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Allison's 

Multi-age Education Page

 

 
     My experience with multi-age education spans more than twenty-five years. Therefore it is a misconception that multi-age is something new. Back then it was often called family grouping, and today the names 'family grouping' and 'multi-age' are interchangeable. 
     I don't pretend to be an expert on multi-age, and indeed I'm not. However, there are a lot of web pages, by experts, that can be referred to by using your search tool. Over the years I have taught in multi-age schools, and my children have attended multi-age schools. I believe it is a system that works, and works well.
    The following are my views on multi-age education, formed after teaching in the multi-age environment, having my children learn in the multi-age environment, and readings of others findings.
 
HEADINGS
WHAT IS MULTI-AGE EDUCATION?.
ADVANTAGES OF MULTI-AGE EDUCATION
DIFFICULTIES WITH MULTI-AGE EDUCATION
HOW IS THE CLASSROOM SET UP?
TEACHING IN THE CLASSROOM
PARENT AND COMMUNITY SUPPORT & INVOLVEMENT
CO-OPERATIVE TEACHING & TEACHING PARTNERSHIPS
BIBLIOGRAPHY 
 
WHAT IS MULTI-AGE EDUCATION?

     Multi-age education is the deliberate placing of children of different ages, (and abilities) in the same classroom. Within the classroom, students are often regrouped into different learning abilities, rather than being taught at age level. As adults, we are all different. We learn differently, we excel in different areas, and we have different emotional maturity. Children are no different. The students often remain with the same teacher or teaching partners for more than one year, therefore forming a 'family' of students and teachers.

    Multi-age education is not a new practise. My first teaching appointment was in a multi-age school back in 1976 - (Gee, that makes me feel old!!) Parents (and some teachers) often refer to multi-age as 'composite' classes. This is not true. 

MUTLTI-AGE GROUPING IS NOT THE SAME 
AS A COMPOSITE CLASS. 
    In a composite class, the children are taught as separate classes, and the grouping is according to grade level, not ability level. For example, in a composite class of 1/2 students, the lessons taught are to the level one students and the level two students. In a multi-age class of 1/2 students, the lessons are taught to the different levels of ability, often three, four, or more different ability groups within the whole class. A year one child may have difficulty reading and writing, however, may be well ahead of other year one students in mathematical areas. This child would be taught the strategies for reading and writing in a small group of students with similar abilities, and be extended in the maths area often with year two students. The child comes first, and lessons and activities are geared to the different abilities within the multi-age classes. 
  • Consider the graded classroom as a staircase. You start at step one and you are given everything you need for that step. You then progress to step two, and so on.
  • Consider the multiage classroom as a path. Some students will run along the path, others would walk or slowly wander all at their own pace.
   The main components of a multi-age classroom are: 
  • a minimum 2 year age span; 
  • each student remains in the classroom for at least 2 years, with the same teachers; 
  • the classroom therefore becomes a "family," building better relationships between students, teachers, and parents; 
  • teachers learn to recognise each student as an individual; 
  • children learn to see each other in terms of personal qualities and capabilities; 
  • teachers structure learning activities to meet the needs of the individuals, rather than to teach to an imaginary "middle of the class." 
    The multiage classroom exists for the benefit of the child, not student numbers, or school finances. A teacher is often confronted with a class with widely diversified strenghths, weaknesses, interests and abilities. It is not beneficial to give these children all the same work. They need to experience suitable activities for their capabilities. In a Year Two class, experiences are aimed at the "average" 7 year old. My children were never "average," are yours?
    The multiage class room promotes a diverse environment, where children do not feel the need to compete, only to do their best. 
In a multiage classroom, children can develop a positive self-concept that lays the foundation for life. 

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bulletADVANTAGES OF MULTI-AGE EDUCATION
     Research shows that multi-age grouping promotes cognitive and social growth. The wider age span also promotes an active learning environment as the students are not expected to 'perform' at their 'age level,' but encourage to perform to the best of their ability. The teacher is better able to focus on the individual child's learning. The students are encouraged to learn from each other, as well as teachers and visitors to the classroom. Multi-age education recognises the natural development of the child. 

Advantages for students of multi-age education include: 

  • quality relationships with teachers; 
  • a positive classroom climate; 
  • better learning and enhanced self-esteem from increased inter-dependence and peer tutoring; 
  • increased independence from teachers; 
  • a wider range of roles within the group for students; 
  • peer tutoring - students learn from each other; 
  • small grouping; 
  • enriched academic activities; 
  • better socialization;
  • improved self esteem
  • respect for indiviual differences;
  • students are assessed on a daily basis
  • learning is based on the individual, so no class levels are evident, therefore children are not held back, or rushed into the next grade;
  • the focus is on success, the student moves forward, building on prior knowledge
  • students think of learning as fun, and therefore become life long learners. 
    The advantages for teachers include: 
  • better relationships with students and parents; 
  • less stress and more productive use of time; 
  • increased continuity in planning; 
  • a more satisfying teaching experience; 
  • integrated curricula; 
  • extra resource and support;
  • flexible grouping to take advantage of each activity
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 DIFFICULTIES WITH MULTI-AGE CLASSROOMS

