Mixed-age Learning: We Teach Students Not Grades

The focus for classroom instruction, regardless of its combined or single
grade status, is student learning and achievement.

Myth 1: Students in straight grades benefit more than those in combined classes because they are working at the same level.

Fact: Every classroom, whether combined or straight grade, will be made up of children with wide variations in knowledge, skills and attitudes. In many curriculum areas, a combined grade classroom actually offers a much wider range of educational experiences for students and they develop broader and more varied friendships.

Myth 2: Overall achievement of children in combined classes is jeopardized.

Fact: Research to date on combined classes simply says this is not true. There is little or no difference in the academic achievement of students. Other studies conducted on children in combined class settings clearly indicate significant and positive gains in personality and social development compared to single grade classrooms. Careful planning leads to highly successful classrooms and parents familiar with combined classroom settings have been pleased with the progress of their children.

Myth 3: Children in combined classes receive less attention to individual needs than those in single age class groupings.

Fact: Students need to be accommodated as much as possible, regardless of placement. Resources and supports within a school are available equally to all students. Combined grade classrooms provide exactly the same opportunities.

Myth 4: Instructional approaches are more advantageous when students are placed in straight grades.

Fact: Teachers have spent a great deal of time honing their instructional skill. Classrooms are alive with a variety of experiences throughout the day. Children spend time at activity centers, producing independent projects and interacting in a variety of group exercises. In all effective classrooms children who need to spend more time on a particular concept may do so in an unthreatening way. In the combined classroom, older students have the added opportunities of peer teaching and leadership experiences while younger children may model on the behaviours and learning of the older pupils. All parents recognize the benefits of interaction between the older and younger children in their families.

Myth 5: The reasons for placing a child in a combined class appear to be “numbers” driven.

Fact: The composition of a combined class is very carefully considered by the principal and teachers. Like any classroom academically compatible groups are considered along with teacher experience in the variety of teaching techniques now used in all classrooms. Classroom support is also critically assessed to assure all pupils are receiving the appropriate challenges and interventions that allow them to work at their level.

Adapted from Principal’s Partner (2006) by David Payne & Ron Robbins