Multiage Approach to School
The teachers at St. Ann’s Academy have many years of experience and faith in the success and advantages of a multiage classroom setting. The multiage movement traces its origins to the one-room schoolhouses that dotted the rural American landscape from the mid-17th to the mid-19th centuries. The simple definition of Multiage Education is “two or more grade levels that have been intentionally blended together to realize academic and social benefit.” (MultiageInfo) Kenneth Schatmeyer, a professor of teacher education at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio believes the beauty of the multiage approach, is that "when you do away with grade levels, it forces teachers to look at the individual needs of each child." He adds: "There's no research that shows that gradedness helps children at all. In fact, if anything, it's completely the antithesis of developmentally appropriate practice."
"It's very much a child-centered approach that assesses children's understanding and chooses curriculum pieces to fit their needs," says Sandra Stone, director of the National Multiage Institute, based at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. "The emphasis is on the child rather than on the curriculum."
Although that attitude can guide teacher practice in single-grade classrooms too, it's more likely to happen in a multiage setting. "If you're a 3 rd-grade teacher, you tend to focus on, 'This is what I teach,'" says Stone. "If you're a multiage teacher, you focus on 'These are the children I teach.'" Improvement of learning happens in a multiage environment because the environment necessitates teachers’ increased awareness of each student’s cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development
When schools do away with a grade-level designation it forces the teacher to look at the individual needs of each child. Other key elements of multiage teaching include the use of cooperative learning, flexible grouping and integrated, thematic units of study. Students are encouraged to be independent, to make their own decisions and to share what they learn with others. Teachers tend to see more sharing, more turn taking, more caring for one another."
A multiage setting provides a richer learning environment. Children bring multiple perspectives and hear multiple perspectives, there is a good spread of physical, mental, and social experiences in a multiage classroom setting that different-aged children bring to a classroom setting; that's the way the rest of life is.
Students in multiage settings were found to have higher self-esteem, more positive self-concepts, less antisocial behavior and better attitudes toward school than their peers in single-grade classes.
Students in multiage schools typically achieve higher scores on standardized tests because, by working at their own pace, some can achieve way beyond grade level and others can work intensively on the particular skill and concept areas in which they are weak. By avoiding the strictures of grade-level curricula, students have more opportunities to follow their own interests and work to beat their own previous achievements. They become self-motivated and are rarely bored. In a multiage classroom, there is no “down time.” The higher achievement is realized by both regular students and those with some learning disability because by progressing at their own rate, they are less frustrated.
As for the social/emotional advantages of Multiage Education, given teacher has students for two or more years sequentially, the teacher knows each child’s particular personal issues, sensitivities and needs. The children start the year less stressed because of already knowing the teacher’s rules, testing strategies, priorities and classroom expectations. In addition, the interaction of diverse ages in the classroom provides a “safety net” for learners. They feel like they are working together and are not being thrown into a challenge all alone. There is a real sense of classroom as community.
One final note about defining Multiage is that it is a totally natural way of interacting. When one considers all the other networks in which children are involved (e.g. family, sports teams, scouts), it is obvious that “multiage” describes their usual existence and that traditional grade-level schooling is actually an unnatural experience for them. They are accustomed to and can succeed quite well interacting with people of varying ages. They already know how to mentor and be mentored; they already know that there are many differences among people and that those differences provide positive opportunities.