Multiage as seen by DRAW teachers
Multiage is a learning method, that does not follow the traditional teaching model of sequential grade levels, where students are grouped independently of their chronological age, and in which their cognitive abilities and individual intelligences are respected.
This mixed-age group of children stays with the same teacher for several years, getting to know each student’s strengths and weaknesses therefore more able to support their academic and emotional development. The students, the teacher, and parents become a unique “family” of learners. The multiage classroom is designed to provide every student the opportunity to find success on his or her own path of growth. At the end of each year, the older students move on to the next grade and a new group of students enters at the lower grade. This provides the opportunity for students to spend more than one year with a teacher or team of teachers.
In the multiage classroom, children engage in real and meaningful activities at their own levels of development. By working together at stations and on projects, children learn from each other independent of the sequence of learning proposed by a higher authority who determines at what age a student “should” acquire certain knowledge or skill solely based on his/her age level disregarding the individual cognitive abilities and maturity specific to each student.
Children of different ages are able to study in a friendly working environment, while they develop social and emotionally. This safe environment allows the students to learn through the example and guidance of other students.
This classroom situation creates an atmosphere where the students and teachers spend more than a single year together in a mixed-age learning community. The benefit experienced by students in this type of program is as a result of both learning together in a mixed-age group of children and of the extended time with a single teacher. Studying and learning from a different age group is beneficial per se, as an added value, younger students learning from older students experience, and older students learning to help and care for younger or academically less developed students, helps them greatly in the social aspect of development.
This situation is very beneficial for both the younger and the older students. The younger students benefit from the older students who are able to work with them and help them out with difficult concepts that they have already learned during their previous year. The older students also benefit a great deal because peer tutoring builds leadership skills and confidence, while at the same time helps to reinforce the concepts that they already know by reinforcing and mastering the objectives learned the previous year.
Teaching students of different ages within one classroom has social and academic advantages. When classrooms are more heterogeneous, teachers must find ways to meet the needs of the individual students rather than teaching to the average. Students within a multiage classroom have the benefit of the older children as leaders and instructional facilitators, and the younger children as learners. Social interactions within a multiage classroom tend to be more positive as the students are less competitive, more understanding, and more appreciative of the other students’ abilities.
Multiage teaching is based on the concept that all children can learn and have the right to learn at their own speed. Learning is a continuous experience rather than delivered in blocks. The age diversity contributes to create the family atmosphere that is practiced in the classroom as a reality that must be embraced. A classroom made up of a variety of ages and abilities helps students to accept others differences. Children do not compete as much but help nurture each other and by this approach each child’s individuality is accepted. The teacher supports each student with their own complex set of needs instead of leading a group to complete the same block at the same speed.
A good metaphor for the traditional teaching approach might be a staircase. First you get everything you need on step one and then you go onto step two. This continues until you reach the end of the staircase (If there is an end.) In a multiage classroom we would use the learning metaphor of a path. Students come to us somewhere along the path. Sometimes they run swiftly, other times they seem to wander slowly. When they get to a particular place in the path, they leave us.
Multiage learning is effective academically because less time is spent each year getting to know the individual strengths of students. Instead of spending the first few weeks getting acquainted every year, teachers and students jump right in. Since nongraded or multiage programs focus on individual students in a diverse setting the curriculum is geared to everyone on the curve, not just those in the middle. This helps special needs children who know that they can fit in and challenges talented children because “grade level” is no longer enough to get by. If you look at writing skills in a multiage classroom you can see everything from one sentence stories to stories with many pages and sophisticated language. Everyone fits in.
Being in a multiage program lets kids grow into responsibility. When they’re little they are nurtured by helping them with spelling, fire drills and even tying their shoes. As they get older they learn they must do this for others. There may be no special program, or approach but students learn through the example of others that they must help those who are younger or less capable.
The multilevel group learning depends solely on each and every child’s learning style and knowledge, not on the grade level the traditional school setting would place the student. In pre-assessments, the student is evaluated and will do the work she/he is capable of doing according to the results.
A student in fifth grade might be working with a third grade book or skill because she had already mastered the topic, and helping her classmates to understand the topic. Once her classmates understand it she will go back to work in her individual skill level. She is acting as tutor for them. Each child will progress and move on to the next level according to his/her abilities. When the child has moved through the planned cycle pre-established by the teacher, the student has an option to be a peer tutor. This is not a waste of time, by teaching the concept already mastered she is transferring that knowledge to a different frame of mind in order to explain it, and by doing so, she is not only reinforcing the knowledge but also internalizing it.
In a multilevel group, learning depends solely on each and every child’s learning style and knowledge, not on the grade level the traditional school setting would place the student, in order to determine the appropriate level of teaching needed. In pre-assessments, the student is evaluated and will do the work she/he is capable of doing according to the results.
Given the right atmosphere, the right techniques, and the right teaching team, multiage classrooms have the potential to provide children with the benefit of some very successful life experiences such as more positive attitudes toward school, their peers, and themselves. These attitudes are developed in part through child-centered curriculum taught at the appropriate developmental levels, with social and emotional learning developed in safe, risk-free environments, all of which may lead to higher rates of attendance and fewer behavioral problems.
