MONDAY, APRIL 8TH, 2013
JULIA LAWRENCEhttp://www.educationnews.org/k-12-schools/research-small-frequent-tests-could-help-kids-pay-attention-learn/New research is showing that the key to keeping students focused on learning material while in the classroom could be frequent tests, according to Boston.com. Cognitive psychologists, long charged with figuring out how to keep young minds from straying while learning, have hit upon an unusual solution of springing little tests and quizzes throughout the lecture — at the exact time that students are most likely to drift away from the “topic in hand.”The issue of how to keep students’ noses to the grindstone has become even more serious since the introduction of online courses which many people think will be a fix to what ails the education system in in the U.S. and abroad. However, without teachers watching over the classroom in real time to keep kids from giving into temptation of the internet or distractions, designing programs that will be no worse at keeping children learning than real-life teachers would is tricky.“We talk to students here who say, ‘It’s a great tool to have. But at the same time when I’m sitting at home and have the TV on and a laptop on another screen for an hour-long lecture, it will take me two, three, four hours to get through it,’ ” said Karl Szpunar, a post-doctoral researcher in psychology at Harvard University.One remedy, according to a study led by Szpunar, may be to sprinkle tests and quizzes throughout a lecture. Szpunar and colleagues found in the study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that interspersing videotaped lectures with quizzes improved students’ ability to stay focused, take relevant notes, and learn material.The experiments involved 80 students divided into two groups who were asked to watch a 20-minute video covering the basics of statistics. The first group were given supporting materials and told that they would get periods of time to review them. Furthermore, they were also warned that they would either be asked questions towards the end of the lesson or asked to answer additional math problems.Students who kept up with the materials during the lecture by using information given out in addition to the lecture performed better in the end on both exams and math problems than their peers who did not.In a second experiment, the researchers tried to discern whether merely re-exposing the students to the course material would be a way to get the same effect. So they added a group that had a two-minute review session, receiving possible test questions and the answers. Again, they found that those who were actually tested did the best and reported less mind wandering.It seems obvious from the experiment that we’re not quite at a point where we can rely on students to be completely self-directed when it came to their education. The Harvard University study believes that more oversight via problem sets or quizzes could go a long way to making students pay attention to their academic work and absorb more of the material.
Dr. Dell Johnson, one of my heroes, would say, "No surprise to us...A.C.E. has been using this method for forty years!" It works folks. The kids that need independent learning thrive and grow in it; they love being responsible for setting their own goals & learning pace!
November 15, 2012, by Julia Lawrence,
Teachers at Ontario’s Beverly School were beginning to lose hope when six weeks after introducing Apple’s popular iPad tablet to a classroom that serves kids with severe autism, they detected no change in how the children behaved. The key was patience — slowly but surely, those changes did come.
First it was it was only a slight lengthening of the time that kids paid attention to the tasks in front of them. Then they began to recognize words. And after a few days more, for the first time, students for whom making social contacts is a huge hurdle, began to interact with their peers.
Special education teacher Stacie Carroll called that “a huge deal,” because the iPad gave these students a tool to use to communicate with each other and the world. She said that being able to let someone know how you feel, or what you’d prefer for lunch, or which things make you happy or sad, is akin to finding “a golden key” for a severely autistic child.
Now, as Ontario deals with a growing number of autism diagnoses, education officials hope that this “golden key” in the form of a popular digital gadget will unlock more than just the needs and wants of Beverly students. Figuring out how to connect with autistic students who are non-verbal is a huge challenge and many schools are now experimenting with technology to make that task easier.
Carroll, who with colleague Sabrina Tayebjee Morey recently won a Prime Minister’s teaching award, was part of a three-year project that put an iPod touch or iPad tablet in the hands of students at the Toronto public school. The groundbreaking research at Beverley found autistic students were able to achieve things seasoned educators — even the children’s parents — had no idea they were capable of, using no-cost to low-cost applications. Some students’ attention spans exceeded five minutes by the end of their research.
Sarah Patterson, the mother of a 5-year-old, understood these kinds of challenges firsthand. Unable to make his needs known, Landon’s only means of communication were crying fits and temper tantrums. Even expressing something as simple as “yes” or “no” was a struggle. But all that was made easier after a tablet was put into his hand. Although unable to speak, Landon was able to point to the words on the screen to make his needs and wants known.
