Monday, September 9, 2013

The Joys and Challenges of a Multi-Age Classroom

For the past two years I have had the joy of teaching in a multi-grade classroom at the International School of Morocco.  Last year I taught Grades 3 and 4 (Year 4 and Year 5) and team taught with my neighbor, so I also spent time teaching Grades 1 and 2 (Year 2 and Year 3).  This year, I teach Grades 2 and 3 (Year 3 and Year 4) and team teach with my neighbor, so I also spend time teaching Grades 4 and 5 (Year 5 and Year 6).  In both situations, I had an age range of 4 years to plan for and teach.  This has taught me a lot about the joys and challenges of a Multi-Age Classroom.

The joys and challenges of multi-grade classrooms - a teacher's perspective

The Joys:

- Exposure to Multiple Scopes and Sequences:  As a classroom teacher, we often learn only our particular curriculum and scope and sequence.  By teaching more than one grade level, I am able to be familiar with more than one set of curriculum.  This allows me to know what my struggling students have missed and what my excelling students can move on to.

- Ability to Group Kids Across Grade Levels:  By having multiple grade levels working together, I am able to group kids in lots of different ways.  I am able to have younger students learn from older students.  I am able to group struggling students with younger students who may be at the same level.  I am able to group students differently for different subjects, depending on strengths and weaknesses.

- Ability to Meet Kids Where They Are:  With so many different levels present in my room, I am able to look past where my students “should be” and truly see where they are and where they need to go.  I am able to focus on each child as an individual, not as just another third grader.  This allows me to tweak instruction to meet each student’s individual needs, which brings about a better learning experience for them and makes them more excited about learning, thereby making my job easier.

- Knowledge of Where Kids Should Be at Each Level:  By working with so many levels, I have gained a good working knowledge of what different levels truly look like.  I can list off the benchmarks for each grade level and have a real understanding if my students are struggling, meeting or exceeding those benchmarks.

- Knowledge of Where Curriculum Merges:  In order to make my life easier, I am always looking for places where the different curriculums I teach merge.  For example, I have re-alligned my math scope and sequences to make sure that everyone I am teaching math to is working on the same general topic during the same week.  This gives me a chance see the exact stepping stones that build to what my oldest students are expected to do.  I also show this to the students, so that they can see what they are learning as part of something bigger.


The Challenges:

- Planning Multiple Lessons for One Topic:  While it is awesome to have the knowledge that goes with knowing multiple curriculums, it is also a lot of work.  So, is planning more than one lesson for the same topic.  For example, this week our focus in math is on Number Combinations.  My younger students are working on just making the combinations.  My older students are using those combinations to “count on”, using addition to solve subtraction.  While these sound similar, it required me to plan out two very separate lessons.  Take a look at these pictures of our lesson reference pages (which you can grab at my Teachers Pay Teachers store if you want one or both.)

Working with Number Pairs - Lessons for Interactive Math Notebooks      Using Addition to Solve Subtraction - Lesson for Interactive Math Lessons

- Must Have Knowledge of Many Different Topics:  In planning all of these different topics, you must have a larger base of knowledge.  I wish I could say I walked into this job with this base of knowledge.  I didn’t.  Instead, I spend a lot of time on Pinterest and my Facebook Teacher groups and watching Khan Academy videos, teaching myself everything I need to know in order to be an “expert” on the topics I have to teach.  I have also learned to let go of the idea of me being the “sage on the stage”.  Instead, I readily accept my role as a “guide on the side”, who is able to help my students find the right answers, than the person who gives them those answers.

- Must Have Access to Many Different Levels of Materials:  As a curriculum designer, I have a habit of making most of what I need in my classroom.  I do purchase some materials, including Daily Language and Daily Math, and I have access to a lot of resources at my school.  However, whatever I get from somewhere else, I need multiple different levels.  I have 4 different math text books and 4 different levels of Daily Math to print.  When I am designing, I still keep certain things by grade level, like Problem Solving Path, and just print multiple levels.  However, I am moving more and more to making products that inherently come with a variety of levels.  I’ve never taught in a classroom where every student was on the same level and so this makes sense for any classroom, but it makes the most sense in a multi-grade classroom.  For this reason, my ESL Vocabulary Packets and my Word Work Vocabulary Packets each contain 4 different levels.  This week, for example, I will be printing 3 different levels from my Important Verbs ESL Vocabulary pack and 3 different levels from my Long A Word Work Vocabulary pack.  This means for a lot of printing, and a bit more work in creating too.  However, it also means that all of my students get exactly what they need.

Differentiated Learning - Vocabulary and Word Work Packets    Differentiated Learning - Vocabulary and Word Work Packets    Differentiated Learning - Vocabulary and Word Work Packets

Differentiated Learning - Vocabulary and Word Work Packets    Differentiated Learning - Vocabulary and Word Work Packets    Differentiated Learning - Vocabulary and Word Work Packets

Regardless of the additional work that teaching in a multi-grade classroom may sometimes require, the benefits for me and the students make it completely worth it.  I have learned and grown so much during the past 2 school years.  I would recommend the multi-grade classroom to any student, parent or teacher.

Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources