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Multiage Classrooms

January 5, 2010
Times Observer

I am Lisa Certo-Card, wife, mother of two boys, Kindergarten teacher at Rogers School, and adjunct professor at JCC (I’ve found that freshman are really not that different than kindergarteners). After graduating from Southwestern Central High School, I received degrees in elementary and special education from Indiana University of PA and Mercyhurst College, respectively.

I was asked to write an article explaining the benefits of multiage education which I taught for 11 years in the Jamestown School District (2nd-3rd, 3rd-4th, and K-1st-2nd).

Multiage is defined as “more than one grade within the same classroom”. For example a multiage K-1-2 accommodates Kindergarten, first, and second grade students. Thus, children range in ages from 4 – 9 years. Graded classrooms only house one grade, for example, third grade, so there is only a one-year age span. There is also another type of classroom configuration called looping (many confuse looping with multiage). Looping classrooms house children of the same grade, however, the teacher moves with the entire class to the next grade level. Multiage differs in that with the start of a school year, a few new students from the youngest grade will begin with the returning older students.

“What? You teach three grades at the same time? How do you do that?” I heard those questions so many times. Multiage education takes a massive amount of preparation but, more importantly, it takes an enormous understanding of when and where there are overlaps in the curriculum, and how to manipulate the curriculum to fit the needs of your learners.

My approach was always to teach developmentally. It didn’t matter if a 2nd-grader was in need of early 1st-grade reading lessons and advanced 3rd grade math, or a kindergartener needed 2nd-grade reading and preschool math, it was always the needs of the children which drove the curriculum. The benefit of this was that no stigma was ever attached to those who weren’t functioning at grade-level; everyone could progress at their own pace.

A multiage classroom provides behavioral benefits as well. Children in a multiage setting do not have anxiety issues over the summer months; neither do their parents or the teacher who will only see 6-11 new faces in September instead of 20. This is perhaps one of the greatest benefits in that instruction time is not lost as teachers can jump right in with those returning students. Returning students know the classroom expectations and teach the new students by example. The younger students act more mature because they want to be like the “big kids”. Children without siblings reap multiple rewards from a multiage education, for at some point they will be the youngest and receive help from older students and then later, they will be in a position as the oldest to give guidance to those who are younger. For example, Roger (a very high-strung & active 2nd-grade boy) took an enormous amount of pride when he was able to teach a kindergartener that she didn’t need to be fearful of a task, which was overwhelming her. This increased his self-confidence in a way that would not have occurred in a graded classroom.

Even though I accepted a Kindergarten position this year, I still believe in the benefits of multiage education.

In fact, I believe so strongly in the multiage concept that both my children participated in multiage preschool programs and I enrolled them in school outside of their own district so that they could attend the K-1-2 classroom at Rogers Elementary.

As a single grade teacher, I still apply the principles of multiage education: even though the classroom consists of one grade we are a community of learners, reading and math are developmentally taught, and peer instruction is used in order to teach those who need more guidance.

I do miss teaching in a multiage classroom. I just didn’t know how much until I was forced to think about it. I suppose this stems from the fact that the multiage environment so closely mimics the real world; no one tells me I can only socialize with 38 year olds. Think of the knowledge that can be gained on a daily basis from those who have more life experience than you. It is for this reason that I will always encourage school districts, teachers and parents to consider multiage schooling if it is an option, knowing that it’s one of the best instructional practices which can be offered to our children.

Lisa Certo-Card is a teacher at Rogers Elementary & JCC.

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