Watching Landon work with the tablets, even teachers who were around him day in and day out were surprised. He had a wider vocabulary and deeper understanding of concepts like colors and numbers than they had ever suspected. On the social front, he was able to recognize his classmates based on their pictures.
The benefits of the technology, however, come with a warning: the devices can open up lines of communication but may further isolate autistic children, who already struggle to socialize. Bridget Taylor, a researcher who founded the Alpine Learning Group, a private school for autistic children in New Jersey, says autistic children can become too focused on the devices.
“Kids are drawn to technology and . . . there could potentially be a reliance on it that’s not so beneficial in the long run,” says Taylor, who has worked with autistic youth for 25 years and uses tablets with her students.
Just a brilliant piece of writing...moving neither to one side nor the other, and offering both sides a very fair compromise! Let's do it!
Friday, September 28th, 2012, by Julia Steiny http://www.educationnews.org/education-policy-and-politics/julia-steiny-get-creative-with-private-school-vouchers/#comment-17814Surely the worst part of the recent Chicago Teachers strike is the ravaged landscape such battles leave behind.
Both sides in Chicago were fighting for stupid, last-century ideas like protecting seniority (union) and merit pay (management). Headlines brayed; unions fought back: politicians ranted. Most importantly, everyone modeled really ugly behavior for the kids.
A distinct image of what it looks like when we’ve got it wrong.
It might look better if we all took a deep breath and opened our hearts to the potential virtues of private-school vouchers.
Forget the current debate. Here’s the driving question: “How can we give more students and families what they believe will work for them?”
Consider that private and parochial schools offer a menu of proven options that parents have been gladly willing to pay for.
Vouchers offer public money to help low-income parents pay private-school tuition. And while I have three huge caveats — which I’ll get to — vouchers succeed at helping parents send their kids to schools of their choice.
Imagine how quickly some of the existing public money could bring life-blood back to a large number of desirable private and parochial schools now starving to death in this hideous economy. Educational diversity is dying. Steadier funding would strengthen these badly-needed community assets.
A terrific example of a system that got it right is the Edmonton School District, in Alberta, Canada. Among the most highly-acclaimed in the world, this district has a dazzlingly-diverse menu of school options — private, parochial, charter and district schools. Some schools are unionized, while others are full-on Catholic — if you don’t like Catholicism, don’t go. But it’s your choice, not the government’s.
Yes, I know, Canada is not us. They’re socialists (as is, by the way, the whole notion of public education), so Canada doesn’t count. But let’s consider the opinion of 30 Delaware educators who visited Edmonton together. They were so impressed, they used it as the model for the state’s educational strategic plan, “Vision 2015 Delaware.” Delaware was one of only two grand-prize winners of the first round of Race to the Top. (Tennessee was the other.)
The Delaware “Visionaries” write, “Students can choose from school programs that are bilingual, religious, cultural, subject-specific, pedagogical or single-gender.
Let many flowers bloom.
In 1995, Edmonton was faced with a new regional law permitting both charter schools and what we would call private-school vouchers. Edmonton could have done nothing and watched its students leave. Instead, the district created conditions to encourage the coexistence of all sorts of schools. To entice the privates and charters into the fold, the district ceded control of curriculum, budget, hiring and school management. But in exchange, Edmonton provides all schools with equitable public funding, including extras for special education and such. They do the work of helping parents navigate the system,enrollment, transportation and what they call “continuity across schools,” or data-driven accountability.
So in the end, the tuition payments to the participating private schools weren’t exactly vouchers, but the local per-pupil expenditure paid to a private school.
So, Caveat #1: Equity of funding.
Milwaukee has the oldest American voucher program dating back to the early 1990s, now serving about 20,000 students. Their vouchers are only worth $6,500. Nationally, the average per-pupil expenditure is $10,500, but in Wisconsin it’s over $11,000. Milwaukee families living at or below 300 percent of poverty are eligible for the vouchers. Where do really poor families get the extra money?
