One Page Explanation of Multiage Education
by John Tapper
On March 26, 1996 John Tapper posted on a multiage
listserve a wonderful explanation of what multiage education
is. With his permission I have reposted it here.
What is a "multiage"?
If one thousand eight year old students were asked to do a
task the majority of the them would perform at a given level.
This level is indicated graphically by the bulge on a bell curve.
It represents "grade level" or what is considered acceptable
performance for children who range in age from "just eight"
to "almost nine" (depending on school admission requirements).
Graded curriculum tends to geared to this particular level of
performance. Published curriculum supports this level. Expectations
reinforce the idea that this is where a child should be.
A good metaphor for this approach might be a staircase. First
you get everything you need on step one and then you go onto
step two. This continues until you reach the end of the staircase
(If there is an end.)
In a multiage classroom we would use the learning metaphor
of a path. Students come to us somewhere along the path. Sometimes
they run swiftly, other times they seem to wander slowly. When
they get to a particular place in the path, they leave us.
Multiage learning is effective academically because less time
is spent each year getting to know the individual strengths of
students. Instead of spending the first few weeks getting acquainted
every year, teachers and students jump right in. Since nongraded
or multiage programs focus on individual students in a diverse
setting the curriculum is geared to everyone on the curve, not
just those in the middle. This helps special needs children who
know that they can fit in and challenges talented children because
"grade level" is no longer enough to get by. If you
look on the wall at writing in a multiage classroom you can see
everything from one sentence stories to stories with many pages
and sophisticated language. Everyone fits in.
Finally, being in a multiage program lets kids grow into responsibility.
When they're little they are taken care of - they get help with
spelling, fire drills and tying their shoes. As they get older
they learn they must do this for others. There may be no special
program, or approach but students learn through the example of
others that they must help those who are younger or less capable.