The biggest difficulty with multiage classrooms is the 'grade-mindedness' of parents, specialist teachers, visitors to the classroom and sometimes the inexperience of the class teacher to the multiage environment. I often hear the specialist teachers calling the children by their grade levels, instead of the names the children decided to be called. Parents often write grade 1 or year two on their childrens books. This makes it difficult for the child who is struggling to keep up with the 'other' grade twos, etc. 
I THINK THIS 'GRADE-MINDNESS' IS  THE GREATEST HURDLE TO OVERCOME. THE CHILDREN ARE NOT IN GRADE ONE, TWO OR THREE, THEY ARE IN A FAMILY CLASS CALLED 'STARS'; or 'KOALAS'; or 'GOLD' etc. 
THEY ARE NOT ONE, TWO or THREE!!!!!!!
For the inventive teacher there are ways around this. Within a multiage school, there is always the possibility of specialist teachers imposing grade levels on the children. Persuade the music teacher to have Beginners Choir for Lower Primary, not years one and two, Junior Choir for Middle Primary, not years 3 and 4, and Senior Choir for Upper Primary, not years 5, 6, & 7.

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HOW IS THE MULTI-AGE CLASSROOM SET-UP?

CLASS GROUPING
Grouping varies between schools, depending on class numbers, and the preference of the school staff. 
                  The common groupings appear to be 1/2/3; 
                                                                      3/4/5; 
                                                                      4/5/6; and 5/6/7. 
Often in the middle and upper primary classes, grouping will be 4/5; 
                                                                                            5/6/7; and 
                                                                                            6/7. 
Lower primary sometimes includes pre-school/1/2 classes. 
NOISE LEVEL
    Silence is not a pre-condition of learning. Many activities the children engage in, require the children to talk about them, with the teacher, and with other students. At other times the classroom may be quiet. Some teachers may have a quiet time of the day when the children know they need to work independantly. Noise can and should be productive. A classroom that is silent most of the day is not encouraging the children to interact, and in a multi-age classroom interaction between students and students; and student and teacher is most important. If noise is of concern to teachers they can introduce a noise level to visually indicate the noise level the children are expected to work at.
MOVEMENT AROUND THE CLASSROOM
    Movement around the classroom is encouraged, and indeed many activities require the students to move from one area to another. Children whose learning style is an active one, therefore require an activity based learning experience.

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TEACHING IN THE MULTI-AGE CLASSROOM

    Students of mixed ages in one class does not make a multi-age classroom. Multi-age education involves a belief that all children can learn, and they learn at different rates. The activities in a multi-age class are usually based on correct developmental levels, therefore children are more likely to succeed and this raises self-esteem. Class activities are meant to reinforce what the teacher has already taught, and allow the teacher to evaluate the student's understanding of the concept.

 Students are exposed to material above grade level and through cooperative learning, peer tutoring, and observation, they gain a better understanding. 

    The workload for teachers is often greater in the beginning, in a multi-age classroom, however, as classroom resources and learning centres are established, 'life becomes easier.' Fully mastering multi-age practices takes years. Teachers often spend huge amounts of their spare time, unpaid, to maintain individual programs and producing resources. Grouping is often for the short term and very flexible, sometimes changing weekly. Students sometimes work in groups with similar ability, and sometimes in groups of different abilities. They are not 'catergorised' as grade one or two, and are often not aware of their grade level. Competition and comparison with other students is lessened, as students work within these various different groupings. Emphasis is on the 'strengths' of the students and not the weaknesses, although the teachers would be aware of the weaknesses.

    Teachers in multi-age classes need a knowledge of child development and instructional strategies, more so than teachers in most single-grade classes. Teachers in multi-age situations need to be able to design open-ended, learning experiences that allow students to functioning at different levels. They must know when and how to use homogeneous and heterogeneous grouping and how to design co-operative group tasks. Multi-age teachers need to assess, evaluate, and record student progress using student portfolios and / or anecdotal reports. 

    Multi-age teachers must facilitate positive group interaction and teach social skills, independent learning strategies to students. Teachers need to know how to plan and work co-operatively with teaching partners. This is most important. If you and your teaching partner are not compatible, this will be evident to your students. Often methods need adaptation in practice, they need to be tried in the classroom, revised if necessary, and tried again. Teachers need to be aware of learning styles, multiple intelligences, and interests, as well as abilities. other for their efforts and performance. 

AN  EXAMPLE OF A MULTI-AGE CLASSROOM PAGE IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION. WATCH THIS SPACE!!!