Fancy private schools aggressively raise money for scholarship programs specifically to diversify their student bodies. Instead, these schools might prefer to make some of their seats available for a public lottery for income-eligible families. The school would just have to make due with the local per-pupil expenditure, no matter what the tuition.
So, like charters schools, participating private schools should get the full per-pupil expenditure (ppe).
Caveat #2: Equity of access.
Also like charter schools, students opting for available private school seats should be chosen by lottery. No creaming off “easy” students.
Actually, Edmonton has some specialized schools that require entrance exams or auditions. But given the district’s extremely high parent satisfaction, they’re clearly managing to provide equity of access.
Finally, Caveat #3: Equity of accountability.
An equitable system would insist that all participating schools share their data publically. Edmonton has few requirements of their schools, but those include collecting and reporting demographics, finances, test scores and the like.
American voucher systems have always been terribly unfair. The state accountability systems scrutinize public schools, deem some failures, but give vouchers to private schools not held accountable by or to anyone.
These days many private schools could probably learn to live with accepting kids by lottery in exchange for steady funding. The real deal-breaker might be cooperating with the data-and-reporting requirements. Private schools take their own achievement tests that are specifically non-comparable with those in public schools.
We’ve long heard how much better the private schools are than the publics. I challenge them to prove it. Show me the data. Honestly, I hope the privates are as good as they say and that they have lots more seats for low-income kids like Deval Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts, and President Barack Obama, both of whom were plucked from rough circumstances and given good educations. That’s the point. Make more such opportunities possible.
But do it in an equitable way. Edmonton is a fabulous model of adults cooperating on behalf of the kids.
Chicago is not.
Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears atGoLocalProv.com and GoLocalWorcester.com. She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building a demonstration project in Central Falls, Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data.For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI 02903.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 31ST, 2012,
Americans believe that abetter education is to be had in private and charter schools rather than home or public schooling
, according to the latest Gallup poll. When asked to assess each type of education provider separately as either excellent, good, only fair or poor, private schooling rated the highest percentage of excellent or good votes, followed by parochial schools, charters, and home schools — with public schools bring up the rear.
More than two-thirds of those asked thought that private schools provided either excellent or good schooling options, while fewer than 40% believed the same about public schools despite that a majority of American children are educated in public schools. 83% percent of families with children had at least one child attending a local public school, with 4% educated at home, 9% in private school and 2% in parochial school. The number of families with children in charter school wasn’t available due to the fact that this type of academic institution is too new for accurate data collection.
These results are based on Gallup’s annual Work and Education poll, conducted Aug. 9-12. For the first time Gallup asked Americans to rate — based on what they have heard or their own experiences — the quality of education U.S. children receive in various schooling situations.
Parents of school-aged children generally rank the various school types in the same order, although they are somewhat more positive about the quality of public school education — 47% say it is excellent or good — than the broader adult population (37%).
Among parents of American school children, the preference for private schools was even more marked, with 80% rating those kinds of institutions as providing an excellent or good education. The breakdown further down the list was slightly different, with nearly half viewing public schools as excellent or good, and 46% viewing education provided at home in the same light. Charter schools were thought to be good or excellent by 61% of parents, which was similar to the 60% of respondents overall who thought the same.
There are political differences in how respondents rate the quality of certain types of schooling, with Republicans much more positive about home schooling and, to a lesser extent, parochial schools, than are Democrats. In turn, Democrats are more positive about public schools than are Republicans.
The net result of these differences is that Democrats are slightly more positive about the educational quality of public schools than of home schooling. However, Democrats still view private, parochial, and charter schools as providing better education than public schools.
By Kimberly Haynes, from education.com
With the success of Hannah Montana and High School Musical, theater is suddenly hot. Your child may be showing interest in this year’s school play. But do you really want him to be an actor?
Gai Jones says, “Yes!” A theater educator with over forty years of experience, Jones' work has been recognized by the American Alliance for Theater and Education, the Educational Theater Association, and the California State Senate (among others).
According to Jones, “Theater addresses the skills which benefit children's education and development in five general areas: physical development/kinesthetic skills, artistic development /drama and theater skills, mental development/thinking skills, personal development/intra-personal skills, and social development/interpersonal skills.”
