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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 of achievement.

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

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