In a multi-age classroom, children are grouped based on developmental readiness to acquire knowledge and skills, not on the basis of age. Grouping children so the age span of the class is greater than one year maximizes the benefits of interaction and cooperation among children with different experiences and who are at varying stages of development.
Multi-age forces teachers to recognize and address the inherent diversity of any group of 25 children, whether their ages span 12 months or 24 months. The content of what the children are exposed to is important. But, more important are the processes in learning that we teach, over time, and through a wide variety of integrated curriculum.
Each child in a multi-age setting is a unique learner with a variety of strengths and weaknesses. All students will be exposed to material at their developmental level. In a multiage setting, the more capable learner is provided with ongoing opportunities to extend their experiences and develop skills and knowledge beyond traditional grade level curriculum and expectations.
All students in a multiage classroom will receive instruction from the classroom teacher. In various learning situations the students share their understandings with peers. Research indicates that individuals who share their knowledge with others gain a better understanding of the content themselves while enriching the learning of those with whom they have interacted.
Usually, split classes are created when there are not enough students to create two straight graded classrooms. Inside a split classroom the children and curriculum are separated by grade level. In multi-age classrooms students and curriculum are not kept separate but instead blended to provide instruction using a developmentally appropriate model.
In multi-age as well as traditional graded classrooms there might be an instance where there is not a good fit between student and teacher. Ways to remedy the situation while keeping the placement intact will be explored first. If unsuccessful, a child’s placement could be changed mid-year or at the end of the year.
Students from a multi-age classroom tend to be more independent, self-guided and socially and emotionally better adjusted than their “graded” peers (Slavin/Miller). Students are able to collaborate and work effectively with children of all ages to solve problems and develop new skills. Their transition to a different learning setting could be complicated only by the adjustment that any new environment requires.
A multi-age classroom can accommodate a whole range of learning styles and abilities. Students progress at their own rate with customized learning opportunities designed to meet individual needs. Individual student development, not the number of years spent in school, becomes the focus for instruction.
Students feel successful, confident, and self-reliant as they progress. Students benefit socially from working with children of different ages and abilities. This leads to a greater sense of belonging, support, security, and confidence. Multi-age allows children the opportunity of moving from a level of lesser experience to the most experienced in a classroom over a period of more than one school year. This supports a child’s social and emotional growth while moving through a developmentally appropriate curriculum.
Parents and students have an opportunity to establish a strong relationship with the teacher over a period of several years enabling the teacher, parents and child to establish long-term goals for the child. Where else but in schools are individuals grouped solely on age? Life is a multi-age experience.