While many parents fear participation in drama will damage their child’s academic progress, a UCLA study concluded that students involved in the arts tend to have higher academic performance and better standardized test scores -- nearly 100 points better on the SAT, according to a separate study by The College Board.
Academic gains aren’t the only benefits....to read the entire article, go to: http://www.education.com/magazine/article/What_Drama_Education_Can_Teach/
By Jennifer Cerbasi Published March 28, 2012Millions of children in schools enjoy music each day by singing a song during circle time, learning to play an instrument, or singing a part in a chorus. This month, musicians and music educators celebrate Music in Our Schools Month sponsored by the National Association for Music Education.Music In Our Schools Month celebrates all the benefits of having quality music education programs in schools and encourages districts to maintain such programs at a time when many face tough budgetary constraints.Music education supporters advocate the importance of exposing young children to a variety of instruments, choral arrangements, and styles of music to enhance their educational experience and foster their academic, social, and emotional growth.These supporters insist that music is more than an enjoyable hobby – and there is some science to back up these claims.A 2007 study published in the Journal for Research in Music Education tied quality music education instruction to improved academic performance—specifically, better scores on standardized tests.A 2005 article in The Midland Chemist found almost all of the past winners of the Siemens Westinghouse Competition in Math, Science, and Technology for high school students played one or more instruments, supporting a long-debated connection between success in music and science.Often times, teachers and parents themselves report that studying music teaches discipline, perseverance, and work ethic.Florida mother Kerissa Blue credits music with instilling a list of positive traits in her 12-year-old son, including patience, teamwork, discipline, and respect. She also observed an increase in his reading comprehension. Her son Krystopher added studying music has helped him with his reading fluency, creating mental images, and recognition of patterns.Krystopher previously learned to play clarinet and took private lessons four days a week for four years. He currently participates in his middle school band playing percussion. When asked what level of dedication is needed to be successful in music, he replied "A lot!"In New Jersey, River Edge's Teacher of the Year, music teacher Kelly Dent said she enjoys watching students express themselves in a cooperative setting. She called those moments "pure magic." "The experience can be as simple as performing a hand clapping game with a partner, or as complex as a four part canon, but the result is the same- an improvement in emotional well-being and enhanced sensitivity to the needs of others,” Dent said. “In this way, music programs, especially those focused on making music, play an essential role in the development of social skills and emotional awareness in students."In addition to the potential benefits of engaging in musical activities, exposing children to music at a young age may even open an avenue towards a career. Prior to entering the teaching profession, Dent herself played the French horn in a number of Broadway orchestras, including Wicked."As a child, I benefited immensely from musical experiences in my community,” Dent said. “I was able to travel the world, participate in summer music festivals, and eventually come to New York City to study. All of this was possible because of my early exposure to music lessons and ensembles."Music therapy has proven to have some success among children with disabilities, as well. Children are drawn to the rhythm of the instruments and many find a way to communicate and open themselves up by singing or playing an instrument. Increasingly, schools and after-school programs for children with disabilities are incorporating music therapy and seeing great results.Music In Our Schools Month aims to highlight the many benefits quality music education programs can have on children in America's schools. Supporters are already out there, raising money and awareness to maintain these programs – which they say is essential to a child’s mental awareness and development. Do you agree?Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/health/2012/03/28/how-important-is-music-education-in-schools/#ixzz2278EuFKD
From Manila Bulletin Publishing CorporationBy Gloria G. Salandanan
March 28, 2009, 8:24pmhttp://www.mb.com.ph/articles/200619/teachers-and-parents-a-dynamic-partnership A partnership between home and school is indeed formidable if characterized by genuine sharing and collaboration between parents and teachers. The parents have their children’s best interests at heart and there seems no limit to what they are willing to harness from their resources. The teachers equally feel attached to and concerned about the children and are ready to offer their utmost effort and time even beyond the confines of the classroom. Every child under their care is valuable and there is nothing, no matter how time-consuming, attention-demanding, and physically-draining, that they will not do for him or her. The benefits derived from a free flow of useful and relevant information between the home and the school cannot be over emphasized. One cannot fully achieve its goal without the help of the other. Nothing is impossible if both are sincerely willing to share responsibilities and to commit their time, effort, and resources for this noble investment – child growth and nurturance.
