Combined Classes FAQs

What is a combined class?

A combined class is a group of students from two separate grades who work within one classroom setting. The teacher develops the program using the Waldorf curriculum from both grades according to the needs of the students in the class. It is important to note that the teacher does not maintain two separate grade-level main lessons. The teacher creates one main lesson that appeals to both grades of learners. Combined classes have operated successfully throughout school systems, both Waldorf and mainstream, for many years.

Why do combined classes exist?

Combined classes are a result of low enrollment numbers at particular grade levels. In short, they exist because of enrollment levels that are insufficient to support standalone classes.

How are the classes going to be combined?

Camellia Waldorf School will combine grades 3-4, 5-6, and 7-8 beginning in the fall of 2017. The teacher will continue with their multiple grades class, and some teachers will continue through 8th grade. As in all Waldorf schools, teacher changes can be expected from time to time.
Planned class combined structure:
2017-2018    1    2   3/4   5/6   7/8

2018-2019    1    2    3     4/5   6/7   8
or  1/2  3   4/5   6/7    8

2019-2020    1    2    3      4     5/6  7/8
or  1  2/3   4    5/6    7/8

Please note: This plan INCLUDES the flexibility to have stand-alone classes. In fact, we are working toward having incoming first grade classes of about 20. Much effort has been put into the expansion of our Early Childhood programs including plans to add a second preschool class and expanding the Parent-Toddler program. This can lead to opening a second kindergarten. When classes meet a certain minimum level of tuition revenue established by the Board, they will also be considered for stand-alone status.

How do combined classes work?

Regardless of grade level, in a Waldorf classroom, there are three main priorities for the creation of the block rotation and the lessons themselves:

  • Contextual backdrop (Norse mythology, Greek mythology, Roman history, the Renaissance, the American Revolution, the Civil War, Botany, Geology, Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Meteorology, Aerodynamics, Hydraulics, Fractions, Decimals, Geometry, Algebra, etc.)
  • Academic skills (mathematics, grammar, writing, critical and scientific thinking, etc.)
  • Expectations for the child

The goal is for each child to receive an engaging learning experience within the context of the class functioning as a whole. Larger classes help create social richness, full drama and music productions, and a dynamic learning and social environment with the full spectrum of temperaments and learning styles.

How can 3rd/4th and 5th/6th grade combinations work?

One method for achieving this in a combined class is to change the curriculum in January (midway through the year) instead of in August (at the beginning of the school year). In this way, the curriculum can still follow its developmental nature.
Another option is to have the whole year be more of an interweaving of subject matter to appeal to the development of students. In this model, the curriculum as a whole is still geared more to the higher grade by the end of the school year in May, but the curriculum change is not a hard and fast rule based simply on the calendar. A teacher might choose this method if she or he felt it would suit the class composition.

How will the 7th/8th grade combination work?

In order to ensure that the full curriculum is presented to both the rising 7th and 8th grade students, for the coming year the 8th grade curriculum will be the primary content presented to all students with particular attention to delivering it in an accessible and age-appropriate way to all.
The following year, when the 7th graders are in their respective 8th grade year, the students will receive the full complement of any 7th and 8th grade content not received the year prior. This way, any current 7th grader who stays through the end of 8th grade will receive the full Waldorf curriculum, with attention the second year to expectations and presentations of material to meet an older child.
It is also worthwhile to acknowledge that by this time in the student’s development, 7th and 8th graders are capable of operating fairly independently allowing the teacher the opportunity to cover a lot of material efficiently. Individualized assignments may be given as challenge work for these students who are, by this time, developmentally ready for the added work. Independence helps fully prepare our graduates to meet the additional work of high school to the best of their ability.
The special opportunities that the Camellia culture affords an 8th grade class will continue to be reserved for them– such as the Rose Ceremonies on the first and last days of school, buddy relationship with the 1st grade, roles in the Michaelmas and May Day festivals, etc. 8th graders will be additionally responsible for their 8th Grade Project studies and presentations, and will travel as a group with their class teacher on the culminating 8th Grade trip in May.

Has Camellia ever combined classes before?

