Pass or Fail: Classroom Organization Redesigns

In this multi-part series, I provide a dissection of the phenomenon of retention and social promotion. Also, I describe the many different methods that would improve student instruction in classrooms and eliminate the need for retention and social promotion if combined effectively.

While reading this series, periodically ask yourself this question: Why are educators, parents and the American public complicit in a practice that does demonstrable harm to children and the competitive future of the country?

If your child was excelling academically, would it matter that they were doing so in a nontraditional classroom?

Breaking Down the Walls

Renee Goularte was originally a third-grade teacher whose classroom was adjacent to that of first-grade teacher Ziem Nguyen. They often collaborated and finally asked to have the wall between their classrooms removed. Materials were shared among all students, and students were encouraged to move back and forth between the classrooms. For two years their informal collaboration continued, with little or no pushback from students, administration, or parents. But then Goularte and Nguyen decided to make their relationship formal and get the official designation as a multiage classroom.

She says: “Within a month of a presentation to our staff, describing what we had been doing and how we planned to continue to develop our program, a few concerned parents began disseminating incorrect, negative information about our proposed program.” Goularte and Nguyen had to spend the entire summer in meetings, trying to counteract the false information that had been passed around. When fall came, seven parents requested that their children be moved out of the multiage classroom. Three students ended up moving; the rest stayed.

But the story has a happy ending. Parents quickly saw how well their students were doing, and they called the teachers to give them their support. Goularte mentions one parent in particular who had gone so far as to contact the district office to try to get her daughter moved. Goularte asked her just to come into the class to observe. Once the mother did so, she began offering to volunteer.

And then, at the Back-to-School Night, when some parents began questioning the multiage classroom decision, this mother stood up and gave a speech in support of Goularte and Nguyen’s work. Goularte says: “Over a year later, during her daughter’s second year with us, she came to me to tell me that they were thinking of moving to another state, but she wanted her daughter in another multiage class—that she didn’t want her in a single grade class again.”

Classroom Organization

Streaming, setting, and banding are different models used within the school system to organize classrooms beyond just age. The streaming approach allows students to be divided into classes based on a measurement of intelligence or attainment, or even their developmental level. For instance, students who are achieving “A” grades or similar on testing or assessments can be grouped together for certain subjects. Those who achieve “B” grades or similar can be grouped together, and so on.

The setting is also used to organize the teaching of certain subjects based on ability, even though many schools otherwise operate with mixed-ability classes. Streaming can be used for English, mathematics, sciences, and modern languages, allowing classes to be organized in terms of ability groups. Such homogenous ability groups allow teachers to concentrate on addressing key knowledge areas pertinent to the students’ particular needs.

Multiage Learning Advantages

Grouping children together by various attributes unrelated to age or grade can increase efficiency and productivity by allowing the teacher to concentrate on teaching to a specific level. If for instance, a large group of children was tested for writing aptitude and various individuals fell out into the first through fourth quartiles, it might make sense to group or “band” students by the quartile of achievement for further instruction. Again, doing so would allow the teacher to fine tune a presentation for a specific audience.

Based on the available research, and in light of the current issues with the graded system, the multiage approach appears to be the best option for redesigning the organization of classrooms. Even so, we would be well advised to consider alternative organization strategies that still make use of age. Multiage classrooms appear to work particularly well for elementary-school-age students, giving younger children time to familiarize themselves with the classroom environment and the learning experience. At the same time, there is a need to recognize that all students are different, and some of these differences in interest, ability, and aptitude are clearly associated with age.

With this in mind, grouping students into educational units based on common ability level would support the needs of the individual at all levels of accomplishment. The goal of each tiered classroom would not be simply to teach the student or the class at some prescribed level. Rather, the goal would be to find each student’s areas of weakness and strength, so that teaching methods could be adjusted to challenge, as well as support.

How apprehensive would you be if your child’s school adopted the multiage approach?

Choose your Reaction!