Before George W. was elected, many schools were making great strides, grouping students by clusters of ages, rather than single arbitrary grade levels (for which there is no research supporting the grade level grouping). Multiage grouping – often in clusters of 2,3 or all primary students, or all intermediate students – is the deliberate grouping of students for the social and educational benefits it affords, and there are advantages to teachers and schools (and parents) as well.
Some of us hoped with the election of Obama, that some things would return to their educational good common sense. Alas, that was not the case.
While in Florida, with a colleague and a most talented teacher, I had the pleasure and opportunity to follow a group of students in a multiage primary classroom for four years. Our research taught me so much, and the results went far beyond what I thought possible.
Teachers struggle with how to structure multiage curriculum, as they are accustomed to grade levels. The change is fairly minimal when you remember you are teaching students and not grade levels, and we have always tried to do our best to meet the needs of everyone.
Administrators struggle with how to report data, and how to explain it all to parents. These two issues are highly solvable, and not difficult.
Everyone thinks parents will hate multiage grouping. Parents are initially skeptical. In Florida, after one semester of implementing multiage classes at a Manatee County elementary school, 94% of parents were thrilled with the arrangement, as they saw their children thriving in a model far more like a family than most things done in schools.
Let me share an anecdote. A veteran kindergarten teacher became a multiage k-1 teacher, by choice. She was accustomed to the frenzy of those first weeks of kindergarten with too many children not knowing how to do school, or tie their shoes, or put on the jackets, etc. Year two, half the class were new kindergarten students and the second half were first graders who’d been kindergartners the prior year – the year started off so smoothly.
Around day 3, kids were lining up to head out to lunch. One or two kindergartners were wiggly, disruptive, and not responding to teacher directions to line up quietly and in an orderly way. One first grader turned around to the wiggly kindergartners and with a look, said,
“We don’t do THAT here.” That was the end of the incident. Peer pressure can be a good thing in the right circumstances, when used in the right way. The newbies complied for their classmate in ways they might not think to for their teacher. The rest of the year was like that: Smooth, calm, a medium ripe for much learning.
For teachers or administrators out there who want to be multiage, who are multiage and need help defending your practice, or honing your practice, I can help you if you need help.
In the section about Books I Have Written are listed 2 books I co-authored on multiage education, one with an administrator as co-author. You can find these books on amazon. They are no longer in print.
You can also reach me through this website, or my email firstname.lastname@example.org. Consulting fees are reasonable and negotiable as long as it does not cost me money to help you.
If you are a courageous teacher or school holding on to this best practice, then my congratulations and best wishes.