Split Mandarin Class Causes Split Opinions

Maddie Geary, Business Manager

The concept of a split class has been one of controversy for many years now, but after two years of being in one, I can honestly state that a split class setting is manageable and even beneficial at times.
However, there are many claims that argue against my opinion. For one, students and parents alike tend to worry that those in a split class will receive less attention to individual needs. Another major complaint revolves around the idea that the group of students in the lower level course will learn subject matter above their ability, while the students in the higher level will experience the opposite effect.
Lastly, the immediate assumption that split classes are “number driven” tends to irritate parents, especially at affluent schools such as Miramonte. Being number driven means that the class is split only because there are not enough students needed for a certain class. In a town as fortunate as Orinda, parents often believe that Miramonte should be able to accommodate any student who wants to take a class. But are any of these assumptions truly grounded? And how accurate are they in reality?
The truth of the matter is that the only truly accurate statement is that any split class at Miramonte is number driven. While the district, faculty, parents, and students would all probably prefer each class to be independent from another level, lower or higher, the numbers do not always crunch as easily as we would like. When this problem occurs, everyone should accept it and adapt to the split class concept with an open mind.
As of now, Mandarin 3 and 4 are the only academic courses at Miramonte that are taught in the same class, with the same teacher, during the same period (not counting the one Latin 5 student – senior Madeline Becker – that is in the same class as the Latin 4 students). The Mandarin ¾ split class is large, 38 students, and this is posing as a potential problem as the school year gets going.
I took Mandarin 3 last year and had to share the period with Mandarin 4 students. I found it very challenging, as did the other non-native speakers. To put this into perspective, approximately a third of Mandarin 3 students last year did not sign up for Mandarin 4 once they heard it would be a split class the following year as well. While the language does not come as easily to me as the majority of people in my class, I decided to stick it out for a second year, mostly because I believe that a split class is a very manageable setting to learn in. It may take a few weeks to adjust, but as long as the teacher is understanding, success is certainly attainable. I struggled last year incredibly, but by making a good connection with my teacher, I found it to be much easier as time progressed.
This being my second year in a split class with the same teacher, I now know how to approach the split class setting, which helps substantially. Additionally, I have discovered that it is certainly an advantage when you are in the higher level of the split class.  Last year, in Mandarin 3, it was mostly the little things that confused me, such as when my teacher would say an instruction in Mandarin that everyone in Mandarin 4, and the native speakers in Mandarin 3, would understand.  I constantly felt discouraged. However, now that I have entered Mandarin 4, I have found it largely more manageable.
All in all, a split class requires a different mindset and attitude. While last year I believe that excellence couldn’t have been achieved by the non-native speakers, I think that this year it is much for attainable because the teacher has changed the class to follow one textbook. Last year, Mandarin 3 and 4 were completely segregated and the class time we got with the teacher was cut in half. However, teacher Shih-Min Holland’s new strategy is to teach out of the same textbook and just vary the tests and quizzes based on what level class you are in.
While many assumptions are constantly being made regarding how difficult a split class can be, very few are true, especially after a few weeks of adjusting. Time heals all, and as long as your split class teacher is willing to be understanding and flexible, a split class can be a class in which every student can achieve excellence.