No. Over our long history, classes have occasionally been closed but not combined. Decisions to close classes were made in collaboration between the Board and faculty following the loss of a teacher, students, or other unexpected changes. For a number of reasons, it has been recognized that the absence of a class poses a significant organizational disadvantage for the duration of the gap.
The choice to combine classes beginning in 2017 is recognized as a health-driven and positive solution. This new plan creates a predictable model that reflects the true needs of our community.

Are there benefits of a combined class?

Yes! There are many socio-emotional benefits to be gained by having students of various ages together. Peer interactions are often seen to be more positive in a combined class setting (just as they are in our multi-age Kindergarten where a leader/follower dynamic aids child development naturally). There is greater development of social skills and more cooperation. Students develop a feeling of comfort and security, a positive self-concept and satisfaction within their achievements.
In any group of learners, achievement can be measured on a bell-shaped (inverted-U) curve with a few students functioning at the high end of the curve, a few at the low end, and the majority somewhere in the middle. In a combined class, the bell-shaped learning curve tends to be a bit broader, and teachers find that students occupy one place on the curve for mathematics, another place for foreign language, another place for handwork, etc. It has been our experience that the broader curve gives students room to find their varying levels of achievement; the fact that a student can experience high achievement in one area and low somewhere else can help the student’s developing academic self-esteem.
Each small class now combined into larger classes has more opportunity for social development with the larger class. Younger students will also benefit from interaction with students who have an additional year of academics under their belts. Older students have the benefit of review as well as the experience of being a peer tutor; teaching another student how to multiply fractions solidifies the process in their own minds.
Combined classes can look forward to many unanticipated experiences and successes like performing a large cast play together, or working on a three-part musical harmony. Or, simply playing a substantial game of space ball in movement class. Simply having more students makes many more things possible.

Are there any disadvantages to combined classes?

In all classrooms, teachers provide for the individual needs of students. Teachers constantly use a variety of methods to assess the needs of each student and then focus for skill development is adjusted accordingly.
In Waldorf schools, subjects are taught in blocks of three to five weeks. Blocks can be shortened, but the brilliant Waldorf curriculum will continue to be brought in a way that meets the development of each class.

Will the teacher have as much time for each child in a combined class?

The amount of time for an individual student is determined by the number of students in the class and the efficiency of the lesson plan, not by the grade structure. Generally, combined classes are the same size as other classes or smaller. At Camellia Waldorf School, grades classes are limited to 20 students, with exceptions being made on a case-by-case basis.
Also, we plan to have assistants in each combined class for five hours a day who will be able to offer individual assistance.

What is the role of an assistant?

A dedicated assistant will be paired with each combined class. Under direction of class teacher or subject specialist, assistants will provide small group instruction in all subject areas, as needed. They will actively support classroom management by redirecting students as needed, and encouraging student participation. Assistants will be involved in preparing, maintaining, and organizing classroom materials for instructional activities. They may offer one-on-one academic support, and regularly support the class teacher with correcting/grading, tracking, and recording student progress. Assistants will monitor students on the yard during recess and during some field trips, and be first in line to substitute.
The Camellia faculty is looking to hire assistants with knowledge of Waldorf education and experience in a classroom setting. Teachers are looking forward to welcoming assistants into their classrooms next year.

Will a student miss or repeat curriculum material?

Learning is about building capacities – capacities for memorization, for synthesizing material, and more. The emphasis is on skill building, concept acquisition, processes and attitudes. Because of the rapid changes in science and technology in our society, it is most important to learn how to learn, to evaluate and judge, to transfer and apply knowledge, to understand processes and to know how to access information. The Waldorf curriculum is the means through which these skills are learned. Students at many levels study similar subjects. The topic might be the same, but the depth, focus, and evaluation of knowledge are different.
Other Waldorf schools that have implemented combined classes have experienced that parents who were anxious about a combined class placement not only have been satisfied with their child’s progress, but have become positive supporters of this type of classroom organization.

Do other Waldorf schools have combined classes?

About 10 percent of Waldorf schools that are either accredited or in the process of becoming accredited by the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA) have combined classes.
We have particularly sought advice from the Mendocino Waldorf School, Prairie Hill Waldorf School, Malamalama Waldorf School, Santa Barbara Waldorf School, Alabama Waldorf School, and The Bay School in Maine, all of which have expressed positive experiences with class combinations.