Multi-age Education Page
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
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.
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 &
CO-OPERATIVE TEACHING & TEACHING PARTNERSHIPS
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.
The main components of a multi-age
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 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?
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
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
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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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
The advantages for teachers
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
peer tutoring - students learn from each other;
enriched academic activities;
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
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.
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better relationships with students and parents;
less stress and more productive use of time;
increased continuity in planning;
a more satisfying teaching experience;
extra resource and support;
flexible grouping to take advantage of each activity
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
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'
WITH MULTI-AGE CLASSROOMS
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
Grouping varies between schools, depending on
class numbers, and the preference of the school staff.
The common groupings appear to be 1/2/3;
4/5/6; and 5/6/7.
Often in the middle and upper primary classes,
grouping will be 4/5;
Lower primary sometimes includes pre-school/1/2
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.
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
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!!!
CO-OPERATIVE TEACHING &
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.
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
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
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.
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
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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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
McGRATH, Helen and NOBLE, Toni.
Different Kids, Same
Classroom. Addison Wesley Longman, Melbourne, 1997.
Children at the Center: Implementing the
Multi-age Classroom, Eugene, Oregon: ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational
Management; and Portland, Oregon: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory,
RIDGEWAY, Lorna and LAWTON, Irene
Family Grouping in the Primary School.
Redwood Press, London, 1968.
Created 23 April 1999
Last Updated 13 May 2007
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