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Life in a Multigrade Classroom: A Three-Part Series (Part 2: Why Should I Do It?)

October 14, 2019

By: Elizabeth Kelsey, Kendall Hunt RPD Intern

In our three-part blog series about multigrade classrooms, we’ve looked at the logistics of how multigrade classrooms work. Today, we dive into four major benefits of the multigrade model.

Self-directed learning

In a multigrade setting, students are required to complete independent work without constant teacher prodding, meaning that multigrade classrooms encourage self-directed learning.

“I believe children [in a multigrade classroom] mature faster,” Luna explained. “They must focus on the task at hand independently since I am not constantly reminding them to do their work.”

This requires intentional instructor planning. “Clear, concise, and consistent procedures are necessary in order for this type of systemic work,” Whiting explained. “The key to multigrade instruction is knowing what everyone else is doing when each specific group is working with the teacher. Those who are in rotation must have engaging, rigorous work that creates an academic hunger for learning.”

We are family

But the emphasis on independent learning doesn’t mean that students are isolated; rather, Luna and Whiting agree that students in a multigrade classroom see each other as a family.

“The older kids are looked up to by the younger ones. The older kids must learn to be patient and tender with the younger kids. Both must learn to accept each other’s levels of development,” Luna said. She noted that being a family requires students to “learn to agree and disagree agreeably” and “reflect on their behavior and how it honors God and those around them.” This creates physical, mental, spiritual, and social support among peers.

And the family dynamic doesn’t stop with the students. Past students have referred to Luna as their “teacher-mother,” and Whiting stated that multigrade teachers “become a surrogate parent in the growth and development of the child. They are able to celebrate milestones with the family as well as provide objective feedback for their ongoing and future academic needs.”

Put to the test

Speaking of academic needs, there’s good news on that front for multigrade educators as well. Students in multigrade classrooms can learn without comparing themselves to other students of their own age and can develop skills at a pace and timing that fits their own development.

According to Whiting, “the longer students remain in a multigrade classroom, the greater the increase they experience in their standardized test scores” because a multigrade classroom is “the quintessential model of differentiation.”

“They experience a range of instructional material that is either below, on, or above grade level,” she said. “Remediation and acceleration can take place at any time, while not being specifically tied to their grade level classes.”

Social-emotional learning

Finally, students in a multigrade classroom have more opportunities to learn and practice leadership and other social-emotional skills and do so in more varied ways than in a typical grade-level classroom.

“They experience a rite of passage that prepares them for developmental milestones,” said Whiting, which, she said, molds her students into mentors and lifelong learners. Luna also noted that her students interact with and inspire each other, which boosts their social-emotional understanding.

According to a 2013 article from Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice, “leadership skills seem to be interwoven into the fabric of the multigrade classroom” because the students must hold themselves to high standards to facilitate their own learning and the learning of others. The article noted that multigrade students “assume shared responsibility and leadership in the classroom and at home, are involved in fewer disciplinary incidents, and are more respectful of their classmates.”

 It’s easy to see that multigrade classrooms help students excel in both academic and social settings. Think multigrade might be a good fit for your school? Be sure to check back for our third and final blog in this “Life in a Multigrade Classroom” series, where we’ll share some advice from our multigrade experts.