So… what is multiage?

Simply put, a multiage classroom is comprised of students of mixed ages. Typically children are in classes of 5-6-7, 6-7-8, 7-8-9, 8-9-10 year olds and so on. Children spend the entire 2-3 years with the same teacher in a classroom that is truly a family unit. The multiage classroom is a learning atmosphere that exists deliberately for the benefit of the child. It does not exist for the purpose of economics or enrollment statistics. It promotes unity, diversity and success through developmentally appropriate practices according to how children learn. In this environment, children do not feel the need to compete. In a multiage classroom, children can find the security to develop a positive self-concept that lays the groundwork for lifelong success.
The multi-age structure does not focus on promotion and retention; students simply continue to receive age and developmentally appropriate instruction until they move to the next level. The notion of failure is eliminated. Some children will be studying more advanced materials while others devote their energies to different materials. It is also probable that a child will progress more rapidly in one subject than añother. The wide range of performances in reading, mathematics, problem solving, and writing is likely to extend over many grade levels.
It is our firm belief that parent and teacher should meet frequently to share information and to discuss the strengths and weaknesses in the child’s development.
To help them in building on what s/he already knows, in making choices, showing what s/he knows in different ways
working together and by her/himself
knowing that what s/he says is valued by teachers and classmates
finding out that s/he can learn from others and that others can learn from him/her seeing teachers as learners while having fun learning
excited about sharing what s/he is doing with others
talking about what s/he is doing and how s/he is doing it
Multi-age grouping may be implemented for institutional or pedagogical reasons by the administration of the school, but the outcome is that students are able to interact across age groups and have long-term relationships with other students and teachers. In a multi-age middle school program students from more than one grade level learn side by side. The oldest students eventually move on and are replaced by a new group of younger students each year.
Looping is a popular elementary school practice somewhat similar to multi-age grouping. However, in looping, students from a single grade level remain with the same teacher for more than one school year. At the end of the time, the teacher loops back to the same grade as at the start. It is an old notion, reminiscent of the one-room schoolhouse. Why is this concept emerging again? Robert Lincoln at Tolland Middle School, Tolland, Connecticut, is hoping that a two-year experience with the same teachers and students remaining together can produce improved relationships and increased academic time. Allowing teachers and students to work together for more than one year has many potential advantages: long lasting, trusting relationships, fewer classroom management problems, and teacher accountability for student growth it is hoped that positive parent teacher relationships, and home/school partnerships will be formed.
Multiage Classrooms are sprouting up in every state across our nation. The state of Kentucky has mandated multiage classes for Kindergarten through third grade. Mississippi and Oregon are looking at similar legislation. Pennsylvania, California, Texas, New York and Tennessee are reported to be developing similar programs. Multiage classrooms can be seen in Arizona, Washington, Maine, Colorado, Missouri, Wisconsin and Indiana. British Columbia, Canada and New Zealand enjoy successful multiage programs. Across our nation, the multiage classroom is sought out by professionals as a viable and preferred option to traditional same-age, same-grade classrooms.
Multiage Environment
A multiage environment is a classroom of mixed ages or grades that is deliberately constructed for the benefit of children, not because of enrollment numbers. Many multiage environments are 2-3 grade levels or ages. In a multiage environment students are learning from each other (cross-age learning) and learn according to their individual developmental timeline (developmentally appropriate philosophical practice). The students learn through themes (Oceans, Dinosaurs and Butterflies for example). Instruction occurs in small groups according to ability or interest, while the rest of the class participates in self-directed enrichment activities or projects related to the theme. The assignments are geared toward the individual child, not a grade level standard or set grade level curriculum. The student’s progress is assessed from work examples, portfolios, teacher’s anecdotal records and informal or authentic assessment. Standardized testing is not normal practice, but rather used occasionally.
A multiage environment is a non-threatening model for instructing children. It allows for diversity in learning. The community established in a multiage environment is one of respect and support. Children are allowed to grow at his/her individual rate, and are not expected to fit into a grade level expectation. Because of this, any student can benefit. Late bloomers, advanced, older and younger students are seen as an individual. Their individuality is respected and appreciated because it is understood that everyone is different and learns in a different way.
What is so good about it?
Instruction is geared toward individual student needs.
In a graded system, the curriculum is often designed around a homogenous set of standards. In many cases, there are children who exceed or fail to meet these standards. Children have many developmental levels and learn in many different ways. In a multiage class, the child learns on his/her own developmental timeline.
Children spend 2-3 years with the same teacher.
This enables the student to build a secure relationship with the teacher and allows the teacher to get to know the child, therefore improving the quality of his/her education.
The child is a member of the multiage family unit.
In a multiage classroom, community is the emphasis. The closer the community atmosphere is, the more secure the children feel. This often results in improved quality of performance.
Respect for individual differences is encouraged.
In a multiage class, the teacher understands that each child is unique and has a unique way of learning. The class understands this as well. The result is a non-threatening, non-competitive atmosphere.
No grade retention or promotion.
Because learning is based on the individual there is no need to group, classify and organize children. Thus, there is no need to hold a child back or rush him/her into the next grade.
Assessment reflects instruction.
A multiage teacher will assess his/her student’s performance using more authentic means of measuring progress. Standardized tests tend to measure an arbitrary set of skills where authentic assessment tells the teacher on a daily basis how the child is progressing.
Cross-age learning is experienced.
Students learn to help one añother. This is not a requirement in a multiage class, it just happens naturally. Not only do children begin to depend on one añother, but they also get a chance to experience what it might feel like to have siblings of older and younger ages and be an older or younger sibling.
Focus is on success.
Progress is not measured by what a child does not know, but what a child does know. The child moves forward, building on prior knowledge.
Improved self-esteem.
The security, community, familiarity and continuous progress of a multiage environment allow the child to see the good in himself. He sees how successful he can be and becomes empowered.
Flexible grouping.
Student learning groups are fluid and heterogeneous. Students are constantly working with different peers based on interest. Ability grouping is not the focus.
Children develop the skills to become lifelong learners.
Student choice and interest is always considered. The students begin to think of learning as exciting and fun, rather than a chore. Students are allowed to see things through to the proper end so that they may engage in another thought-provoking activity with enthusiasm.
Are you ready for Multiage?
Multiage teachers utilize these classroom practices.
Team teaching: Teachers must be able to plan and work cooperatively with colleagues
Developmentally Appropriate Practices: The teacher understands how young children learn and grow at different rates. Teachers must be able to teach social skills and independent learning skills to individual students.
Cooperative learning: Children learn to work together in teams. Student seating is arranged to promote cooperation.
Flexible grouping: Children are grouped for specific needs and interests for short periods of time. Groups are fluid and changing based on the topic or content addressed.
Literature-based reading: The teacher as well as students read as part of the daily routine. Material provided is on a wide span of levels and interests. Children are encouraged to read self-selected materials. The teacher reads a variety of genres to the children.
Manipulative-based math: Emphasis is on problem solving. Worksheets are used minimally or not at all.
Hands-on discovery, experimentation science: Materials are available for children to manage their own learning.
Process writing: Children select their own topics and invented spelling is accepted as a part of the process.
Integrated thematic instruction: Content concepts are introduced and extended in open-ended, divergent learning experiences to challenge students functioning at different levels.
Learning centers: Centers are used as part of the instruction process for reinforcing and extending instruction, not for when “work” is finished.
Authentic assessment: Students are assessed as they are taught. Reflection and goal setting are common. Teachers must be proficient in assessing, evaluating, and recording student progress using portfolios and anecdotal reports.