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Life in a Multigrade Classroom: A Three-Part Series (Part 3: What Should I Know?)

October 21, 2019

By: Elizabeth Kelsey, Kendall Hunt RPD Intern

Our past two blogs in this three-part “Life in a Multigrade Classroom” series have discussed the logistics and the benefits of a multigrade environment. Today, our final post provides words of wisdom from our multigrade educators Luna and Whiting, as well as resources for administrators, teachers, and parents.

“Flexibility is a non-negotiable commodity”

The classroom will change from year to year, week to week, and day to day, according to Whiting and Luna, and the sooner that educators accept this fluidity, the smoother things will go.

Luna has learned through trial and error that her schedule has to change each year to meet the special challenges and needs of the students. Even though she works with the same kids (by and large) each year, as they grow, so do their needs, which makes the classroom “dynamic” and change constant.

“Flexibility is a non-negotiable commodity,” Whiting agreed. “Multigrade is a living, breathing entity that requires the freedom to test limits until the right fit is achieved. There cannot be a static view of what appears to be normal or the right way of doing things. There must be room to create a new normal.”

“Through a different lens”

Luna emphasized that administrators, teachers, and parents must “see the big picture” and remember that multigrade classrooms cannot be evaluated or addressed in the same way as single-grade ones. This doesn’t mean, of course, that standards should be lowered (as we’ve noted, academic achievement and rigor are usually heightened in a multigrade setting) but, rather, that comparison should be eliminated.

“Evaluating a multigrade teacher should be done through a different lens than that of a single-grade teacher,” she said. “We must understand that single-grade classroom teachers and multigrade classroom teachers cannot be compared to one another.”

“I am not a universe”

Although it’s important that outsiders remember not to judge multigrade educators through the same lens as a typical classroom teacher, it’s equally important that the educators themselves don’t fall into the trap of self-criticism. It’s all too easy to do so, according to Luna, because multigrade educators are forced to wear so many hats that they can feel they’re being spread too thin.

Luna says that her multifaceted job description has taught her the importance of self-compassion. “You should have realistic expectations of yourself both as a professional and a person. We are our own worst critic,” she says. “I am one person … not a universe.”

“Curricular demands are more challenging”

Multigrade educators, depending on their classroom setup, may be asked to master eight subject areas across four grade levels (as in Whiting’s case). On top of that, there are “levels within levels,” according to Whiting, to account for remedial and accelerated students. Differentiated instruction is beneficial for student learning but difficult for teacher curricular planning.

To meet this demand, Luna and Whiting described the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) educational system’s training and mentorship program led by master multigrade educators. Many of the SDA multigrade resources can be found here, including textbook lists, how-to videos, standards, and organizational resources. The Atlantic Union Teacher Bulletin also offers curriculum material and classroom resources created by SDA multigrade educators.

Additionally, multigrade teachers and administrators should consider customized curricula, such as Pathways 2.0 or ByDesign Science.  In the multigrade setting, traditional classroom curricula often fail to meet the needs of your students or your classroom setup. But customized curricula can be tracked and aligned to more easily accommodate differentiated instruction. For example, the ByDesign program aligns the topics across grades 1–4 and grades 5–8, allowing a multigrade teacher to teach the same topic across multiple grade levels with a four-year rotating cycle.

We hope you have enjoyed our three-part series, “Life in a Multigrade Classroom”!