At another point, if a student is struggling in some particular area, in order for this child to be able to advance to a higher level, he or she must master the previous concepts. Placing him or her with the lower level groups, will help to reinforce these difficult concepts. The students will be able to work together and peer tutor each other. When this student has mastered this concept he or she will be able to advance to the next level. Remember, each student must work on the level that he or she is capable and become successful prior to move on to higher and difficult concepts.
While they learn at different levels, helping each other, and refreshing all the previous knowledge, students acting as tutors reinforce his/her own knowledge of previous concepts. As we all know, the best way to learn is through teaching!
We encourage the students to be independent. I explain it to the students as a whole and they work own their own. Using this strategy will allow me to pick out the students who really do not understand how to do this activity. I do expect the students that do not understand what they are doing to raise their hand and ask for help. I will come around and help the students on a 1:1 basis. The ultimate learning responsibility lies on the student.
The school experience has changed dramatically. Education today must respond to new needs that were not present twenty, fifteen, or not even ten years ago.
The Internet is the most up to date tool for the students to find information. The web sites are pre-selected and pre-screened before the students access the Internet. Technology is a must in the twenty-first century, and our students utilize it for centers and projects. Technology, is not only delivered with computers, but also by using digital cameras, Telemunditos presentations, etc. The Internet is an open window to knowledge, and can be explored about any topic. Internet is the best linking tool between technology and knowledge providing a 1:1 tutoring with a positive detachment from the learner’s feelings allowing an immediate feedback which speeds up the process of mastering the material.
The internet is one of many educational tools a child can use. If the assignment requires a great deal of research, the internet is one of the best resources a child can use, with all of the articles, online books, encyclopedias, dictionaries, essays, journals, newpapers, etc. The possibilities are endless as long as the students are taught beforehand how to use it properly. Nevertheless this is not the only resource, books, magazines, newspapers, interviews, are used as well. However, the ever growing internet, communication as we knew it has been transformed completely. It is essential that we keep the children up to date with this ever-changing technology so that way they will be able to successfully adapt to the working world.
Traditional teaching in which teachers delivered a lesson, then requested an assignment and then qualified and quantified the level of acquisition has seriously evolved. Students, according to their ability, are now active participants and actively engaged in their learning and in their own development. In the class environment, teachers act as facilitators monitoring that learning.
Teachers score their work not just with a grade but according to rubrics made exclusively for the specific center or project. The student’s work is measured according to the effort she/he placed on her/his work, and how to improve it the next time around. Multiage classrooms are not based on a linear process of “doing assignments and getting grades” but developing skills and abilities in which the students grades are determined by their performance and the progress they make.
Multiage learning is like a path where students enter at different places. Sometimes they move fast and sometimes they move slower. We do not teach only to the middle levels, we teach to different levels. We do not accept that children can only learn at one unique level common to all children. The program gives them the option to sore past what others consider the accepted average
Students are responsible for their own learning. The student must consult his classmates before consulting the teacher. A student is normally sent back to read again when she has a question that probably can be answered if she/he takes the time to read the passage more carefully. Reading the assignment twice helps to answer the question. Students have to realize that learning is not a race. They have to take their time and do their work no matter how long it takes in order to achieve a higher quality result. Students asking their peers for an idea or an advice is a better way to learn than to merely listen and follow the teacher’s instructions. Students will realize that they found the solution with their own thinking skills, the resulting knowledge will not only last longer but will also set the basic approach to resolve problems and find answers in a self-directed manner.
Before the child can receive and answer from her teacher, she must complete the problem solving steps required. This is extremely beneficial for the student, in that she will be able to discuss and possibly find a solution with her peers. If this is not possible, she could possibly check her book for answers, the internet, or use other classroom resources. She is enhancing her problem solving skills and also becoming a more independent thinker. However, if she is still unable to find a solution after completing the required steps, she can then seek a solution from her teacher. Even though a student may not always find the solution on their own, they will still learn a lot through their own problem solving process.
The teacher is not the only source of information. There are books, computers with internet access, and other students in the classroom. When a student is sent back to her team is because she should explore and try different ways to find the answer to her questions. The teacher is one more resource that will not accompany the students for life. It is imperative that they develop a natural and positive degree of independence and self-motivated responsibility. Students need to be active learners. They should try to resolve their questions by themselves using all the resources.
When we encourage students to be independent learners we are just facilitating the learning process. The teachers give them clues and the students explore. We are building independent thinkers. Smart teaching teaches with questions not answers.
In summary, multiage is far from the simplicity of the concept stated at the beginning of this paper but a sensitive approach to learning in which the “industrial assembly line model” is replaced for a more respectful and individualized learning method.
This method places in a higher level a deserved respect for the student as a person proactively delivering, in the long run, a mature individual skilled on self-directed tools to become a long life learner.
This document was collectively created by:
Draw academy teachers – school year 2006-2007
Fernando Donatti – CEO/Superintendent