A simple and brief History
Multi-age classes began with the introduction of formalised schools in the form of one room – one teacher schools. These one room schools practiced individualised instruction, independent study, multi-age learning.
During the Industrial Revolution, public education began to shift to the graded, curriculum-centred approach. This approach, closely paralleled manufacturing methodologies, and was the favoured method to prepare students to become productive members of the industrial society. Innovators, however, favoured a more child-centred approach, focusing on applying a developmentally appropriate curriculum.
What is multi-age Learning?
Multi-age education is a child-centred approach, which is founded in an understanding of child development and research on how children learn, and considers the uniqueness of each learner in terms of learning rate, background, learning styles, multiple intelligences, and interests. Multi-age educational philosophy sees each child on their own continuum of learning within a whole child context: social, emotional, cognitive, and physical. Multi-age does not try to fit the child to the pre-determined curriculum, but rather chooses a broad-based curriculum to fit the needs of the child.
Much of the research on the benefits of multi-age education provides mixed results and the wide range of ways multi-age education is implemented makes it difficult for researchers to generalize the academic impact of multi-age education. Thus, without overstating the benefits and effects, the consistent strength of multi-age education for students includes:
- Honouring and valuing each person as unique.
- Learning as an individual.
- emphasis on the learning styles that enable continuous progress of each student,
- use of developmentally appropriate educational practices and relevant experiences,
- freedom to take risks and make choices.
- use of authentic assessment and qualitative feedback,
- encourages critical thinking: (Including the skills of debating, curating, evaluating and distilling information) and communication (Fluency in writing, public speaking and use of technology)
- Learning is social.
- collaboration and learning from children who are both novices and experts
- mastering skills through modelling
- internalizing new understandings through “cognitive conflict” experiences with mixed ages.
- developing intellectual and communication skills because of broader differences in the learning community.
- facilitation of personal construction of knowledge.
- Acquiring social skills in meaningful contexts with mixed ages.
- Professional partnerships between staff members, family and members of the community.
Multi-age education opens up learning for every child. It provides a learning environment within a ‘family’ of mixed age learners where the students are treated with respect for their individuality. They are provided with developmentally differentiated curricula by: creating occasions for scaffolding student growth by both the teacher and a multi-age peer group; and providing an environment in which close relationships between teacher and student and among classmates allow for the development of mutual trust and understanding.
In multi-age grouping, teachers are more likely to see their students as individuals rather than as a group of similar students and hence provide developmentally differentiated curricula. This is done by: creating occasions for scaffolding of growth by both the teacher and a multi-age peer group and providing an environment in which close relationships between teacher and student and among classmates allow for the development of mutual trust and understanding.
Obstacles and problems
The first barrier is usually dissatisfaction and rejection by parents. Mixing their children with children of other ages raises concerns about the quality of instruction. Parents of older students tend to think that their children will learn less, while those of younger ones worry that their children might be challenged too intensely and lose confidence in their learning abilities.
Teacher buy-in and preparedness are important considerations to the success of multi-age classrooms. To establish differentiated instruction teachers require time to discuss student data, assign the groups and efficiently create group work among students of different abilities and ages.
We have deliberately chosen to have multi-age grouping of 3 year levels together (1, 2 & 3 and 4, 5,& 6) so as to intentionally optimize what can be learned when children of different, as well as same, ages and abilities, have frequent opportunities to interact. We do not use the multi-age setting to balance numbers from year to year. We deliberately choose 3 years and then support the teachers and students in each Learning Community.
Teachers are supported by enabling them to work in teams and they have significantly more planning time than stipulated by the Department of 0Education and Training. They receive ongoing coaching and professional development in the areas of inquiry learning, thinking, mathematics teaching, literacy, ethics and data analysis. At BEPS we organise our students and teachers into Learning Communities so that teachers do not have to work in isolation but can share the planning load, learn from each other, learn together and discuss individual student progress.