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Classroom Management: Multi-age Kids in Summer School

Janelle Cox

You just found out that you landing a summer school teaching job. The only downfall? Your classroom is a diverse age group of first-, second-, and third-grade students, and you have never taught a multi-age class before. Don’t fret: Multigrade classrooms demanding differentiated instruction that challenge typical classroom management aren’t anything new. In fact, there are many very experienced teachers that would love to share their tips on how to effectively plan lessons for multigrade students. Here are a few of their suggestions.

Differentiated Instruction

We all know that individualized instruction leads to better learning. Lucky for you, you have to teach a multi-age classroom and there is no better way to do so than to individualized instruction. Since summer school is only for a few weeks the easiest and most effective way to enact differentiated instruction is to find out what the students know, and don’t know about the content you plan on teaching. The quickest way you can do this is to provide students with a KWL Chart or yes/no cards. This will help you plan out the rest of your lessons for the summer. Once you have this information, then you can divide students into groups, if that is what you plan to do.

Group Students According to Ability, Goals, Skills, Not Age

It’s important that you teach to the students’ ability and not their age. Once you are armed with the information that you got from the KWL chart or yes/no cards, then you can decide if you want to group students according to ability, skill, goal, or interest. Since summer school is only for 4 to 6 weeks, you can change the groups each week as you change your lessons. For example, during week one you are conducting a making words lesson so you can group students according to ability. During week two when you are doing a lesson on American holidays, you can group students according to student interest, and so on.

Since you are teaching summer school, it gives you the ability to be flexible. One great benefit of having a multi-age classroom is that you can pair students of different ages together. For example, a first grader can read to a second grader and when he/she has trouble with a word the older student can help. Or, you can pair students of different ages together as “buddies” so if they have any questions while you are busy then they can ask their older “buddy.”

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Incorporate Learning Centers

Learning centers, or “stations,” can be a very effective way to teach a multi-age classroom, especially if you use the Jigsaw method. You can give younger students basic questions, and older students more complex questions. Once students all have had the opportunity to read, research and answer their questions, then they can each “teach” their group what they learned. If you are doing basic learning centers, have center work readily available for each lesson that you teach. This way as students work independently (you can have individualized activities based on students’ needs) you can monitor and access students as they work.

Center Lessons Around a Book or Theme

A theme is a great a way to teach a multi-age classroom. You can work any theme into math, science, social studies or English. Collect a variety of books at different levels based on your theme, this way you can incorporate a reader’s workshop. You can use mini-lessons to teach specific skills and strategies for differentiated instruction. Some summer theme ideas are “Summer at the Sea,” “Under the Sea” and “Keeping Healthy.”

Teach with Technology

One effective way to teach a multi-age summer school classroom is through technology. Technology gives you the ability to individualize instruction, which is exactly what you need for a classroom of diverse learners.  There are a variety of websites, iPad apps, and computer programs that students can use. For example, the “Reading Assistant Program” listens to students read and provides individualized decoding support. There are also many websites and applications that allow students to work at their own pace.

Flexibility is the key to a successful multi-age classroom. If you see that your first grader is ready for second-grade skills, then teach him. Remember, your job is short -- summer school is only for a few weeks. You have the flexibility to experiment and try new things. Some things may work, while others may not. As long as you meet the needs of all of your students, you are doing your job.

Have you ever taught a multi-age classroom? Do you have any tips or suggestions you would like to share? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators