Prima Pagina
Reg. Tribunale Lecce n. 662 del 01.07.1997
Direttore responsabile: Dario Cillo

Multiage classrooms
Intercultura...Interetnico....villaggio globale ...
sono solo alcuni aspetti del dinamismo delle concrezione sociali  
che si stanno affermando,
sollevando ovunque nuove pressanti domande agli educatori
Una coercizione didattica interessante , già utilizzata dal tempo-pieno , ma che potrebbe essere estesa flessibilmente anche ad alcuni moduli degli insegnamenti superiori , è quella che porta alla ideazione e formazione di
classi di apprendimento creativo
per capacità, talenti,interessi, obiettivi
ed eterogenee per età .
Un esempio?
Le multiage classrooms
nadia scardeoni

Multiage classrooms utilize an organizational structure in which children of different ages (at least a two-year span) and ability levels are grouped together, without dividing them or the curriculum into steps labeled by grade designation (Gaustad, 1992).

 A multitude of terms has been used interchangeably and sometimes confusingly in literature pertaining to multiage education: mixed-age grouping, multigrade classes, family grouping, nongraded or ungraded education, and continuous progress model (Katz, 1992; American Association of School Administrators, 1992). For consistency and clarity, the term multiage will be used throughout this document.

"The multigrade classroom has traditionally been an important and necessary organizational pattern of education in the United States," notes Miller (1993, p. 65). Multiage education dates back to the one-room schools that were the norm in this country until being phased out in the early part of the 1900s (Cohen, 1990; Miller, 1993). From the mid-1960s through mid-1970s, a number of schools implemented open education, ungraded classrooms, and multiage grouping. Although some schools continued to refine and develop the multiage concept, many of these programs disappeared from public schools as a result of negative parental reactions and a major mismatch between the teaching methods and the curricular expectations and materials of that period (Uphoff & Evans, 1993; Miller, 1993). In some magnet schools, private schools, and preschools, however, multiage programs continued to thrive.

Interest in the potential benefits of multiage grouping has increased steadily again in recent years.

The growing interest is due to a greater focus on the importance of the early years in efforts to restructure the educational system

(Stone, 1995; Katz, 1992; Anderson, 1992; Willis, 1991; Cohen, 1990) and an awareness of the limitations of graded education.


Miller (1995) notes that the conventional age-graded classroom is based on three assumptions:

  • "That students of the same chronological age are ready to learn the same objectives.
  • That students require the same amount of time, as in an academic year, to master predetermined content.
  • That students can master predesigned objectives for a grade level for all curricular areas at the same rate." (p. 28)

Miller (1995) adds that "grouping students strictly by age does not reflect a naturalistic lifelike setting in which people of different ages learn from each other" (p. 29). He concludes: "The practice of grouping by age and grade may be creating a significant barrier to meeting the goals of equity and instructional excellence in schools" (p. 28).

Katz (1995) agrees that single-age grades do not allow for developmental differences between children:

"Single-age groups seem to create enormous normative pressures on the children and the teacher to expect all the children to be at the same place on knowledge and skills.

There is a tendency in a homogeneous age group to penalize the children who fail to meet normative expectations. Similarly, there is also a temptation in a group of same-age children to overuse whole-class instruction. There is no evidence to show that a group of children who are all within a 12-month age range can be expected to learn the same things, the same way, the same day, at the same time."

The realization that childrens' uneven developmental patterns and differing rates of progress are ill-matched to the rigid grade-level system has left teachers searching for a better way to meet the needs of all students (Miller, 1996).

More and more schools are implementing multiage programs because of the current educational practices embedded in the multiage model that address these issues (Cohen, 1990).

 Tim Laner, a K-1-2 multiage teacher at Buckman Elementary School in Portland, Oregon, describes a multiage classroom at the primary level. [672k audio file] Excerpted from a videotaped interview with Tim Laner (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1998). A text version is available.

Multiage education has benefits for a wide range of children. Although multiage grouping is commonly implemented at the preschool and primary levels, it also is appropriate at the intermediate, middle school, and junior high levels. The National Middle School Association (1997) has identified multiage grouping, cooperative learning, heterogeneous grouping, developmentally appropriate learning tasks, cross-age tutoring, flexible scheduling, and positive evaluations as important instructional strategies for older children. Multiage grouping also is beneficial for gifted and special-needs students (Nye, 1993). Gifted children are challenged to achieve to their potential because there is no limitation of a grade-level curriculum. Special-needs children in mixed-aged grouping typically find that their individual differences are accepted and their contributions are recognized. In addition, at-risk children and children for whom English is a second language also are likely to benefit from the multiage classroom.

Mixed-age grouping may be a lifeline to children at risk because it encourages self-respect and creates a learning environment that keeps students involved and motivated. Children whose primary language is other than English typically receive special support and assistance from their multiage classmates (Grant, 1993).

The look of multiage classrooms today is quite different from their predecessors of the 1960s and 1970s. One way that current multiage programs differ from earlier models is their grounding in the work of researchers and theorists

Constructivism is an approach to teaching and learning based on the premise that cognition (learning) is the result of "mental construction." In other words, students learn by fitting new information together with what they already know.

 Constructivists believe that learning is affected by the context in which an idea is taught as well as by students' beliefs and attitudes.


Constructivist teaching is based on recent research about the human brain and what is known about how learning occurs. Caine and Caine (1991) suggest that brain-compatible teaching is based on 12 principles:



  1. "The brain is a parallel processor" (p. 80). It simultaneously processes many different types of information, including thoughts, emotions, and cultural knowledge. Effective teaching employs a variety of learning strategies.


  2. "Learning engages the entire physiology" (p. 80). Teachers can't address just the intellect.


  3. "The search for meaning is innate" (p. 81). Effective teaching recognizes that meaning is personal and unique, and that students' understandings are based on their own unique experiences.


  4. "The search for meaning occurs through 'patterning' " (p. 81). Effective teaching connects isolated ideas and information with global concepts and themes.


  5. "Emotions are critical to patterning" (p. 82). Learning is influenced by emotions, feelings, and attitudes.


  6. "The brain processes parts and wholes simultaneously" (p. 83). People have difficulty learning when either parts or wholes are overlooked.


  7. "Learning involves both focused attention and peripheral perception" (p. 83). Learning is influenced by the environment, culture, and climate.


  8. "Learning always involves conscious and unconscious processes" (p. 84). Students need time to process 'how' as well as 'what' they've learned.


  9. "We have at least two different types of memory: a spatial memory system, and a set of systems for rote learning" (p. 85). Teaching that heavily emphasizes rote learning does not promote spatial, experienced learning and can inhibit understanding.


  10. "We understand and remember best when facts and skills are embedded in natural, spatial memory" (p. 86). Experiential learning is most effective.


  11. "Learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat" (p. 86). The classroom climate should be challenging but not threatening to students.


  12. "Each brain is unique" (p. 87). Teaching must be multifaceted to allow students to express preferences.
Constructivist theory suggests that as students learn, they do not simply memorize or take on others' conceptions of reality; instead, they create their own meaning and understanding. Even very young children exhibit this strong constructivist approach to making sense of the world as they learn to speak and communicate. Adults speak to children using the adult forms of language: "It's time for Nikki to eat!" Yet, when children repeat back what they have heard, they reveal their own understanding of how language functions. A child may reply, "Nikki eat," even though that form was not heard and therefore could not have been copied. Studies of how children learn to speak languages in discrete cultures around the world have all shown similar results: Children don't mimic adult forms. They try to figure out rules and regularities and then construct their own interpretations of what to say. As they get more feedback and have more experiences trying to communicate, they eventually come to accepted constructions and expressions.

In the classroom, learners use similar ways to construct their own meanings from stimuli and input available to them. If three students describe a movie they have seen, there likely will be three quite different responses. The task of the human brain is to make sense of experience. From all the input and past experiences, students are continually constructing a view of what is real. Each student does this in a unique way.

Students need regular opportunities to do more than memorize what teachers and books tell them. For deep learning to occur, students need to deal with information and experience and put it together to make meaningful sense. Teachers can help students acquire deep learning by:

  • Listening to students' ideas and encouraging their questions.
  • Encouraging students to actively participate in doing, discussing, and creating.
  • Providing more than one source of information so students can see different perspectives and have many inputs.
  • Encouraging students to compare and contrast ideas.
  • Including writing so students can think through their ideas.


 that focuses on the learning process and supports the various attributes and strategies embedded in the multiage model. Although programs in existence today differ from school to school and district to district, they all seem to share common characteristics.

The following chart, based on information from Fox (1997), Anderson & Pavan (1993), and the American Association of School Administrators (1992), summarizes the common characteristics of multiage programs: 

    Multiage Is: Multiage Is Not:
    Heterogeneous mix of children. Ability grouping.
    Flexible grouping patterns based on the needs of the class. Based on rigid ability groups or age/grade groups (children of different ages being instructed differently according to age or grade).
    Teacher directed, child centered.
    Teacher as facilitator.
    Unguided play.
    Supportive of continuous learning. Retention/promotion.
    Developmentally appropriate teaching practices focused on the understanding of major concepts and methods of inquiry and the learning process, and integrated curriculum. Lock-step curriculum focused on mastery of skills and content knowledge.
    Active, cooperative student learning. Work time where children are expected to complete seatwork independently.
    Authentic assessment. Assessment based on tests and standardized measurements.
    Individualized reporting system. Comparative reporting system typically based on letter grades: ABCDF.
    Varied instructional strategies. Instruction focused solely on one method or learning style.

Examination of successful multiage programs along with the current literature reveals the importance of several critical attributes in multiage education. Many of these identified attributes can be found in a variety of settings as a part of good teaching practice; all are embedded in the multiage model:

  • Multiage and Mixed-Ability Grouping. Multiage and mixed-ability grouping calls for a heterogeneous

    A heterogeneous classroom is one that reflects the rich diversity of students. Rather than grouping children based on their ability or achievement, a heterogeneous classroom encompasses students with differences in age, sex, race, ability, and achievement (American Association of School Administrators, 1992).

    In the heterogeneous classroom, the perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds of all students are valued as important for enriching learning. As students collaborate, each individual has the opportunity to make a contribution. Everyone learns from everyone else.

mix of children with a minimum two-year age span. The children remain with the same teacher or teaching team for more than one instructional year (Stone, 1995; Miller, 1993; Katz, 1992). Within the multiage classroom or program, there is an absence of grade levels and related labels (McLoughlin, 1969; Anderson & Pavan, 1993). Opportunities exist for each child to interact with children of varying backgrounds, abilities, interests, personalities, and ages (Anderson & Pavan, 1993). According to Katz (1995), "the intention of multiage grouping is to increase the heterogeneity of the group so as to capitalize on the differences in the experiences, knowledge, and abilities of the children."
Developmentally Appropriate Practices. Developmentally appropriate practices
 are teaching methods and curriculum components that are based on a child's developmental abilities. Such practices include active learning experiences, varied instructional strategies, a balance between teacher-directed and child-directed activities, integrated curriculum, and learning centers (Privett, 1996; American Association of School Administrators, 1992; Bredekamp, 1990). These practices are reflected in the position statement of the National Association for the Education of Young Children on Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth Through Age 8. This document outlines educational practices based on knowledge and theories of how children learn and grow.
Flexible Grouping Patterns for Learning. Within a typical multiage classroom of 25 to 30 students, children work in various grouping patterns--as individuals, pairs, triads, small groups, large groups, or whole class. Such short-term groupings are based on interest, needs, learning style, problem solving, skill instruction, and reinforcement (Privett, 1996; American Association of School Administrators, 1992; Grant, 1993). In this approach to grouping for learning,
The Nebraska Department of Education and the Iowa Department of Education (1994) describe grouping patterns at the primary level:

"In grouping for learning, teachers consider the needs of both individuals and the group. Teachers organize children into various grouping patterns--for example, whole class, large groups, small groups, triads, pairs, and/or children working individually.

Teachers choose a grouping strategy which is appropriate to the situation and facilitates optimum learning. The composition of groups affects not only how and what children learn, but also the way children feel about themselves and the way they relate to each other. Heterogeneous (mixed ability) grouping is the most effective way to maximize student success. Long-term, static ability grouping affects children negatively.

Although long-term ability grouping is not acceptable as a constant, grouping children for short periods of time to meet specific instructional needs is appropriate. This type of grouping provides for individualization in that it focuses instruction on the needs of each learner. Individualized instruction does not mean teaching the same lesson over and over again to each child in isolation; it means focusing on the learning needs of the individual, recognizing that more than one child may have similar needs at the same time.

Flexible grouping allows the teacher to instruct children on the basis of interests and learning needs. When children are grouped according to interests, not ability, the opportunities to learn from each other are maximized. Children need opportunities to learn cooperatively and to experience the value of collaboration. Ultimately, social interaction leads to better understanding and a consolidation of learning." (p. 30)

 the teachers choose the grouping strategy that is most appropriate for the learning situation and facilitates learning for each individual child. Anderson and Pavan (1993) suggest the following grouping patterns for various learning strategies: individual work for independent study or working one-on-one with the teacher; groups of two to five students for cooperative learning situations; five to eight students for a task force, committee, or project; 12 to 15 students for a discussion or decision-making activity; and a large group for listening to, attending, or viewing a lecture, video, play, or reports.
  • Continuous Progress. In a multiage classroom, children learn in a continuum; they move from easier to more difficult material and from simple to more complex strategies at their own pace, making continuous progress
Continuous progress refers to the academic and developmental growth of students in a multiage program. Students learn new materials as they are ready, regardless of their age, and teachers help them advance as far as they are able. Because the multiage classroom does not have grade levels, students do not get promoted to the next level at the end of the school year; instead they progress at their own pace from simple to more complex material throughout the year (Cotton, 1993b). At the beginning of each new school year, students pick up where they left off at the end of the previous year (Gutierrez & Slavin, 1992).

Because a multiage classroom has students with a wide range of ages and abilities, continuous progress allows students to take responsibility for their own learning. Learning is success oriented and noncompetitive (Privett, 1996). Continuous progress provides an alternative to retention (keeping a child in the same grade for another year) and social promotion (promoting poor-performing students with their age group).

rather than being promoted once a year or required to wait until the next school year to move forward in the curriculum (Gaustad, 1992; Katz, 1992). Developmentally appropriate schools are flexible in their expectations about when and how children will acquire certain competencies (National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1996). Children are viewed as individuals, and expectations are adjusted for each child. "Instruction, learning opportunities, and movement within the curriculum are individualized to correspond with individual needs, interests, and abilities," note Anderson and Pavan (1993, p. 62). Continuous progress promotes social, emotional, physical, aesthetic, and cognitive development. It is success oriented, avoiding the problems associated with retention (Privett, 1996; National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1996).
Retention refers to the practice of holding back a student at the end of an academic year and requiring him or her to repeat a grade level.

With regard to retaining children in the early grades, research consistently indicates that retention harms self-esteem and increases the likelihood of dropping out in later years. Retention worsens rather than improves the level of student achievement in years following the repeat year (Shepard & Smith, 1990; Gutierrez & Slavin, 1992). Katz (1988) goes further in saying that when retained children repeat a curriculum that is too academic and does not match their developmental needs, they acquire a sense of incompetence or "learned stupidity" (p. 20).

Goodlad and Anderson (1987) note that the policy of retention affects most children more negatively than social promotion. Their research indicates that children who are retained have lower self-esteem and achievement in all the years following the year of retention than those students who are socially promoted.

  • Professional Teamwork. A key to successfully meeting the needs of all students is the development of collaboration among teachers and other school staff (Vila & Thousand, 1993). Regular time set aside for planning and sharing by staff members is essential for a successful multiage approach. Ongoing professional development can provide teachers with practical knowledge of instructional delivery systems such as team teaching, collaborative teaching, and peer coaching, which are appropriate in multiage classrooms (Privett, 1996; American Association of School Administrators, 1992). All school staff--including resource teachers, special services professionals, librarians, and art and physical education teachers--can participate in long-range planning and open communication regarding the multiage program.
  • Authentic Assessment. Authentic assessment is any type of assessment that requires students to demonstrate skills and competencies that realistically represent problems and situations likely to be encountered in daily life. Students are required to produce ideas, integrate knowledge, and complete tasks that have real-world applications. Such assessment is ongoing and diagnostic, yielding information on a student's strengths and weaknesses so that the teacher can tailor lessons to the student's specific needs. Authentic assessment considers the child as a whole (socially, emotionally, physically, and academically) and encompasses a wide range of options, such as portfolios, exhibits, presentations, demonstrations, and other types of performance assessment (Anderson & Pavan, 1993, McLoughlin, 1969).
  • Qualitative Reporting. Qualitative reporting consists of regular individualized school-to-home communication describing "how and what the child is learning, individual accomplishments, interests, abilities, and attitudes. Progress is related in terms of the continuous growth and development of the whole child" without comparison to others (American Association of School Administrators, 1992, p. 24). Qualitative reporting is based on how well children meet developmental and educational standards (Privett, 1996). These reports can be provided in a variety of formats, such as formal progress reports, portfolios, developmental checklists, parent-teacher conferences, anecdotal records, and videotapes.
  • Parent Involvement. Parental involvement and understanding of multiage education is key to a program's success. Opportunities exist for parents to be involved in all aspects of a multiage program: helping with at-home learning, volunteering in the classroom, supporting fund-raising strategies and bond issues, and participating on school committees. The continuous exchange of information is critical to maintaining parental support and involvement (Privett, 1996; Nye, 1993; Anderson & Pavan, 1993; American Association of School Administrators, 1992). Partnerships between parents and schools are formed when parents not only are informed about school practice but have a role in the program as well; partnerships are enhanced and solidified as a result of the extended time parents and teachers have to get to know each other (Mazzuchi & Brooks, 1993).

Besides the growing research base on learning, renewed interest in multiage education is fostered by several other factors. Administrators are more supportive of curriculum change (Mackey, Johnson, & Wood, 1995) and better prepared to assume the role of facilitator and to share decision making with their staff (Fox, 1997; Anderson & Pavan, 1993). Teachers are familiar with curricular and instructional options that typify multiage classrooms, such as developmentally appropriate practices (Fox, 1997; Cohen, 1990), cooperative learning, team teaching, process writing, literature-based reading, and the use of manipulatives in mathethematics instruction (Fox, 1997; Uphoff & Evans, 1993). Both teachers and principals understand the necessity for professional communication and collaboration (Fox, 1997; Anderson & Pavan, 1993).

The benefits of mixed-age grouping may be another factor leading educators to consider this model for their schools. Studies on nongraded programs have yielded information about both achievement and affective gains. Based on a review of 64 studies, Anderson and Pavan (1993) concluded that on achievement tests, children in nongraded groups perform as well as or better than children in graded groups. Guiterrez and Slavin (1992) synthesized the findings of several decades of research comparing the achievement of K-6 students in both nongraded and traditional arrangements. Their analysis, which reviewed research on various nongraded models, indicates that according to standardized measures, the achievement of students in nongraded programs is equivalent to or greater than that of students in graded programs. Other research results also support positive achievement effects.

Achievement effects are only one benefit of multiage grouping. This instructional approach encourages meaningful, engaged learning that often is self-directed. The organizational structure of the multiage classroom encourages children to take personal responsibility for learning (Nye, 1993). Teachers encourage children to apply skills and strategies and to help each other learn. Children keep track of their progress in learning activities, make choices in learning activities and centers, and reflect on their growth and learning (Stone, 1995; Nye, 1993).

Many affective gains also have been documented in multiage research. Students show increased self-esteem, more cooperative behavior, better attitudes toward school in general, increased prosocial (caring, tolerant, patient, supportive) behavior, enriched personal relationships, increased personal responsibility, and a decline in discipline problems (Mackey, Johnson, & Wood, 1995; Stone, 1995; Anderson & Pavan, 1993; Uphoff & Evans, 1993; Grant, 1993; Gutierrez & Slavin, 1992; Lodish, 1992; Katz, Evangelou, & Hartman, 1990; Miller, 1993; Villa & Thousand, 1993; Pratt, 1993). For example, preliminary results of an investigation by McClellan and Kinsey (1996) suggest that mixed-age grouping helps children develop social skills and a sense of belonging. These affective gains are due in part to the fact that competition is minimized as children progress at their own pace and individual differences are celebrated (Fox, 1997; Stone, 1995; Katz, 1995; Anderson & Pavan, 1993). Older students in particular develop mentoring and leadership skills as a result of serving as role models and helping the younger children (Stone, 1995; Nye, 1993).

Beth Rohloff, a K-1-2 multiage teacher at Buckman Elementary School in Portland, Oregon, describes the cooperation, social skills, and positive role-modeling that students display in a multiage classroom. [784k audio file] Excerpted from a videotaped interview with Beth Rohloff (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1998). A text version is available.

Because multiage classrooms emphasize the developmental process, parents usually are asked to accept a greater role in helping their children learn through home-learning activities and in-class participation. Parents also are asked at conferences to help set goals for their children's learning. Many opportunities exist for parent volunteers to come into the school as well (Privett, 1996; Nye, 1993; Anderson & Pavan, 1993; American Association of School Administrators, 1992). Parents involved in multiage programs have a greater voice in decision making at the school. They are asked for input on a variety of topics, included in discussions, and invited to join committees (Anderson & Pavan, 1993; American Association of School Administrators, 1992). (For more information on involving parents and families, refer to the Critical Issues "Creating the School Climate and Structures to Support Parent and Family Involvement" and "Constructing School Partnerships with Families and Community Groups.")

Relationships among students, teachers, and parents are enriched as a result of working together for more than one year. Both students and parents have a greater sense of security, and the relationships between school and home are more meaningful (Fox, 1997; Stone, 1995; Anderson & Pavan, 1993; Mazzuchi & Brooks, 1993). As a result of working together for multiple years, parents become more comfortable with teachers (Grant, 1993; Mazzuchi & Brooks, 1993).

Tim Laner, a K-1-2 multiage teacher at Buckman Elementary School in Portland, Oregon, describes how a multiage program provides an opportunity to develop close relationships between students, teachers, and families. [364k audio file] Excerpted from a videotaped interview with Tim Laner (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1998). A text version is available.

Both teachers and children benefit from the increased participation, communication, and support of parents (Fox, 1997; Anderson & Pavan, 1993). A parent's willingness to be part of the school team enables teachers to be more effective, resulting in a better education for children (American Association of School Administrators, 1992). To encourage parent and family participation, schools can emphasize building support for multiage education through effective communication, involvement strategies, and shared decision making.

Teachers benefit from being in a multiage setting as well. Teachers involved in team teaching see greater collaboration and communication among their colleagues. Teaming also increases skill development among the staff (Fox, 1997; Anderson & Pavan, 1993). Teachers report being revitalized by the challenges of multiage practice, and they feel more confident in their teaching because children's development is seen in a less fragmented way. This renewed interest and confidence allows teachers to refocus on children's whole development in the classroom.

 Beth Rohloff, a K-1-2 multiage teacher at Buckman Elementary School in Portland, Oregon, states that teaching a multiage class has given her a greater understanding of children's development and allowed her to refine her teaching skills and expectations. [392k audio file] Excerpted from a videotaped interview with Beth Rohloff (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1998). A text version is available.

The increased learning time in a multiage setting also is beneficial to teachers; it allows teachers to spread out the curriculum over longer periods of time for maximum learning. Teachers also benefit because there is no need to spend a great deal of time at the beginning of each school year assessing and getting to know children. Also, less time is devoted to developing class routines because the previous year's students are able to assist new students.

Clearly, many benefits exist for the students, parents, and teachers of multiage programs. These benefits, coupled with current research on learning, provide a strong argument for implementing a multiage program. Miller (1996), however, cautions that the adoption of multiage practice involves a great deal of change; sufficient forethought, planning, and participation by key stakeholders (anyone who may be affected by the change) are essential to creating a multiage program that is lasting and productive. The active involvement of administrators and school board members is essential in creating support and providing ongoing professional development for multiage practice. At least a full year of planning, reading, discussion, and observation of successful multiage programs--prior to implementation--is strongly recommended (Miller, 1996; Nye, 1993; Grant, 1993; Gaustad, 1992).

A team of volunteers consisting of teachers, parents, administrators, and school board members can be formed to initiate the study period. It is essential to involve all stakeholders from the beginning to ensure a successful transition. "The implementation of multiage instruction and organization is best viewed as an evolving long-term change at the deepest levels of belief about how humans learn," notes Miller (1996, p. 17). It is important to keep everyone clearly updated on the evolution of the program (Miller, 1996; Nye, 1993; Anderson & Pavan, 1993; Gaustad, 1992; Calkins, 1993). Through readings, discussion, and observation, the team can come to consensus on the basic principles they hold. This ability to reach consensus can be a measuring stick for determining the readiness of the school for multiage education (Anderson & Pavan, 1993). Team members can reflect on how the school's beliefs compare to those of multiage education. Then they can decide if the time is right to move into planning for the critical attributes or if further discussion and education are required.

As a stepping stone, staff can begin preparing for a change to multiage practice in more gradual ways by implementing looping, in which a teacher stays with a class of children for two or more grade levels, or a by developing a pilot program for multiage education. Such approaches help prepare teachers and administrators for implementing the multiage classroom.

After a team determines to move forward with planning a multiage program, special consideration needs to be given to teacher preparation and support. Several studies have revealed that teacher and parent understanding and support of multiage education is the paramount factor in a program's success (Miller, 1996; American Association of School Administrators, 1992). While each team must consider the skills and knowledge of its staff when creating a professional development plan, practical training in multiage teaching is a necessity (Miller, 1996). School visitations and contact with experienced multiage teachers can be a powerful element of training (Miller, 1996; Privett, 1996; Gaustad, 1992). The need for administrative support clearly signals that administrators and school board members should be included in such professional development activities.

Schools that have successfully implemented multiage programs recognize the potential need for professional development in varied instructional strategies such as: cooperative learning, literature-based reading, process writing, manipulative math, and other developmentally appropriate practices (Anderson & Pavan, 1993). Regardless of the staff development plan a school may adopt, teachers need time for training and for sharing ideas about the ways they assist children and approach their teaching. Allocating time for collaboration and planning must continue after a program is implemented. Experts agree that teaching in a multiage setting requires more preparation time and long-range planning (Gaustad, 1992; American Association of School Administrators, 1992).

When creating the multiage program, the purchase of teaching material well suited to the principles of multiage practice must be thoroughly planned (Miller, 1996; Stone, 1995). This planning applies to space and facilities as well. Adequate space must exist in order for teachers to prepare the proper learning environment. Several instructional areas need to be established within the multiage classroom: a large group meeting area, a place for small group instruction, and independent workspace. Children should be able to move freely without feeling crowded (Fox, 1997; Stone, 1995; American Association of School Administrators, 1992).

Careful attention also must be given to the development of a system for managing authentic student assessment, reporting to parents, and adding standardized testing if required by state laws or district policies. In the multiage setting, teachers dealing with widely varying developmental levels need a comprehensive, user-friendly system of authentic assessment that is neither overburdening to teachers nor results in reduced teaching time (Anderson & Pavan, 1993). A portfolio system can meet the criteria by enabling teachers to collect information in an ongoing fashion as a part of daily learning. Portfolio assessment accomplishes three main goals: documenting student growth and progress, supporting and guiding instruction, and communicating information about students to both parents and children (Stone, 1995).

Another way to assess student growth and plan instruction is the use of learning descriptions, an assessment tool that lists student abilities and accomplishments in various content and developmental areas. With this tool, which typically is used in primary groupings, teachers can document students' patterns of growth over time and can have a continuous record for communicating with parents.

Finally, during the planning stage, decisions need to be made regarding the continuous progress attribute of multiage education. For most children, the increased learning time in multiage programs results in extra time to accomplish necessary learning by the end of a multiage cycle, so that children who appear to be slightly behind during the first year, catch up by the end of the cycle (Grant, 1993; Stone, 1995; Mazzuchi & Brooks, 1993). Helpful activities can be built into the curriculum to support children who are experiencing specific difficulties, and there is time to revisit concepts more than once (Stone, 1995; Anderson & Pavan, 1993; Mazzuchi & Brooks, 1993). Multiage progams can be based on two classroom configurations to allow for this progress: overlapping age ranges at different levels, or combining a specific number of grade levels in each multiage classroom. Programs that have overlapping age ranges allow teachers to make decisions about moving children to the next level based on accomplished learning, as opposed to age or grade level. Programs that are based on grade level have other options to ensure continuous progress.

Consideration also should be given to the transition of students from a multiage setting to a graded setting. Eventually, children will move from the nongraded primary or elementary level into a graded system. Results from a number of multiage programs demonstrate that elementary students from multiage settings adjust very quickly and easily to the social environment, routines, and expectations of the next graded level (Anderson & Pavan, 1993).

A key step in implementing a multiage program is ongoing evaluation. Program evaluation provides valuable feedback, indicates whether goals are being reached, and offers suggestions for new strategies. In addition to monitoring student progress, schools can use an evaluation and self-assessment tool to evaluate their own progress in implementing various components of the multiage model.

Simply grouping children of a variety of ages together in a classroom will not yield the benefits documented in the research pertaining to multiage education. In order to obtain these benefits, thoughtful planning must occur (Katz, 1992). Time must be taken in preparing teachers and the community. Goals must be established to reflect the multiage philosophy and its critical attributes. Education, open discussion, and a strong commitment to realizing those goals must exist in order to create a multiage program that continues to be an important and necessary pattern of education.



  • Administrators and teachers are able to articulate why the multiage model was chosen and what its benefits are. They maintain communication with each other and the community.
  • Administrators empower school staff to become actively involved in multiage programs by providing support, professional development, leadership opportunities, and shared decision-making.
  • Teachers teaching in teams collaborate and communicate frequently, and there is an increase in skill development among staff.
  • Adequate materials, resources, and space exist to create and support a multiage environment.
  • Teachers use a variety of instructional techniques and implement developmentally appropriate practices in the multiage classroom.
  • Children of mixed ages and abilities are actively involved in learning and progress at their own pace. Cooperative learning is evident, and students work independently as well as in group settings.
  • Older children have the opportunity to demonstrate helpfulness, leadership, patience, and tolerance. They model social and academic behaviors for younger children.
  • Teachers, students, and parents develop a meaningful relationship by sharing common experiences over a long time. Parents become involved in all aspects of the multiage program.
  • Authentic assessment techniques and qualitative reporting methods are used to assess student development, plan future instruction, and communicate with parents.

ACTION OPTIONS: Administrators and teachers can take the following steps to plan and implement multiage education:

  • Provide a foundation of administrative support for the implementation of developmentally appropriate and multiage practices at the school.
  • Establish a team of volunteers to initiate study and planning for the multiage program.
Determine if the multiage model matches the needs of the students, school, and community by using an inventory of educational beliefs.
( In Nongradedness: Helping It To Happen, Anderson and Pavan (1993) offer an inventory of educational beliefs and ideas relating to the multiage classroom. Educators can use this inventory to check the readiness of school staff for a change to multiage practice. The inventory examines beliefs about the following topics: nongradedness and continuous progress; individual differences; pupil grouping; curriculum, methods and materials; team teaching; and site-based management.)
( As the team engages in research and discussion in an exploration of multiage education, they may want to discuss the following questions posed by Miller (1996):
  • "Why would a school staff implement a multiage program, especially when evidence from the field suggests multiage classrooms, at least to begin with, require more work?
  • What roles should teachers play in planning and implementation, and what knowledge do they need to effectively participate?
  • What type of school or organizational climate is likely to facilitate successful implementation?
  • How should parents and community be involved in planning and implementation?
  • What does leadership look like in successful multiage implementation?
    • Are there implementation factors associated with successful multiage programs that can be generalized to our setting?" (p. 12)
    • Organize a staff retreat to discuss beliefs and philosophies concerning multiage education. )
  • Schedule school visitations to observe successful multiage programs in action. Formulate questions and topics to focus on during observation of programs.
  • Use a planning tool, (such as Developing a Plan of Action: The Multiage Classroom from the Michigan Department of Education, to design an action plan for a multiage program.

    Fox (1996a) has developed the following planning tool for educators to use when proposing a multiage program:

    "Developing a Plan of Action: The Multiage Classroom

    1. Goals or objectives (Mission Statement).

    2. Why are you implementing this program?

    3a. Describe the student grouping.

    3b. For what subjects is the grouping used?

    3c. How do students enter the program?

    3d. How are students assigned to groups?

    3e. How are teachers assigned to groups?

    3f. Who schedules students, and who makes the teaching assignments?

    3g. Do students remain with a teacher or team for more than one year? Who decides?

    4. What organizational strategies are employed? (e.g., departmental class, flexible group sizes, self-contained class, nonretention policy, flexible entry/exit)

    5. Describe the daily schedule.

    6. Describe the instructional practices that will be used. (e.g., individualized, cooperative learning, computer-aided instruction, peer tutoring, team teaching)

    7. Describe the curricular approaches (e.g., integrated thematic units, whole language). Will you need to modify the curriculum to incorporate the ungraded program?

    8a. By what means and how regularly will pupil progress be measured?

    8b. Describe the grading system.

    8c. How will pupil progress be reported to parents?

    9a. What factors determine student promotion from or retention in the program?

    9b. What is the average number of years needed for a student to complete the program?

    10. How are remediation and enrichment provided?

    11a. Is teacher participation required or voluntary?

    11b. Is special training needed? If yes, describe.

    12. What resources are available?

    13a. By what means and how frequently will be program be evaluated?

    13b. Who or what groups of people will evaluate the program?

    13c. How will evaluation results be communicated and recommendations used?

    14a. What methods are used to gain educator support for the program?

    14b. How will the program be communicated to the public and public support gained?

    15. What will be the biggest obstacle to establishing an ungraded primary program?" )

(A professional development program for teachers and other school staff is essential when planning and implementing multiage practices. The Kentucky Department of Education developed a statewide professional development program, and the South Haven (Michigan) Public Schools developed a districtwide professional development program.

In Kentucky, according to Privett (1996), schools adopted a pyramidal professional development program to implement multiage practices for the Kentucky Primary Program. The training occurred in three phases. Teachers first received training in developmentally appropriate practices, authentic assessment, and qualitative reporting methods; training was begun in these areas because they are the basis of multiage teaching. Next, teachers were trained in positive family involvement and professional teamwork techniques; this training was necessary to create a supportive atmosphere and build a team mentality. Third, teachers received training in multiage education and continuous development, neither of which could be successful without the knowledge base in the other areas of training. As a continuation of this professional development, teachers visited quality multiage programs in successful schools.

In South Haven, Michigan, the public school district made a commitment to incorporate multiage programs, inclusion, technology, and interdisciplinary instructional strategies into the educational system and to provide relevant professional development for school staff. The staff development plan for 1997-1998 included training for educators in multiple intelligences and learning styles, cognitive coaching and team building, assessment in advanced mastery learning and continuous progress, process writing, integrated curriculum and block scheduling (with an emphasis on interdisciplinary lessons and thematic units), and computer training.)

through which school staff can further their understanding of key attributes of multiage education, including developmentally appropriate practices,

 ( Developmentally appropriate practices include the following teaching strategies:

    • Active Learning Experiences. Developmentally appropriate programs promote children's active exploration of the environment. Children manipulate real objects and learn through hands-on, direct experiences. The curriculum provides opportunities for children to explore, reflect, interact, and communicate with other children and adults (National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1996). Learning centers are one means of providing active learning experiences. Field trips, real life experiences--such as cooking, reenacting historical events, conducting scientific experiments, and participating in community service projects--are other examples.
    • Varied Instructional Strategies. Developmentally appropriate practice encourages the use of varied instructional strategies to meet the learning needs of children. Such approaches may include process writing, skill instruction, guided reading, modeled writing, cooperative learning, independent learning activities, peer coaching and tutoring, teacher-led instruction, thematic instruction, projects, learning centers, problem-based learning, and literature-based instruction (Privett, 1996; Stone,1995; American Association of School Administrators, 1992). By providing a wide variety of ways to learn, children with various learning styles are able to develop their capabilities. Teaching in this way also helps provide for multiple intelligences, and enables children to view learning in new ways.
    • Balance Between Teacher-Directed and Child-Directed Activities. Developmentally appropriate practice encourages a mixture of teacher-directed and child-directed activities. Teacher-directed learning involves the teacher as a facilitator who models learning strategies and gives guided instruction. Child-directed learning allows the child to assume some responsibility for learning goals.
    • Integrated Curriculum. An integrated curriculum is one that connects diverse areas of study by cutting across subject-matter lines and emphasizing unifying concepts. It combines many subject areas into a cohesive unit of study that is meaningful to students. An integrated curriculum often relates learning to real life. It also recognizes the importance of basic skills and the "inclination to use them" (National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1996).

      One technique for integrating curricula is a thematic approach, which "motivates students to investigate interesting ideas from multiple perspectives. The central theme becomes the catalyst for developing concepts, generalizations, skills, and attitudes" (American Association of School Administrators, 1992, p. 25). Not all integrated curricula revolve around a theme, however. Whole language and writing across the curriculum are examples of integrated approaches that may or may not involve a thematic approach (American Association of School Administrators, 1992).

    • Learning Centers. Learning centers are independent stations set up throughout the classroom where children can go to actually engage in some learning activity. Children choose the center they will go to and decide on the amount of time to spend there. The learning center approach provides a time when children explore and practice skills to their own satisfaction. These centers provide children with opportunities for hands-on learning, cooperative learning, social interaction, real-life problem solving, autonomous learning, and open-ended activities. "Open-ended activities allow for each child to successfully engage in the activity at whatever skill level the child happens to be," notes Stone (1995, p. 123). Learning centers should reflect the goal of active learning; they must not be workstations full of worksheets for students to complete. Learning centers offer an opportunity for children to be responsible for their own learning; this responsibility is the foundation for lifelong learning (Stone, 1995). )
( The Nebraska Department of Education and the Iowa Department of Education (1994) describe grouping patterns at the primary level:

"In grouping for learning, teachers consider the needs of both individuals and the group. Teachers organize children into various grouping patterns--for example, whole class, large groups, small groups, triads, pairs, and/or children working individually.

Teachers choose a grouping strategy which is appropriate to the situation and facilitates optimum learning. The composition of groups affects not only how and what children learn, but also the way children feel about themselves and the way they relate to each other. Heterogeneous (mixed ability) grouping is the most effective way to maximize student success. Long-term, static ability grouping affects children negatively.

Although long-term ability grouping is not acceptable as a constant, grouping children for short periods of time to meet specific instructional needs is appropriate. This type of grouping provides for individualization in that it focuses instruction on the needs of each learner. Individualized instruction does not mean teaching the same lesson over and over again to each child in isolation; it means focusing on the learning needs of the individual, recognizing that more than one child may have similar needs at the same time.

Flexible grouping allows the teacher to instruct children on the basis of interests and learning needs. When children are grouped according to interests, not ability, the opportunities to learn from each other are maximized. Children need opportunities to learn cooperatively and to experience the value of collaboration. Ultimately, social interaction leads to better understanding and a consolidation of learning." (p. 30) )
( Continuous progress refers to the academic and developmental growth of students in a multiage program. Students learn new materials as they are ready, regardless of their age, and teachers help them advance as far as they are able. Because the multiage classroom does not have grade levels, students do not get promoted to the next level at the end of the school year; instead they progress at their own pace from simple to more complex material throughout the year (Cotton, 1993b). At the beginning of each new school year, students pick up where they left off at the end of the previous year (Gutierrez & Slavin, 1992).

Because a multiage classroom has students with a wide range of ages and abilities, continuous progress allows students to take responsibility for their own learning. Learning is success oriented and noncompetitive (Privett, 1996). Continuous progress provides an alternative to retention (keeping a child in the same grade for another year) and social promotion (promoting poor-performing students with their age group).)


  • Rely upon the school librarian or library media specialist to lead the development of a professional library of articles, books, videos, and teaching resources on multiage practice.
Develop educational partnerships with parents and the community to build support for multiage education.

Building Support for Multiage Education. ERIC Digest, Number 114.



Multiage education involves placing children of different ages, abilities, and emotional maturity in the same classroom. Students are frequently regrouped for different learning activities rather than being consistently segregated by chronological age, and they often remain with the same teacher or teaching team for more than one year. Many different labels have been applied to such classes, including "family grouping, blends, nongraded, and multiage continuous progress."

Research indicates that heterogeneous grouping promotes cognitive and social growth, reduces antisocial behavior, and facilitates the use of research-based developmentally appropriate instructional practices such as active learning and integrated curriculum. The wider range of ages and abilities in a multiage classroom discourages misleading age-graded expectations and helps teachers focus on students' individual learning needs.


Parent and community support benefits all types of educational endeavors by positively affecting student learning, but it is particularly crucial for multiage programs because the approach is unfamiliar to most citizens.

Multiage practices have evolved gradually over decades as research revealed more about learning and child development. But to adults whose last contact with elementary education occurred during their own childhoods, these practices can seem a sudden, radical departure from familiar ways.

Multiage practices are vulnerable to misunderstanding and can stimulate violent opposition if efforts are not made to explain and build support among parents, the local education community, and the general public.




Information should be communicated in many ways to be accessible to adults with different learning styles, backgrounds, and personalities, just as instruction is offered in many different formats to reach students in multiage classrooms.

Written forms of communication include newsletters, brochures, copies of published articles, and teacher-written notes and letters. Surveys and questionnaires encourage parent feedback and suggestions. Newspapers and other local media are the main sources of education information for many citizens, but because many reporters are unfamiliar with multiage practices, administrators must ensure that information about multiage programs is understood and reported accurately.

Informational meetings can range from formal presentations and participatory workshops to informal parent-teacher coffees. Schools should schedule meetings to accommodate both working and nonworking parents. Educator Colleen Politano finds that involving students in presentations increases parent attendance as well as effectively demonstrates multiage activities (Gaustad, forthcoming). Parents of children in multiage programs also make convincing presenters. Classroom visits or videotapes of multiage activities are also valuable.

Word-of-mouth communication is a powerful tool that can elicit support for multiage programs. Multiage teachers and principals have an important role to play in this regard, but any member of the education community, from custodian to school board member, may share information and opinions with curious citizens. Therefore, it is essential to educate all members of the school or district about multiage practices.




The multiage approach encourages students to learn from each other as well as from the teacher, and multiage teachers often work in teams, helping and learning from each other. Adult volunteers are natural additions to such a "community of learners" (Chase and Doan 1994). In addition to assisting teachers with labor-intensive multiage methods, participating in instruction helps volunteers learn about multiage practices and see how they benefit children. Volunteers often increase community support by conveying information and positive attitudes about multiage education to friends and neighbors.

Parent and community volunteers can participate in instruction in many ways. They can give special whole-class presentations, teach ongoing classes in art, science, or languages to small groups, or tutor individual students. Parents can also participate in instruction at home, guided by written directions for homework assignments or suggestions for ways to reinforce their child's learning. Instructional skills can be taught at volunteer training workshops. Volunteers can also provide behind-the-scenes support with activities such as preparing materials, fundraising, and organizing volunteer activities.

Depending on their resources, businesses can offer support ranging from modest, one-time donations to ongoing business partnerships. Businesses can encourage employees to volunteer in the schools by providing paid release time or allowing flexible schedules. Kentucky business leaders formed the Partnership for Kentucky School Reform (1996) to support implementation of the new multiage Primary Program and other reforms.


Multiage programs typically describe parents as "partners in education" and seek to involve them in instruction in substantive ways. However, meaningful parent involvement can be hindered by ingrained attitudes and lack of experience. In traditional age-graded schools, parent involvement is often limited to nonclassroom support tasks. Teachers work autonomously in classrooms "separated by time, space, and curriculum" (Miller 1994), rarely collaborating even with fellow professionals. Parents and teachers must acquire new skills and change old attitudes to become effective partners.

Teachers may be uncomfortable sharing control or fear that involving volunteers will lower the quality of instruction. They may believe parents are uninterested or have little to contribute. They may be reluctant to admit potentially critical "outsiders" to their classrooms while they are still mastering multiage practices, or may feel overwhelmed by the additional time demands of training and organizing volunteers. Parents may doubt their ability to contribute or believe they should not "interfere" with instruction. They may distrust educators or educational innovations because of past negative experiences with the school system.

Negative preconceptions are more likely to be replaced by trust and good will if teachers and parents have positive experiences sharing thoughts and feelings and working together. Planners must surmount practical obstacles such as parents' work schedules, their need to care for other children, and teachers' needs for administrative support and training in how to work effectively with adult volunteers.

Fully mastering multiage practices takes years. Teachers can work more comfortably with parents during this ongoing process if their principal strives to create a school climate supportive of change--a climate in which it is accepted that mistakes are a normal part of learning and growing (Miller).




Parents should have input into significant instructional and assessment decisions concerning their child, as well as major decisions that affect their child's school or program, such as whether multiage practices should be adopted. Parents should also decide whether their child attends a multiage class.

Participation in decision-making increases ownership and support for multiage education, as it does for any innovation. Parents, educators, and other stakeholders should be included in the planning process from the beginning. Parent and community representatives can serve on school advisory councils or multiage study committees. All parents should have opportunities to voice concerns at each stage of the implementation process via such means as meetings and surveys.

Planners should expect conflict to arise during the course of decision-making. Calkins (1992) urges school leaders to regard disagreements as normal and to be open to learning from other members of the school community. He advises administrators to educate themselves about consensus-building strategies and the change process in order to manage conflict constructively.

Superior solutions sometimes arise from the interaction of participants with different perspectives. At Boeckman Creek Primary School in Wilsonville, Oregon, skeptical parents joined the multiage evaluation team and helped devise a rigorous evaluation process that satisfied even the most doubtful (Gaustad). Administrators, teachers, parents, and community members can follow Boeckman Creek's example, working together to create and refine successful multiage programs.

Consider looping
 ( Looping is an educational practice in which a single graded class of children stays with a teacher for two or more years or grade levels. The children and the teacher remain together as the class is promoted. At the end of the second (or third) year in the pattern, the children move on to a new teacher while the looping teacher returns to the lower grade level to receive a new group of students. Although looping is not used in multiage grouping (because a multiage group does not comprise a single class grade), many schools that are considering implementation of a multiage program use looping as a first step.

For students, the benefits of looping include reduced apprehension at starting a new school year, increased continuity, and more in-depth relationships with teacher and with peers (McClellan, 1995). For teachers, the benefits of looping consist of becoming familiar with other developmental stages of children, and working with students and parents for longer periods of time (Mazzuchi & Brooks, 1993). The long-term relationships established through looping have been shown to support student learning. )

as a first step towards multiage teaching.
Consider creating and operating a multiage pilot program
( A pilot program is a school program that serves as a tentative model for future development. Although some community members may think of it as haphazard experimentation, a pilot program actually is a carefully designed effort at school improvement. It is developed after an initial period of study and planning by a school-improvement team. The pilot program is installed for a predetermined period. Then the effort is evaluated and refined before moving into full implementation.

When considering the change to a multiage program, a school may choose to implement a multiage pilot program. This plan allows the school to begin multiage practice on a smaller scale, perhaps in one or two classrooms. It also provides an opportunity for school staff, parents, and community members to learn more about multiage practice and to see the educational benefits over a period of time. As such, a multiage pilot program can garner the interest and support of the entire school community. )

for one year to ease the transition to multiage education.
Create or adopt a set of learning descriptions

(Learning descriptions are an assessment tool used for identifying an individual student's strengths and needs in various content and developmental areas. These descriptions, which consist of listings of abilities and accomplishments that are developmentally appropriate, indicate where children begin in their learning and the stages through which they progress as they achieve proficiency. Using these descriptions, teachers can document students' patterns of growth over time in reading, writing, math, science, social studies, art, music, social and emotional development, and physical skills. Teachers also can use learning descriptions to communicate with parents and families.

By providing information on the full spectrum of development in any one area, learning descriptions provide teachers with valuable information for instructional planning Learning descriptions allow teachers to design instruction that meets the needs of individual students and to monitor their progress. By comparing children's development to these learning descriptions, teachers can ensure that children who are not progressing can be monitored and assisted, and older children remain challenged (M. McCullough at Kentucky Department of Education, personal communication, June 16, 1995).

or each learning area.
Develop qualitative reporting methods such as formal progress reports, portfolios,
 ( Portfolios are collections of students' work over time. A portfolio often documents a student's best work and may include other types of process information, such as drafts of the student's work, the student's self-assessment of the work, and the parents' assessment. Portfolios may be used for evaluation of a student's abilities and improvement.
In recent years, portfolios of students' performance and products have gained impressive degrees of support from educators, who view them as a way to collect authentic evidence of children's learning. For many early childhood educators, portfolios are an attractive alternative to more traditional assessment approaches. Often, however, teachers raise important questions about what portfolios contain, what benefits they will bring to the classroom and the children, and how they can be managed.

What do portfolios contain? Grosvenor (1993, pp. 14-15) lists three basic models:

  • Showcase model, consisting of work samples chosen by the student.
  • Descriptive model, consisting of representative work of the student, with no attempt at evaluation.
  • Evaluative model, consisting of representative products that have been evaluated by criteria.

DeFina (1992) lists the following assumptions about portfolio assessment:

  • "Portfolios are systematic, purposeful, and meaningful collections of students' works in one or more subject areas.
  • Students of any age or grade level can learn not only to select pieces to be placed into their portfolios but can also learn to establish criteria for their selections.
  • Portfolio collections may include input by teachers, parents, peers, and school administrators.
  • In all cases, portfolios should reflect the actual day-to-day learning activities of students.
  • Portfolios should be ongoing so that they show the students' efforts, progress, and achievements over a period of time.
  • Portfolios may contain several compartments, or subfolders.
  • Selected works in portfolios may be in a variety of media and may be multidimensional." (pp. 13-16)

What benefits can they bring? Teachers who have experience with portfolio assessment report that it complements such developmentally appropriate curriculum and instruction as whole language, hands-on approaches, and process mathematics. It also allows them to assess children's individual learning styles, enhances their ability to communicate with parents about children's learning, and helps to fulfill professional requirements of school and community accountability (Polakowski, 1993). Implemented well, portfolios can ensure that the focus and content of assessment are aligned with important learning goals.

How can they be managed? The planning, collecting, storing, and interpreting of authentic information on children's progress over time is time consuming. Many teachers are initially hesitant or resistant to use portfolio assessment because they fear that adding it to their existing responsibilities may prove overwhelming.

Teachers who have made the transition from traditional assessment to portfolio assessment advise that it requires a refocusing, not a redoubling of teacher effort. Since the kinds of materials collected are typical classroom tasks, assessment and instruction are joined together with curriculum. Time spent in this kind of assessment, then, is not time taken away from teaching and learning activities (Polakowski, 1993; Tierney, Carter, & Desai, 1991).

Polakowski (1993, pp. 52-53) describes three management techniques she uses concurrently for instruction and individualized assessment:

  • Teacher-directed, timed centers through which small groups of students rotate for equal amounts of time.
  • Child-directed, timed centers that children choose for the allotted time.
  • Child-selected, timed centers that include some "must do" tasks.

Using such techniques, a teacher is able to engage in one-to-one assessment conferences or instructional conversations and collect products for assessment purposes.

What resources are available to help? The following are available from the growing published resources in this field:

  • Student Portfolios, from the National Education Association's Teacher-to-Teacher Series, edited by Dalheim (1993). In this book, experienced teachers recount their own experiences in studying, field testing, and fully implementing portfolio assessment. Sample portfolio contents and forms are included.
  • Portfolio Assessment in the Reading Writing Classroom by Tierney, Carter, and Desai (1991) is designed to help teachers think about how they might employ portfolio assessment in literacy areas. It contains illustrations of related materials and examples of student portfolios.
  • Portfolio Assessment: Getting Started by DeFina (1992) is a practical oriented book offering suggestions for thinking through the concept of portfolios, getting started, involving parents and students, and more.
  • The Primary Program: Growing and Learning in the Heartland from the Nebraska and Iowa Departments of Education (1993) has a lengthy appendix on assessment, which includes suggestions for collecting, storing, and interpreting authentic evidence through observation and children's products.

For additional information, refer to The Portfolio and Its Use: Developmentally Appropriate Assessment of Young Children (Grace, 1992).

developmental checklists, parent-teacher conferences, and anecdotal records
An anecdotal record is "a written record kept in a positive tone of a child's progress based on milestones particular to that child's social, emotional, physical, aesthetic, and cognitive development," notes the American Association of School Administrators (1992, p. 21). The teacher observes and then records a child's actions and work throughout the day while the activities are occurring. The recording is informal and typically is based on notes or a checklist with space for writing comments. It is done only when appropriate and is not forced; in fact, there may be days between entries.

The anecdotal record is positive in tone. It emphasizes "what a child can do and his or her achievements, as opposed to what he or she cannot do," explains the American Association of School Administrators (1992, p. 2). It is useful for reporting a child's progress and achievements during parent-teacher conferences.

to inform parents about each student's progress and development in the multiage classroom.



 The multiage model is labor intensive and requires more planning, collaboration, and professional development than the conventional graded classroom

(Miller, 1996; Gaustad, 1992; American Association of School Administrators, 1992; Cushman, 1993). Sufficient planning time must be arranged to meet the needs of both teachers and students. Insufficient planning, staff development, materials, support, and assessment procedures will impact the success of the multiage program (Fox, 1997; Miller, 1996; Nye, 1993).

The multiage model also requires a new approach to curriculum development and teaching. The conventional school curriculum does not address the needs of the multiage class. Teachers must be given time and resources to create a developmentally appropriate curriculum. Team teaching can be difficult for some teachers; there is a need for constant communication. Personality traits and teaching styles must be taken into consideration when creating teams of teachers (Cushman, 1993).

Teachers who have not received professional development on working with different ages in the same classroom may initially be resistant to multiage practice. They may think of the class as a split class or combined class and try to teach a different curriculum for each grade level in the class. This type of instruction does not fit the critical attributes of multiage education (Stone, 1995). Focusing on the needs of individual children and using a multiage curriculum are essential in multiage classes.

Care must be taken when determining the composition of the multiage class in terms of student ability and age ranges. Multiage groups must be kept heterogeneous. Schools should avoid ability-grouped classes and grouping high-achieving younger students with low-achieving older students (Stone, 1995). Also, selecting a three-year multiage model, as opposed to a two-year model, can pose other difficulties; a multiage teacher's workload and time commitment increases in direct proportion to the mixed age span (Grant, 1993).

It may be tempting to begin creating a multiage program quickly. Many promising practices and innovations have been put into use impulsively without a basic understanding of critical factors. These programs have failed and made the public question valuable practices. Issues such as teacher readiness, staff ownership, parental involvement, and collaborative planning must be considered if the multiage program is to have a positive and lasting effect (Fox, 1997; Miller, 1996; Nye, 1993).

Katz (1996) addresses some of the potential risks of mixed-age grouping: Younger children may feel intimidated or overwhelmed by more competent classmates, and they may become burdens to older ones by continually asking for help. Older children may not be sufficiently challenged in the classroom, and they may become overbearing or bossy with younger children. To remedy these situations, teachers can offer reassurance to younger children that skills will develop over time; teachers also can encourage younger children to practice skills on their own instead of interrupting the older children. Likewise, teachers must remember to provide challenges for the older and more experienced children; this approach is important in every classroom, even when student age is not a factor (Stone, 1995; Katz, 1992). With regard to potential behavioral problems, the risk of bullying in mixed-age groups


One of the questions that concerns teachers and parents about mixed-age grouping is the possibility that older children will dominate or bully younger children. Unfortunately, this worry is probably realistic, and teachers should be alert (as in any classroom) for signs that a younger or less assertive child is suffering from another child's aggression. Bullying extends beyond the physical aggression or threat of aggression of one child against another and includes verbal and psychological threats, taunting, and harassment of a child by others (Viadero, 1997). Bullying can sometimes be quite subtle and, especially when adults are present, not always obvious. Research suggests that at least 15% of all children admit that they have felt bullied or feel bullied at school (Olweus, 1993). However, particular children tend to be singled out by peers as the victims of repeated bullying (Olweus, 1993), suggesting that teachers need to be concerned not only with helping the bully change his or her behavior but also with helping victims develop social habits that will discourage their status as repeated targets of bullying.

The complete absence of the expression of aggression, particularly playful aggression, in children's relationships is probably not desirable (Pellegrini, 1989); however, research suggests that levels of aggression in many groups of children far exceed what is considered optimal (Magid & McKelvey, 1987; Zigler, Taussig, & Black, 1992). Given the relatively high incidence of aggression among many young children, is it possible that mixing children in ages may give bullies more opportunity to victimize younger or more defenseless children?

In reviewing the research on this issue, quite the opposite seems to be the more likely outcome-that is, children in mixed-age groups may be less likely to be bullied or to bully other children. Further, it has been argued that the concentration of same-age peers is a major factor in the extremely high incidence of aggressive, antisocial, and destructive acts in United States society (McClellan, 1994). In an international study, Whiting and Whiting (1975) found that children were more likely to behave aggressively with same-age peers than with peers who differed in age by a year or more. McClellan (1994) compared teacher ratings of aggression levels in 34 mixed- and same-age preschool class-rooms and found significantly higher levels of aggression in the same-age classrooms. In a more recent study with another sample of children, McClellan and Kinsey (1997) compared 649 children in first- through fifth-grade classrooms. Again, children in mixed-age classrooms were significantly less likely to be judged by their teachers as verbally and physically aggressive with classmates during work or play than those in same-age classes. One year after the initial study, when all children had returned to same-age classrooms, the children who had previously participated in the mixed-age classrooms were still significantly less likely to behave aggressively (McClellan & Kinsey, 1997).

In an investigation of particular importance in weighing the likelihood that children in mixed-age classes might tend to bully their younger classmates, Whiting and Edwards (1977) distinguished between the notion of aggressive versus dominant behaviors. They found that older children did tend to dominate their younger peers, but they were also very nurturing. Dominance, in other words, usually included nurturance and prosocial behavior. Pure aggression, on the other hand, was seen more frequently among same-age peers in a constellation of behaviors that included sociableness, playfulness, rough-and-tumble play, teasing, and insulting. It is likely that dominance is a behavior pattern that is distinct from, yet related to, aggression and bullying in all primates (Goodall, 1986). One way various animal groups, including humans, allow for the expression of aggressive impulses yet maintain order is through the establishment of dominance hierarchies (Goodall, 1986; Maccoby, 1980). Established hierarchies serve at least two purposes. First, they reduce the amount of fighting among individuals because individual group members usually know in advance whom they may safely challenge and whom they had better leave alone (Maccoby, 1980). Second, older respected dominant individuals protect younger individuals from the threats and abuse of others (Goodall, 1986).

For example, Stright and French (1988) observed the leadership behavior of same-age and mixed-age groups of children 7 to 11 years old who were given the task of accurately ordering sets of pictures. Older children in the mixed-age groups demonstrated sophisticated leadership capacities by soliciting individual and group preferences and organizing the statements and behaviors of the younger children (offering the younger children support or psychological protection). The leadership of the older children was skillfully facilitative rather than crudely dominating or bullying. Others have reported similar findings (Graziano, French, Brownell, & Hartup, 1976; French, Waas, Stright, & Baker, 1986).

A primary factor in the establishment of hierarchies among adult male primates is age (Goodall, 1986). Challenges may be more frequent and stable hierarchies more difficult to maintain if many of the individuals in a social group are close to the same age, size, or physical ability. The process of establishing a dominance hierarchy in a same-age group may be a far more difficult task than in a mixed-age group, and it may thus place a good deal more competitive stress on the group members. In addition, the psychological toll for low status in the hierarchy of a same-age group may also be greater than in a mixed-age group. To be the low-status child in the pecking order in a group of 5- to 7-year-olds may be at times uncomfortable, but the child knows that in two years her place in the hierarchy will change and that in the meantime she is likely to be protected from harsher and more mean-spirited attempts at dominance. The child in the same-age class, on the other hand, may be more likely to regard her status as a stable reflection of her worth and acceptance.

This interpretation is borne out by evidence that children prefer to be taught by children older than themselves rather than children their same age, and that they prefer to teach children younger than themselves (Allen & Feldman, 1976; French, 1984; McClellan, 1994). Again, this preference may be, in part, because older children can more comfortably establish dominance over younger children, and, further, younger children can more comfortably yield to the dominance of an older child without the loss of face or feeling of vulnerability that might accompany submission to a same-age peer.

In summary, it has been suggested that the concentration of same-age peer groups in parts of the social fabric of the United States contributes to aggressive and antisocial behavior (McClellan, 1994; McClellan & Kinsey, 1997). One way many animals, including humans, maintain order is through the establishment of dominance hierarchies (Maccoby, 1980). However, dominance hierarchies may be more difficult to maintain if too many of the individuals in a social group are close to the same age or ability. Mixed-age grouping thus may foster leadership behavior among children that is more confident, skilled, responsible, and nurturing than leadership efforts exclusively among same-age peers.

It is likely, however, that the process of using the mixed-age setting to help the older children in the classroom develop positive leadership skills and abstain from bullying is not always automatic and must be carefully monitored and facilitated by the teacher (Katz, Evangelou, & Hartman, 1990). Awareness of the pervasiveness and seriousness of bullying in school settings has increased dramatically in recent years, and several resources have been developed to help teachers, no matter what the grouping pattern of their classroom, understand and take steps to bully-proof their classrooms (see Olweus, 1993; Garrity, Jens, Porter, Sager, & Short-Camilli, 1996).

actually is less than in traditional graded schools because older students develop leadership skills and patience when working with younger children.

The classroom size and layout may not be conducive to multiage practice. The room should be large enough to provide adequate space for individual, small-group, and large-group work. The room arrangement should establish areas for learning centers and provide separate sections for active and quiet activities. Children should have easy access to learning materials and manipulatives (Fox, 1996b).




Most Frequently Asked Questions


Answering the Most Frequently Asked Questions

-adapted from Creating the Multiage Classroom, Sandra J. Stone, 1996

Will my child benefit from the multiage classroom?

Research strongly suggests that children benefit in many ways from multiage classrooms (Miller, 1990). Academically, children usually do better in multiage classrooms than in traditional classrooms (Anderson & Pavan, 1993). If they don’t do better, then they do the same. Multiage classrooms clearly do not negatively affect academic achievement (Miller, 1990).

In addition, the benefits for children socially and emotionally are consistently higher in multiage classrooms. From his view of research, Miller notes, "When it comes to student affect, the case for multigrade organization appears much stronger, with multigrade students out-performing single-grade students in over 75 percent of the measures used." Multiage children often have a greater sense of belonging (Sherman, 1984) and more positive social relationships, also.

Is the multiage classroom better for some children, but not for others?

This question assumes that traditional classrooms are the best way to educate children. As you investigate the philosophy of multiage classrooms, you quickly conclude that this child-centered approach is good for all children. In the multiage classroom, children progress at their own pace, view themselves as successful, learn from their peers without competition, and have the opportunity to mentor.

How are children selected for multiage classrooms?

Whether a whole school is multiage or only a portion of the school, children should be randomly selected. There should be a balance of ages, abilities, and gender.

What is the best range for a multiage classroom?

Usually the best age range is at least three years. Many schools do two-year combinations. Sometimes, if the teachers are not careful, a two-year program results in teaching each group rather than teaching the children as one group. With a three year span, it is impossible to address grades separately with a graded curriculum. With a three-year span, the children must be looked at as individual learners on their own continuum.

There are also social and emotional benefits that result from a three-year span. With a three-year span, there is a greater opportunity for children to be mentors and mentored, less opportunity for competition, and more opportunities for cross-age learning.

Do the older children benefit from the multiage classroom?

In the multiage classroom every child, even the older child, is on his or her own continuum of learning. The older child is able to go as far as he or she is able, just as the younger child is. All children are able to progress beyond the traditional classroom limits at their own pace.

Social and emotional benefits are also apparent through mentoring and modeling, older children gain confidence and increase their self-esteem. Older children also learn how to care for and nurture others.

Do gifted children benefit from the multiage classroom?

Yes, gifted children benefit in the same way that older children benefit. Younger gifted children have the opportunity to interact with older children, increasing their level of learning. Older gifted children have the opportunity to increase leadership and mentoring skills. Gifted children, as do all children, have the freedom to pursue their interests and the opportunity to creatively expand their knowledge.

How does one manage to teach a multiage classroom when all the children are at different levels of learning?

One must keep in mind that even in same-age classrooms; children are at different levels of learning. In a multiage classroom, these differences are accepted and respected. Each child is able to participate in reading, writing, and problem solving at his or her own level of development. The multiage teacher knows each child’s needs and supports each child’s development to the next stage by tailoring activities to expand each child’s level of understanding. Effective large and small group learning experiences are used, which allow for each child’s continuous progress.

How are art, music, and physical education classes accommodated in the multiage classrooms?

Multiage classrooms should consider the multiage class as one class. If children attend pullout classes such as art, music, or PE, they go to these classes together. They are not separated by grade level.

What happens if my child is in a primary multiage and then is not ready to go on to a traditional fourth grade?

Multiage teachers do not advocate retention. All teachers should be able to fit the curriculum to the child rather than the child to the curriculum. Children in a multiage classroom are truly given the gift of time to develop. Most children leave the multiage classroom ready to engage in a graded classroom. Wisely, many schools are now creating multiage classrooms for the upper elementary grades and middle schools. Furthermore, children in multiage settings are prepared to learn and have high self-esteem, which helps them to thrive in any environment.

What happens if my child goes from a multiage classroom to a traditional graded classroom as a transfer?

Experience has shown that children who are in multiage classrooms are more confident learners and adapt quickly to same-age classrooms. They have also had time to see themselves as competent learners in the multiage classroom and can therefore survive the comparative process in a same-age classroom. To have had some time in a multiage classroom is better than to have none at all.

We do not want to eliminate multiage classrooms because children may eventually go into a graded classroom. This is like starving a child today because some day they may encounter a famine.


Children at the center : implementing the multiage classroom / Miller, Bruce A. Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management. Portland, OR : Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, 1994.





Nel sistema educativo austriaco la Hauptschule (scuola secondaria generale) è l’indirizzo principale per i bambini da dieci a quattordici anni. Alunni particolarmente dotati sono però indirizzati verso il Gymnasium, il ciclo inferiore dell’istruzione secondaria generale di tipo lungo.

La legge sull’organizzazione scolastica definisce i compiti della Hauptschule come segue:

  • impartire un’istruzione generale di base in un ciclo di quattro anni;
  • qualificare i giovani per l’ingresso nella vita attiva e per il passaggio al ciclo medio o superiore dell’istruzione secondaria, nel rispetto dei loro interessi, dei loro talenti, delle loro attitudini e delle loro capacità.

Fino al 1985 la Hauptschule offriva due indirizzi, il primo riservato agli alunni più capaci, il secondo a coloro con minori capacità. Questo sistema è stato modificato nel 1985 con la creazione di scuole secondarie dette "integrate", in cui gli alunni sono riuniti secondo le loro attitudini in gruppi di tedesco, lingua straniera e matematica.

Nel 1986 il diritto di codeterminazione dei genitori e dei tutori è stato notevolmente rafforzato e dotato di una base giuridica. Da allora i diritti degli organi di partenariato scolastico (l’assemblea scolastica, l’assemblea di classe) si sono estesi sempre di più. Oltre il ruolo consultivo, essi godono di un potere decisionale importante per quel che riguarda il curriculum, gli orari, l’organizzazione delle manifestazioni scolastiche, ecc.

Il 14° emendamento alla legge sull’organizzazione scolastica stabilisce il quadro giuridico dell’autonomia delle scuole. Essa fornisce loro un largo margine d’azione negli aspetti che riguardano in modo specifico il curriculum e l’organizzazione e apre nuove prospettive all’elaborazione di profili scolastici distinti.

Altre misure di sviluppo dell’istruzione secondaria austriaca si riferiscono alle seguenti aree:

  • la parità tra i sessi;
  • l’assistenza sistematica di alunni la cui lingua materna non è il tedesco;
  • esperienze scolastiche nelle principali questioni educative.
    1985 riforma della Hauptschule
    creazione di gruppi di attitudine
    esperienze nelle principali questioni educative
    1986 istituzionalizzazione degli organi di partenariato scolastico misure che mirano a stabilire la parità tra i sessi
    1989 misure sistematiche di assistenza ad alunni di lingua materna straniera
    1993 autonomia didattica




Come abbiamo detto nell’introduzione, la Hauptschule era divisa fino al 1985 in due indirizzi.

Questo sistema veniva criticato per le seguenti ragioni:

  • gli alunni erano classificati in base ai loro risultati peggiori (così gli alunni bravi in lingue, ma meno bravi in matematica finivano inevitabilmente nel secondo indirizzo);
  • in questo indirizzo la seconda lingua (in genere l’inglese) era una materia opzionale;
  • il sistema non permetteva misure compensatorie; il passaggio a un altro tipo di istruzione, previsto dalla legge, non era possibile se non verso un livello inferiore.

L’introduzione della «Hauptschule integrata» intendeva creare un sistema che ovviasse alle critiche summenzionate:

  • gli alunni sono classificati, senza tener conto dei loro risultati in classi eterogenee, in tre gruppi di abilità (livelli di capacità) in tedesco, inglese e matematica. La legge stabilisce che i criteri del livello superiore devono essere identici a quelli del livello inferiore. Tutte le altre materie sono insegnate in classi eterogenee;
  • la lingua straniera moderna è una materia obbligatoria per tutti;
  • è istituito l’insegnamento di recupero per facilitare il passaggio a un livello superiore dei gruppi di attitudine e evitare la discesa a un livello inferiore. Questi corsi sono obbligatori, come misura compensatoria, per gli alunni che rischiano la ripetenza.

La riforma del 1985 si è accompagnata a una riformulazione dei curricula che doveva tenere conto di queste nuove disposizioni, degli orari e della ripartizione in livelli di attitudine. Essa ha permesso la specializzazione di certe Hauptschulen, una caratteristica propria del sistema austriaco. Esistono Hauptschulen specializzate nell’insegnamento della musica, Hauptschulen specializzate nell’educazione fisica e Hauptschulen specializzate nell’insegnamento dello sci e degli sport.

Oltre alla ripartizione per materie, il curriculum austriaco introduce la nozione di "principi dell’insegnamento". Si tratta di obiettivi interdisciplinari fondamentali che stabiliscono criteri legati al contenuto delle lezioni e ai loro aspetti metodologici e pedagogici. Tali obiettivi sono destinati a riflettere le tendenze dell’insegnamento e la sua evoluzione. La riforma del 1985 riguarda i seguenti principi: l’educazione alla sanità, alla lettura, ai media, l’educazione musicale, politica (compresa l’educazione civica e alla pace), l’educazione sessuale, al linguaggio, all’ambiente, l’educazione stradale, economica (compresa l’educazione al risparmio e al consumo), la preparazione alla vita attiva (l’educazione al lavoro).

Le manifestazioni scolastiche sono un altro elemento tipico del sistema di istruzione austriaco. In base alla legge esse devono completare il curriculum ordinario, permettendo agli alunni di avere contatti immediati e concreti con il modo economico e la vita sociale e culturale, favorendo lo sviluppo delle loro doti musicali e delle loro capacità fisiche.

È in questo contesto che si iscrivono manifestazioni come le gite, le escursioni, le settimane sportive in estate e in inverno, le settimane progetto (settimane musicali, ecologiche, linguistiche, creative, ecc.) e i programmi di scambio con scuole straniere.

La riforma più profonda che ha toccato la Hauptschule è quella del 14° emendamento della legge sull’organizzazione scolastica nel 1993. Questa riforma ha attribuito alle scuole grandi responsabilità dotandole di una certa autonomia didattica, per deregolamentare e decentralizzare il sistema di istruzione. Da un punto di vista storico si può parlare di un cambiamento di modelli nel sistema di educazione austriaco che è sempre stato molto centralizzato.

Questa autonomia permette alle scuole, entro un certo limite, di prendere decisioni nelle seguenti aree:

  • il numero di ore settimanali per ogni disciplina (orario);
  • il contenuto di alcune materie del curriculum;
  • la ripartizione e la composizione delle classi per materie;
  • l’organizzazione e il contenuto dell’insegnamento di recupero.

Allo stesso tempo questa riforma ha modificato il decreto sulle manifestazioni scolastiche La sola differenziazione mantenuta è quella tra le manifestazioni di un giorno e quelle di più giorni. Gli istituti dispongono di un quadro preciso nel quale possono decidere liberamente il tenore e l’organizzazione di queste manifestazioni.

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