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CO-OPERATIVE TEACHING & TEACHING PARTNERSHIPS
    I have always taught in a co-operative teaching situation, with one or two partners. In all bar one situation, these partnerships have been successful, and I still correspond with, and see many of my previous teaching partners (Its great to be able to discuss problems and share ideas). It is common to have a double teaching space with 45-50 children and two teachers. It is, or should be, up to the teachers whether they teach together in a coperative teaching environment or simply share a common space. 
    If working in a co-operative situation, the teaching partners need to be able to plan and work well together. A co-operative teaching partnership should involve BOTH partners sharing the work, and not one partner teaching and supervising the majority of the children most or all of the time, while the other teaching partner takes a small group of six children, or sees individual children. Of course whole group and small group instruction should be shared. 
    If you and your teaching partner are not compatible, this will be evident to your students, despite how professional both parties try to be. Often teaching methods and teaching styles need to be adapted in order for both partners to 'get on'. Planning often suffers if partners are not compatible. In this case a teaching partnership that DOES NOT involve co-operative teaching would be more beneficial for the children and the teachers involved. As teachers, we carefullly place children in groups that will work well co-operatively, as we are aware that differenceds will occur. Teachers are no different.
    Remember that multi-age classes do not need two teachers, and two sets of teaching methods, and teaching styles. The multi-age class can work well with only one teacher. It's easier to be responsible for, and plan for 25 children, than to share the responsibility of 50 with another teacher. Well, that's what I think.

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PARENT AND COMMUNITY SUPPORT

     Parent and community support benefits all types of educational systems. Not only does it affect student learning, but it promotes community spirit. It is important, therefore, that parents are informed about multi-age education to eliminate any misconceptions. The term multi-age may be unfamiliar to parents, and therefore they would not be aware of the benefits. Information is often provided in the form of 'information nights.' School newsletters often contain multi-age education information, and feedback is always welcome. Using a video of a multi-age classroom in action often proves valuable as an information tool. However, it would be unlikely that the whole parent population would attend the meetings or read the newsletter. Therefore another problem arises. Schools can only do their best to inform parents that are willing to learn. The parents and community play an important role in multi-age education. 'Word of mouth' has an important role to play in the promoting of Multi-age education. Multi-age teachers, principals, parents and the education community all share information and opinions with others. 

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PARENT AND COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

     Adult volunteers are a natural addition to the multi-age classroom. Not only do they assist the teacher, as multi-age methods can be labour intensive, they provide the parent with an insight to multi-age education, therefore benefiting the child. Parent volunteers are able to see the classroom in action, and can participate by giving presentations
Parent and community volunteers can participate in instruction in many ways. They can give special presentations, teach a craft group, tutor students in reading and maths, help prepare materials and resources.

     Schools often hold training workshops for parents and community members to prepare them for individual or small group tutoring.
SCHOOLS, PARENTS AND THE COMMUNITY SHOULD BE PARTNERS IN EDUCATION.

    Parent involvement often varies according to the teaching partners in the classroom and often the school policy. The inclusion of parents assisting with group work on a regular basis, not only assists teachers, it also has a positive effect in the classroom. I had a small band of mums - and one DAD, that came in every Wednesday morning for maths activities, and another group that came every Thursday afternoon to help with craft activities. The children love their parents coming in, and the parents can see the benefits of multi-age in action. 

    Teachers new to multi-age often feel threatened by parent involvement, especially as teachers new to the system are still 'finding their sea-legs' (SORRY - I'm currently doing an integrated sea theme at school.) It is important that teachers choose their parent helpers to suit the activity. It is also beneficial if parents can be regular volunteers, rather than occasional helpers. Different schools will have different procedures. In one school I taught at, parents could be involved as long as they were outside the classroom - this did seem to hinder activities. 

    Parents involvement doesn't stop at school. They help at home by guiding (NOT DOING) homework, and reinforcing their child's learning at school.    Bruce Miller, said in Children at the Center: Implementing the Multi-age Classroom. "Teachers can work more comfortably with parents during this ongoing process if their principal strives to create a school climate supportive of change--a climate in which it is accepted that mistakes are a normal part of learning and growing." 

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BIBLIOGRAPHY 
GAUSTAD, Joan.
Nongraded Education: Overcoming Obstacles to Implementing the Multi-age Classroom. Oregon School Study Council Bulletin, Special Issue, Vol. 38, Nos. 3 and 4. Eugene, Oregon: Oregon School Study Council. . 

McGRATH, Helen and NOBLE, Toni. 
Different Kids, Same Classroom. Addison Wesley Longman, Melbourne, 1997.

MILLER, Bruce.
Children at the Center: Implementing the Multi-age Classroom, Eugene, Oregon: ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management; and Portland, Oregon: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, 1994. 

RIDGEWAY, Lorna and LAWTON, Irene
Family Grouping in the Primary School. Redwood Press, London, 1968.

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Created 23 April 1999                     Last Updated 13 May 2007

          

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