A Multiage Approach…
is more than a mixed age class
Simply creating a class of students from more than one grade level and calling it multiage is not what is meant by a multiage approach. In some respects, the literal meaning of ‘multiage’ interferes with a conceptual understanding of the learning environment of a multiage class. The fact that it is a class of ‘multiple ages’ may lead one to associate it with other types of classes in this category: multi-grade, split class, combined grade, blended grades. Usually these classes are formed to deal with an imbalance of student enrollment. Teachers of these classes attempt to instruct the grade-level curriculum for each group, with double (or triple) the preparation.
is more than “good teaching”
An effective multiage teacher orchestrates the class as a facilitator, using instructional strategies which encourage and empower students to become independent learners. These developmentally appropriate practices cater to student developmental learning stages rather than to their chronological age. When students experience success and an appropriate level of challenge, they are more likely to become self-motivated learners. Each strategy is more effective when used in combination with the others, as they weave together to create a learner-centered program. For example, differentiated instruction is more effective when used with flexible grouping and authentic assessment.
Teachers of single-age classes can use many of these same instructional practices as a multiage teacher; but will not achieve the same degree of learner-centeredness as a multiage class. Think about elements of a multiage class that cannot be replicated in a single-age class:
- Mixed-ages, natural cross-age tutoring opportunities
- Wider social experience with mixed-ages
- Transition of class roles from a novice to a mentor
- Increased awareness of “what comes next” for ‘young-ers’
- Increased sense of reflection of “how much I’ve learned” for ‘old-ers’
- New mix of classmates every year (1/2 or 1/3 in-coming students as ‘olders’ move on)
- Decreased anxiety of students transitioning to new teacher or next stage in schooling because they already know the teacher and some students as former classmates
These features of a multiage structure enhance the effectiveness of learner-centered pedagogy.
Curriculum is usually presented through in-depth, integrated, ‘real-life’ class topics which the teacher initiates, but allows for student investigation according their interests. Family grouping, vertical grouping and nongraded are terms for classes similar to a multiage class.