As a student-teacher, I taught in a third-grade classroom with 35 students: six of whom had Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), five with 504 accommodations, and 12 who were English Language Learners (ELLs). I had no special education training, nor any knowledge of how to accommodate ELLs, but as a student teacher I knew that the student make-up of our classroom was unbalanced in comparison to the two other classrooms in our grade level. The other two classrooms had significantly less IEP, 504, and ELL students. I experienced firsthand how this inherent inequity made it challenging to meet the unique needs of these identified students.
In retrospect, the classroom composition of students I experienced probably wasn't made intentionally but the unfortunate outcome of an antiquated process. It’s hard to believe but elementary schools still use sticky notes (or blue and pink paper cards) in the yearly class list creation process. Student information like gender, academic level, behavior ratings, identified labels (ELL, IEP, etc.) and placement requests (keep with a teacher, keep with a friend, and separate from another student) are handwritten on these paper cards for each student. Then these cards are manually sorted in an attempt to create equitable (heterogeneous) classes in a grade level. It is a very time consuming and frustrating process.
Former elementary teacher Mike Cronley described the painfully inefficient process as a game of Whack-a-Mole. "We would move one student into another class to fix one imbalance only to create another imbalance. Despite our best efforts, it seemed impossible to get well balanced classes consistently." It’s critical to get this initial distribution right since elementary students are rarely switched from classes once the school year begins. Any inequity will impact the teaching and learning in that classroom for the entire school year.
This conundrum is what inspired Mike to spend eight years in research and development designing an elegant and easy to use software that can not only handle all the data points to consistently produce balanced lists, but can do it in a fraction of the time as well.
"Using Class Composer, I saved 78-plus hours making class lists, and the lists are more balanced," says Marah Gannaway, Principal of Emerson Elementary in Hoquiam, Washington. "In addition, after the lists are determined, they are automatically sent to teachers. I love the program!”
After Class Composer was launched both Mike, and the early users of the program, realized there could be more uses to the program beyond class list creation. "Why not use it to create seating charts, guided reading groups," wondered Mike, "and to track student data in a way that is easily viewable and accessible by everyone." Recently, Class Composer launched their Version 2.0 which includes these new features:
- A grouping tool that lets teachers create small instructional groups within their classrooms.
- A Digital Data Wall allowing the simple entry and viewing of student data to guide grade level discussions during Professional Learning Communities.
- A messaging tool which allows the creation of a simple communication string with another teacher in an individual student’s Student Card record.
- A Progress Monitoring notes section to track and record the data associated with students who receive more frequent intervention.
In addition, Class Composer now spans grades K-8, includes a non-binary gender option, allows classes to be grouped with certain identified students automatically, accommodates split classrooms, and allows for classes to be looped.
"In the spring of 2020, using paper cards with handwritten data clearly wouldn't work in a remote environment" shares Gretchen Gerber, Director of Elementary Education from Washington Township Public Schools in Sewell, New Jersey, "Discovering and using Class Composer completely transformed our process. The data cards housed a plethora of information and having this data electronically has been powerful. The process was so easy for all our users; we can't ever turn back!"
Gretchen and her colleagues are not alone. They've joined a full-on movement. In the few short years since its launch Class Composer has found its way into schools all over the world. Principal Kristen Schroeder considers it "a miracle" and has used it at every school at which she's worked. She recently took it with her to her new post at The American School of Doha in Qatar.
Are you thinking, "Enough already! Where do I get it?" You can connect to Class Composer at EdCuration. See a video demonstration here. Get to know them by playing in their sandbox, or better yet, sign up for their free grade level trial. Time to ditch the sticky notes, find some balance, and do more with your student data.