Nuts & Bolts: What is a "Multiage?"

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One Page Explanation of Multiage Education


by John Tapper

On March 26, 1996 John Tapper posted on a multiage listserve a wonderful explanation of what multiage education is. With his permission I have reposted it here.

What is a "multiage"?

If one thousand eight year old students were asked to do a task the majority of the them would perform at a given level. This level is indicated graphically by the bulge on a bell curve. It represents "grade level" or what is considered acceptable performance for children who range in age from "just eight" to "almost nine" (depending on school admission requirements). Graded curriculum tends to geared to this particular level of performance. Published curriculum supports this level. Expectations reinforce the idea that this is where a child should be.

A good metaphor for this 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 on the wall at writing in a multiage classroom you can see everything from one sentence stories to stories with many pages and sophisticated language. Everyone fits in.

Finally, being in a multiage program lets kids grow into responsibility. When they're little they are taken care of - they get help with spelling, fire drills and 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.

John Tapper

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