Multi-Age Classroom

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”

Socrates

Educational Benefits

Research indicates that heterogeneous grouping promotes cognitive and social growth, reduces anti-social behavior, and facilitates the use of research-based instructional practices such as: active learning and integrated curriculum. The wider range of ages and abilities in a multi-age classroom discourages misleading age-graded expectations and helps teachers focus on students’ individual learning needs.”

This reflects a deliberate and systematic mixing of students of different ages as desirable and as beneficial to students. Gaustad’s work was supported by the findings of Feldman and Gray (1999), who found four benefits for students in such classrooms:

Younger children actively use older children to develop skills and to acquire knowledge.
Mixed-age play offers unique opportunities for creativity and the practice of skills.
Age mixing provides opportunities for children to find others of matching abilities.
Older children actively assert responsibility for younger ones and develop an increasingly sophisticated understanding of that responsibility.
Multi-age or non-graded classrooms tend to have “an individualized, developmental focus, manifest in continuous progress rather than lock-step, graded curriculum for a class group of students varying in age” (Russell, Rowe and Hill, 1998). The focus identified by Gaustad and by Russell et al represents an important conceptual foundation of multi-age classrooms. It reflects an emphasis on students’ individual needs and progression, with a style of pedagogy to support such needs, rather than the whole class progression through a prescribed curriculum at the same time and pace. It could be argued that the individualized approach appears out of step with many current provincial, state, or national policies, which stress grade- and age-level curriculum and outcomes, and which prescribe required measurements of such outcomes either through standardized tests or by the use of large-scale assessments.

Benefits

  • Avoids retention and lets the student progress to, and even surpass, prescribed levels.
  • Builds student self-esteem because of the different age levels involved.
  • Lets kids teach other kids what they know, thereby reinforcing learning.
  • Offers a more diverse curriculum than the standard classroom.
  • Inspires team teaching, which builds unity not only among teachers, but also among students (emphasizing group accomplishment vs. pitting one student against another).
  • Allows classroom learning centers to be proctored by experienced students rather than kids just starting out.
  • Doesn’t impose a time line for developing readers.
  • Encourages vocabulary growth–particularly in youngsters from lower socioeconomic backgrounds–through interaction with older kids in the classroom.
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