It is in recognition of the tremendous benefits both parties stand to enjoy that an attempt to situate them in real, easy-to-attain alliance is hereby being offered.
In the Home
Careful observations of parents in the home can serve as inputs in planning learning tasks. Easily, the mother can communicate to the teacher certain behaviors that need to be corrected. Lack of initiative in doing homework regularly can be traced to unchallenging homework or inconsistent checking of assignments. The information children sometimes are required to gain through home reading may not be accomplished if there are not many books at home. In such cases, the gathering of data through explorations in the immediate environment might be a more effective methodology. A system of rewards will definitely generate eagerness in tackling home investigations.
Respect for elders is a commendable trait that can be modeled and internalized at a young age in the home. If the children carry this to the school they will continue to show consideration and high regard for the rights of others. The teachers in return can exhibit the same respect for everyone.
Strong unusual interests of the child that are observed at home are worth communicating to those who plan their daily activities. The inclination to music or poetry can be part of the motivational strategies. Special talents such as sketching and painting can be nurtured by both the home and the school through activities that expose the children to nature. Inventiveness and originality are values that can be developed during their formative years and much depend on both parents’ and teachers’ sensitivity to early manifestations.
Learning to cooperate starts in the home and is enhanced in a conducive school atmosphere. Today, one of the organizational techniques being employed, whether in class discussions or group experimentations, is one that is termed cooperative learning. In a group of five or six, a member is responsible for a part of the lesson and later the members meet to discuss or perform the experiment as a group. Such cooperative attitudes can be reinforced in similar activities when members of the family share responsibilities for a particular task.
In the School
Common difficulties and problems met in school can be threshed out through a dialogue between the two parties. Extremes of behavior like bullying among boys and shyness among girls need a detailed look at past experiences gained in both locales. A joint pledge to lessen such tendencies through proper counseling will surely develop a “spirit of togetherness” among them. A strong feeling of self-worth and self-esteem emerges at a young age. Proper guidance, recognition of exemplary behavior and achievements, and respect for their individuality will work towards enhancing personality development.
The case of slow learners, though not a behavior problem, deserves as much attention. Remedial teaching, which entails additional effort and time, can be jointly agreed upon and undertaken in both places. Whatever format is planned and done in school must be continued at home. Teachers must provide additional instructional materials when needed.
Causes of irregularity in attendance can be traced together and solutions become easy to implement if both parties concerned are willing to be involved. Getting a child ready for school early in the morning needs tact on the part of the parents. Their readiness can arouse enthusiasm and pave the way for a “good day.” Incentives for regular attendance are now being practiced. Minimizing causes of failures in daily learning activities, rather than capitalizing on single accomplishments, can result in sustained interest and enjoyment.
Creativity is a value that is best developed at an early stage in life. Though prized by both parents and teachers, its development is often left unattended. Teachers, owing to their strict scheduling of activities, fail to notice some original ideas or ways of doing things attempted by students. The parents, owing to their busy households or business chores, become restricted to routine activities. Inflexibility in both cases kills initial signs of creativity. One of the pervading goals of education is to develop creative thinking skills. Such skills, which enable children to try new and original approaches borne out of their own imagination and ingenuity, are cultivated throughout their growing years in both the school and the home. Nurtured in a conducive classroom and home climate, these skills are strengthened and are carried to adulthood.
Cleanliness, neatness, and good grooming are of mutual concern, which can be looked into habitually by both teachers and parents. Tactful reminders can work towards children developing a wholesome personality and appearance.
Activities organized in connection with their lessons such as field trips participated in by both teachers and parents can provide the much-needed time and occasion for forming bonds and enjoying youthful freedom with fun and laughter.
A number of pointers to “cement their togetherness” are hereby offered:
1. It would be nice for parents to show appreciation and gratitude for whatever the teacher is instituting for their children. Teachers can likewise express their thanks for the cooperation that the parents willingly offer.
2. During regular dialogues, both sides should emphasize the good rather than the bad behavior and performance, the pleasant rather than the unpleasant daily encounters and the accomplishments rather than the failure in simple learning tasks.
