room for flexibility and teachers in these settings need to do their best classroom management and differentiation to meet the needs of any “mix” of students they are given.
Class building is a common practice that will most certainly be continued in most large schools. It is important for schools and teachers to keep an open mind when attempting to build the “perfect” class – there really is no such thing. Time may be better spent sharing strategies and resources for working with all types of students.