Multi-age classrooms instill learning and social skills not found in traditional classrooms
At KMS, we believe the multi-age classroom provides a more all-embracing, humanitarian, and natural environment to learn than in traditional classrooms.
Our 1st through 5th grade students are in a combined group that allows for learning flexibility and maximum learning potential. Students can learn from and help each other. The teacher gives individualized assignments so that students can learn at their speed without the pressure to keep up with the group and without the boredom of being held up by the group. Open ended assignments encourage each student to use their maximum potential in each assignment. Our project based approach also lends itself to the multi-age classroom.
Our Elementary Students also visit all the age groups and share about what they are learning during a day the students have named “Wonderful Wednesday”. This activity not only reinforces what they have learned, but also gets them comfortable with speaking in front of a group.
In addition, research points to two major benefits of the arrangement:
High Academic Achievement
Reasons for this vary however, of great importance in the research is the fact that youth learn at their own rate.
Today’s children are typecast early in life. Are you a fast learner, average or slow? Do you have a learning challenge? Are you strong in math and science, but lag in the humanities? This relegation only worsens as students advance through the grades of school. Multi-age classrooms permit students to learn at their own pace. A student may be ready for second grade reading yet be further along in math.
As KMS teachers, we work with the parents and each other to determine how much and how soon to introduce educational milestones. And since children learn more quickly when they are ready, their self-esteem grows with success, and they learn that taking risks has it’s rewards in greater and greater self-confidence.
In multi-age classrooms, gone is the fear of being retained in school. Children have more time to gain mastery in areas of difficulty for them. Gone also is the issue of being labeled according to one’s ability. In same-grade classrooms, a child may be labeled “below grade lever” or “low”. These children may stop trying while those labeled “above grade level” or “high” may not feel challenged.
Furthermore, spending several years with the same teacher allows the teacher to develop a deeper understanding of a child’s strengths and needs, and puts them in a better position to support the child’s learning. Without the need to have all children be at the same place at the same time without regard for ability, teachers can focus on regarding each child as a unique individual that they are. By working with the same children over several years, less time is required at the beginning of each school year getting up to speed with each child’s uniqueness.
Integrating students with challenges with those without, erases any stigma and enables all students relate to and accept each other. Those who are stronger in one subject may assist others and then be on the receiving end of support in another area. Such opportunities in the classroom result in students learning and excelling in THEIR area of excellence along with creating students that have more empathy for one another, a trait that carries over to their daily social lives.
The Development of Enhanced Socialization Skills
By separating youth by grades, you deny them the social currency found in relating to different ages. Bev Boss, educator and a mentor of KMS says, “Whether we are to survive or not on this planet depends on how we socialize.” Children need to learn how to give and take, how to negotiate, how to make friends, fight and go back to that friend. If they can’t socialize well, other kids will push them away, then the teachers push them away, then the principal and finally society.
Recent research suggests (link to Socialization article) that a multi-age classrooms are especially good at fostering good social skills. Qualities such as help-giving, sharing, turn-taking, greater social responsibility and sensitivity to others have been shown to be greater in mixed-age classrooms. There is less one-up-manship and less bullying. When asked to make decisions, students in multi-age classrooms are more liable to work toward consensus with more leadership behavior than children in same-age groups. (Link to “Benefits of Mixed-Age classroom article)
What we find at KMS is that children develop a sense of family with their classmates. They become a “family of learners” who support and care for each other. This spirit of cooperation and caring makes it possible for children to help each other as individuals, rather than see each other as competitors. The older children often serve as mentors taking a leadership role and modeling more sophisticated approaches to problem solving. The younger children on the other hand are able to accomplish tasks they could not do without the assistance of older children. This dynamic increases the older child’s level of independence and competence.