3. Both parents and teachers can arrive at workable solutions to observed difficulties if they are honest, candid, and open, as against tendencies towards evasiveness, partiality, and bias.
4. Both must “learn to listen.” If not, actions and solutions will be one-sided and isolated.
5. Both should commit quality time. Hurried consultations will not result in effective resolutions of common concerns. Haphazard implementation of remedial measures agreed upon will likewise be a wasteful exercise.
6. Trust in each other’s abilities, professional or otherwise, is the key to a smooth exchange of advice and opinions and will lead to a “meeting of the minds.”
7. Faultfinding and the blame game must be avoided. A “sour relationship” closes the door to a cordial settlement of differences.
Parents and teachers are each other’s valuable allies. It is expected that both are willing to communicate in order to better understand the children under their tutelage. This teamwork, which harnesses the favorable and positive attitudes and skills of all members, holds tremendous promise in realizing the goals of education. At this time when many other factors in the environment impinge on the concerted efforts of both, a vigorous and dynamic collaboration is badly needed. It is indeed a privilege to be an active partner in preparing children to acquire the knowledge, skills, and values for lifelong learning and decision-making. Such an opportunity should not be missed by parents and teachers. Wonderful relationships create aspirations, hope, and trust that can make a difference in the lives of all concerned.
Editorial from Stem Education, an independent supplement from Media Planet to the Washington Post, June 2012
As the economy continues to slowly recover, investment in education becomes even more crucial to sustaining long-term economic prosperity. Our students continue falling behind their international counterparts. Statistics don’t lie.
■ U.S. students lag behind students in Asia and Europe in mathematics and science.
■ International test scores show that in science U.S. eighth graders were outperformed by eighth-grade students in eight countries.
■ In math, U.S. eighth-graders were outperformed by their peers in 14 countries.
The STEM solution
What’s the solution? We as a nation need to make science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education a top
priority. STEM education is the preparation of students in competencies and skills in the four disciplines. A successful STEM education provides students with these four subjects in sequences that build upon each other and can be used with real world applications.
Jobs of the future
Most jobs of the future will require a basic understanding of math and science; 10-year employment projections by the U.S.
Department of Labor show that of the 20 fastest growing occupations projected for 2014, 15 of them require significant
mathematics or science preparation. National PTA recognizes the need for U.S. students to do better and expand STEM
education and career opportunities to under represented groups, including women. National PTA recently teamed up with FIRST Robotics so that all families can get excited about these four subjects. More than 300,000 children and young people participated
in the FIRST Robotics competition which gets students involved in STEM through practical applications of what they learn.
Through publications, activities, and family educational programming, PTA provides a forum for informing parents of issues
relating to STEM education, including resources available at pta.org. State PTAs across the country actively work to inform
parents about STEM education. California PTA recently passed a resolution supporting the STEM education movement and
provided a comprehensive workshop, in English and Spanish, at its convention about why STEM education is critical. In addition, California PTA’s Education Commission is participating in the Sacramento State Superintendent of Education’s STEM Taskforce. Delaware PTA is working with the state’s STEM Council to educate parents about STEM through statewide workshops and with
the University of Delaware to conduct town hall meetings.
The Connecticut Parent Teacher Student Association works with the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology on
CONNverge—a statewide, grassroots initiative that engages students in mathematics and science and helps them understand
why STEM education is important. In tight budget times, even local PTAs can help provide financial assistance with STEM
initiatives and learning tools. It is clear that making STEM education a priority is important, for our nation’s short and long-term
future. We urge families to help promote the importance of STEM in individual student success and long-term economic prosperity.
Betsy Landers, email@example.com
STEM Education, second edition, June 2012Distributed within: The Washington Post, June 2012 This section was created by Mediaplanet and did not involve the news or editorial departments of The Washington Post. Mediaplanet’s business is to create new customers for our advertisers by providing readers with high-quality editorial content that motivates them to act.
The following is excerpted from an article by Renee Goularte. She tells of her experiences teaching a multiage class and some of the benefits of multiage classes for the students' development. You can find the entire article at http://www.share2learn.com/components.html .
