This article is posted with permission of the author.
Student Success, and Self-image in a Multi-age Classroom
by Janet Caudill Banks
Just putting children in mixed-age classes, does not make
a multi-age classroom. Multi-age education involves a belief
in a philosophy that all children can learn, but they learn at
different rates. Therefore, they should be placed in multi-age
classrooms and allowed to make continuous progress, without fear
of failure... Changes in organization, curriculum, instructional
strategies, and assessment all need to be considered,in order
to meet these developmental levels.
Because learning tasks in a multi-age class are usually given
according to the correct developmental levels, children are more
likely to feel successful, and have fewer failures. Success raises
self-esteem. When assignments are more individualized, it is
not as apparent to students that one project is easier than another.
In a situation where everyone does the same assignment, it is
much easier to compare quality. Questions that need to be answered
can be based on higher-levels of thinking for the more able students,
while the younger or less able student is working on easier questions.
Students do not need to know, and usually do not know the difference
in the questions.
Younger students are exposed to material above grade level
as they see and hear what the older students are doing. They
gain from this exposure, through cooperative learning, peer tutoring,
and just plain observation, but are made to understand that they
should not be able to do the same quality work as their older
peers, that with time, they will be able to. Due to this exposure,
and the help of other students, the older child in a multi-age
class tends to be ahead of where they would be if they had been
in a single grade classroom without this exposure.
Multi-age classrooms have a lot of motivating activities,
with attention to learning styles, multiple intelligences, and
interests, as well as abilities. When children are motivated,
they will do their very best and are proud of their efforts.
They tend to be more willing to work, thereby raising their level
The increase of "immediate feedback" due to many
people in the room being able to answer questions and help each
other also increases achievement. Students do not have to sit
and wait for the teacher to find the time to help, when other
students, who are more advanced, can answer questions. Even the
"slower" older student develops a lot of self-confidence
by being able to help younger students.
Teachers usually concentrate on having students of all ages
affirm each other for their efforts and performance. They let
it be known that "put-downs" are not acceptable, and
continually work on creating a warm, friendly family atmosphere.
All students are made to feel that they are important and valued
for their efforts.
Multi-age classrooms do not have tracking, or long term ability
grouping. Grouping is usually short term and flexible. Students
work with other students of all ability levels, and don't feel
labeled as slow learners. They are not pulled out as a group
of slow learners. Competition and comparison with other students
is lessened, as students are looked at and evaluated according
to their potential, not in relationship to "grade level
standards", or in comparison to each other. Emphasis is
on the "strengths" of individuals, rather than weaknesses.
With less emphasis on competition than you find in a single grade
classroom, students are not as aware of differences. When the
right strategies are in place, the older student who is less
able than his/her peers is not as aware of it.
© CATS Publications, 1997