Pass or Fail: Teacher Preparedness and Multi-Age Classroom Development

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?

Before classrooms can transition to successful multi-age models, teachers have to be willing and ready.

When it comes to the success of a multi-age classroom model, teacher buy-in is paramount. Teacher preparedness is also an important point that must be addressed in the plans for placing multi-age classrooms in settings where they are new. Many teachers featured in reports on multi-age classrooms say they received little preparation for teaching students of different ages.

Winning teachers over to the educational philosophy of multi-age classrooms is another necessary step for successful implementation. According to one study, eight in ten teachers oppose differentiated instruction. Again, though, adaption of the curriculum to meet the needs of all students in this type of context is difficult. They doubt their own abilities and are unsure of the supports at their disposal to assign groups with different work and to teach the material.

Efficiently creating group work among students of different abilities and age is another area where teachers find themselves struggling. Increased workload is also an issue. Teachers are reported to often accept the arguments in favor of multi-age grouping and appear to be happy to undertake the teaching of multi-age classrooms. Still, some misunderstand the program and do not go about implementing it correctly. Relations between staff members can become strained without the proper supports in place to minimize tensions and make criticisms and challenges constructive.

Since teachers with more extensive training and professional development tend to have the opportunity to teach multi-age classes, the experience gap between those who teach single-graded classes and those who teach multi-age classes can become a problem. That gap is identified as potentially leading to feelings of superiority in multi-age groups. Teachers who are opposed to change can undermine well-meaning multi-age classroom teachers.

Administrators can also struggle with the concept and the management of multi-age classrooms. However, their issues are mainly due to the federal and state accountability laws that require students to take standardized tests by grade level, as already outlined.

Because multi-age classrooms tend to blur the grade level standards and do so deliberately (at least to some degree), it can also be difficult to fairly administer standardized tests. Many principals have reported that it can be difficult to operate two types of structures in one school. But this problem is solvable if graded classrooms are entirely or at least mostly removed, and if the federal and state accountability laws requiring standardized tests are revised to effectively end or reduce that requirement.

Principals have reported that it is challenging because multi-age groups often need special field trips, school schedules, and equipment. There can also be a need, on occasion, for two separate groups for the events, designed for specific grades. All of these considerations create challenges for the school administration and budget management. The takeaway is that multi-age programs do not fit neatly into the traditional organization for schools; they are not designed to. A multi-age program should push a school past its norms to provide the best fit of an education for the students participating, and that will take some upfront and continuing work on the part of teachers and administrators.

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