© 1998 Renee Goularte - all rights reserved
Components of a Successful Multiage Classroom
An eight year old and a six year old read together on the floor of the classroom, holding a book between them. The older child reads a page to the younger one, then invites him to read. When the younger child has trouble with a word, the older child says the first sound to help the little one out.
A seven year old reads a rough draft of a story she has written to an eight year old. The older child says, "I like the way your story ends." The younger child asks for help with spelling.
A six year old wants to write a letter to his fifth-grade brother during writing time. The teacher is busy with another student, so he goes to his classroom buddy for help. His classroom buddy is a seven-year old who was in the class last year. She knows how to use the letter writing materials, and is able to help the younger child begin his task.
A second grader and two first graders read poetry together from charts on the wall, taking turns using a pointer.
Four first, second, and third graders work together at a writing center. The first grader is drawing a picture for a story. One second grader chooses a sticker for a writing prompt; the other second grader is halfway through a story he started the day before. The third grader is publishing one of her stories by making a book.
Interactions such as these are daily occurrences in the Multiage Primary classroom I share with a teaching partner and thirty-eight children in first, second, and third grades. Our children sometimes work on collaborative projects independent of grade level designation; other times they work on grade-specific work. Whatever they are doing, they work alongside each other throughout the day, sharing materials, ideas, and expertise.
The term Multiage is one which can be used indiscriminately to label a variety of classroom structures. Some use the term multiage classroom to describe any classroom in which there are children of more than one grade or age, including mixed-grade classes which are created for economic reasons. For example, when there are not enough students for each of two grades, the grades may be combined into one class, with the teacher teaching two separate curriculums to the two groups. The next year, as school demographics change, these temporary classes are dissolved and the children move back into single grade classes. These classes are usually called combination or mixed-grade classes rather than multiage classes. The basic structure of a true multiage learning environment is one in which the teacher views the entire class as one learning community and which supports students staying with the same teacher for more than one year.
One of the greatest benefits of a multiage classroom results when students remain in the same class for more than one year. When children have this opportunity, there is a minimum of beginning-of-the-year transition time because most of the students know the procedures and the teacher knows where the majority of students were performing at the end of the previous year. Instead of spending weeks getting to know all the students personally and academically, a teacher only needs to assess the new students who have entered the class each year.
Encouraging continuing students to mentor the new ones in classroom procedures makes for even less transition time for the new students. Procedures do not need to be explained repeatedly because many of the students already know how the class "works" and are able to teach the new students where to find supplies, how to head their papers, how to use the tape recorder, where to store personal items, how to collaborate on story-writing, and so on. This makes the beginning of the year easier for the teacher and students alike.
The familiarity of students with each other is another benefit of having students continue on in the same multiage classroom. When students work alongside each other day after day, even the youngest, shyest children become comfortable asking for help from older students. As older students teach younger ones the procedures, read them stories, and help them write their names, they develop valuable leadership skills and nurturing behaviors.
The multiage philosophy accepts that students of a particular age or grade will be working at a variety of academic and developmental levels. This acceptance is supported by the set-up of an environment which offers materials and learning strategies which include individual as well as group needs. Thematic lessons and concepts may be presented to the group as a whole, with different expectations for students of different levels and abilities. Students may work in flexible, ever-changing small groups based on ability rather than age or grade, so cross-age collaborations are accepted and encouraged. As a result, the lines between grades and ages start to become invisible. Students sometimes work in groups delineated by age, grade, or ability, but the overall structure is one which looks at the children as one group of learners with varying levels of needs.
The success of this combination of individualized learning, small group collaborations, and whole group interactions is dependent on the development of self-direction and independence in the children. This may be acquired by setting up centers with task cards, bins of individualized learning games, a classroom library of leveled books, shelves of math manipulative materials and games, a science discovery center with task cards, an art supply shelf, and a supply shelf with paper, staplers, tape, markers, and pencil sharpeners which children can access as needed. When students are not dependent on their teacher to meet all their needs, they are empowered to take ownership of the classroom environment and to develop individual responsibility for the classroom community. The interplay between older and younger students in the same classroom can facilitate this development of self-directed behavior as older students provide models for younger students.