By Teachers, For Teachers
Multiage classrooms have been becoming more and more popular in education throughout the past several years. If you’ve never been in one or have never taught in one, it may seem intimidating at first. The thought of teaching to various ages may seem like a lot of work. However, while they may require different teaching strategies, they aren’t as overwhelming to teach as you may think. In fact, multigrade classrooms aren’t anything new, they’ve actually been around for quite a while. Here are a few suggestions on how to effectively plan lessons and teaching strategies for multigrade students.
While your first instinct may be to group students together by age, that is the last thing that you’ll want to do. What you should do is group students together by their ability, skills, interests, and goals. Multiage classrooms rely on their flexible groupings, so if you were to place students together by age, then you would not be doing them any service.
The first thing that you should do is conduct a student survey to find out your students’ interests and goals. Once you have that information, it’ll help you create different groups that students can go in. For example, students can be placed in reading groups based on their ability, or placed in another group based on their interests. The great thing about flexible grouping is that they can be ever-changing. So if you wanted one group based on student interest one day, you can easily change that to be based on student skill or goal another day.
Another wonderful benefit of having a multiage classroom is that you can pair students of different ages together. For example, a 1st grader can read to a 2nd grader, and when he/she has trouble with a word, the 2nd grader is there to help. Or, you can pair students of different ages together as “Reading buddies.” If a student has any questions while you are busy then they can ask their older “Reader buddy” for help instead of asking you.
Another effective method teachers use in a multiage classroom is to individualize instruction. This means that they focus on the needs of the student by targeting one specific thing at a time. This method can be used on its own, but most teachers like to use it in conjunction with differentiated learning where students are grouped together according to their abilities and moved around accordingly. This is especially helpful for teachers because when students are grouped together, it takes less time than working individually.
Try giving students a choice board. The most popular version is designed like a Tic Tac Toe board. It’s presented in the form of a nine-square grid, and students are expected to complete one activity from each row. The activities vary in content, product, and process, and can be tailored to address many different levels (great for multiage classrooms). This not only gives the students a sense of control (since they get to choose their own tasks), but it also gives you some control since you get to choose all of the tasks students are choosing from.
Learning centers are a very effective way to teach a multiage classroom. They are great because they have a variety of materials where students can explore topics or practice skills. They are flexible, and can address many learners’ needs, which teachers find very effective. A teacher favorite is the Jigsaw method, because you can give younger students basic questions, and older students more-complex questions. Once students have all had the opportunity to read, research, and answer their questions, then they can each “Teach” their group what they’ve learned. Whenever you present information that engages all modalities, you increase the chances that you’ll reach every student in your class.
A theme is a great a way to teach in a multiage classroom because it allows children to learn about the same thing but on a different level. For example, you can tier assignments that vary in complexity. If your theme was about a specific animal, then students can study this animal at varying levels. You’d create activities that relate to the students’ readiness level and key skills that they need to acquire all surrounding the central same theme.
Another effective way to teach in a multiage classroom is through the use of educational technology. Technology has the ability to individualize instruction, which is exactly what you need for a classroom of diverse learners. There are many wonderful websites and applications that allow students to work at their own pace which is just what you want in a multi-age classroom.
The key to teaching in a successful multiage classroom is to be flexible. Luckily, you have the flexibility to experiment and try new things. While some things may work, while others may not. Just remember that as long as you are meeting the needs of all of your students, then you are doing a good job.
Do you have any teaching strategies for a multiage classroom? Please share your tips and thoughts on this topic in the comment section below, we’d love to hear what you have to say.
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 Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.