Nuts & Bolts: Reflections of Multi-Age Practices by a Single Grade Teacher

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During the 2000-2001 school year, Sheri Suryan completed her student teaching in an intermediate multiage classroom. She was hired the following school year to teach in a single grade classroom. This somewhat unique situation has allowed her to differentiate instruction for her fifth grade students while reflecting on the benefits of multiage practices. With her permission I have posted this article below.

Reflections of Multi-age Practices by a Single Grade Teacher
by Sheri Suryan

As a recent graduate of the Woodring College of Education, Teaching Certification Program, I had the opportunity to work in a multi-age classroom of third, fourth, and fifth grade students during my student teaching. I stayed in the classroom for a period of two years, which gave me time to get to know the students and also their parents. Additionally, I was able to see the dynamics of children staying in the same learning environment over time, which is one of the finer qualities of a multi-age classroom.

Recently, I was hired as a single-grade teacher for a fifth-grade classroom. Something that I realized was a very important aspect is that in a single grade classroom, there is still a wide range of ability levels. I am grateful for my multi-age experience and because of it, I have a broader sense of applying teaching techniques that appeal to all levels of ability and learning styles. I have been able to take that experience and apply it to my single-grade classroom.

For example, I was given a spelling curriculum that some of the students had a difficult time with, while others were bored because it was too easy for them. I decided to use a multi-age strategy for spelling in which the students were given words that were just right for their abilities. The students were not in competition with each other but rather with themselves to succeed.

Another example of applying a multi-age technique in my single grade classroom is in the area of reading. I have incorporated literature circles that include three levels of reading. The students are required to read to a particular spot in the book by a specific time. They have packets that they work on independently and then we meet once a week and discuss words that were difficult, responses to the chapters that were read, and the students use their knowledge to make predictions for upcoming reading. The groups allow for diversity among reading abilities, without having to have the whole class read the same book at the same time.

Multi-age techniques have given me the chance to individualize my curriculum and take out the competitiveness that oftentimes happens in a single grade classroom. The students seem to work more independently and become much better problem-solvers. They are not as dependent on me. Also, students gain self-confidence and feel safe to take risks when the competition is decreased. Another point that I believe is important is that the students get to know and understand diversity. They realize that as people, they are not all the same. There is a realization that we all learn differently and at various speeds. This technique opens the doors for students to find themselves, explore options, and identify their own strengths. They realize that everyone fits in.

Multi-age is successful over time. It takes time to get to know students and their families. There is not the traumatic experience of "moving on" to the next grade with multi-age because the students stay with the same teacher. This allows the teacher to get to know and understand each student on an individual basis. Parents seem to get much more involved and take part in their childrens' learning. The children know what is expected of them and there is not a worrisome transition from grade level to grade level. There is much consistency for them in this respect in a multi-age program. Children become more successful when their lives are consistent.

While student teaching, I did a practicum in the middle school, sixth grade. The success that I witnessed was that the students who came from the multi-age program were the ones that were the independent learners, the leaders, the honor students, and the ones to reach out to help their peers. Over time, I have witnessed multi-age students to go on with their success to the high school level. Teachers can feel a sense of gratitude having gotten to know the students on an individual basis. Parents are happy to know their children are content. Multi-age programs support a family-type atmosphere, which is a very positive environment for young children. I feel very strongly that the multi-age program is a successful strategy for learning and teaching. However, I am appreciative to have those skills as a teacher and be able to apply them to a single-grade classroom. Consistency over time brings grand results to student learning and successful teaching.

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